The Matrix Model

The Matrix model of treatment is a template for treating individuals addicted to stimulants in outpatient settings. The treatment plan includes several evidence-based therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and 12-step facilitation therapy.
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The Matrix model is a standard treatment plan for individuals addicted to stimulants such as cocaine, crystal meth or amphetamine-based prescription drugs. It was developed in the 1980s at an outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles called the Matrix Institute.

The plan calls for 16 weeks of intensive outpatient treatment that includes daily appointments and meetings. It also provides a template for a less intensive outpatient aftercare plan that’s composed of self-help and social support group meetings.

The main components of the Matrix model are divided into five categories:

  1. Individual or family therapy (three sessions)
  2. Early recovery skills groups (eight sessions)
  3. Relapse prevention groups (32 sessions)
  4. Family education groups (12 sessions)
  5. Social support groups (36 sessions)

The model has been studied extensively. Most research shows that the approach can help people discontinue stimulant use. Some studies have also found that the Matrix model is more effective than other treatment approaches, according to a white paper by the Matrix Institute.

In addition to therapy, drug tests are a key component of the Matrix model. The tests are conducted once each week as an accountability measure. A positive urine test does not disqualify a participant from treatment. It serves as a discussion point during therapy.

Matrix Model Treatment Plan

The relationship between therapists and patients is a key component of the Matrix model. A patient’s primary therapist conducts individual and group therapy sessions throughout treatment.

Sample Matrix Model Schedule
Intensive Treatment Intensive Treatment Continuing Care
Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-16 Weeks 13-48
Monday Early recovery skills and relapse prevention Relapse prevention Nothing scheduled
Tuesday 12-step or self-help group meetings 12-step or self-help group meetings 12-step or self-help group meetings
Wednesday Family education Family education or social support Social support
Thursday 12-step or self-help group meetings 12-step or self-help group meetings 12-step or self-help group meetings
Friday Early recovery skills and relapse prevention Relapse prevention Nothing scheduled
Saturday and Sunday 12-step or self-help group meetings 12-step or self-help group meetings 12-step or self-help group meetings

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Individual and Family Therapy Sessions

Therapists develop professional relationships with clients during individual sessions. The sessions serve as both goal planning and check-in opportunities. Family members can also participate in treatment planning if appropriate.

Individual therapy sessions are held during:

  • Week one
  • Week five or six
  • Week 16

During the first session, the therapist and patient establish treatment goals. During the following sessions, the duo talks about the patient’s progress, challenges and successes. Additional individual sessions can be added if a crisis occurs or if goals need to be adjusted.

Early Recovery Skills

The early recovery skills group sessions teach patients about the basics of recovery, such as how to reduce cravings, how to plan time, why it’s important to stop using other addictive substances and how to connect with community resources.

The group usually meets twice per week during the first month of a patient’s recovery. Individuals who need additional help understanding the basics of recovery can attend extra sessions later in the recovery process.

Groups usually comprise 10 people who are in recovery. They’re led by a therapist and a patient who has a history of sobriety. The small group setting allows the therapist to spend one-on-one time with each patient.

Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention group sessions are a foundational component of the Matrix model of substance abuse treatment. They’re held at the beginning and end of each week throughout the entire treatment plan.

The meetings use the following format:

  • Introduction of new members
  • Updates on recovery progress
  • Topic discussion
  • Explanation of future plans

Each session is designed around a central topic, such as shame, motivation, triggers and boredom. Participants discuss their experiences and provide advice in a facilitated forum.

Family Education

Educational sessions for families are held weekly during the first three months of treatment, and a total of 12 family sessions are held throughout the 16-week program.

PowerPoint presentations, panels and facilitated forums teach patients and family members about a variety of topics, including:

  • The science of stimulant addiction
  • Triggers and cravings
  • Side effects of substance abuse
  • Alcohol and other drug abuse
  • How personal relationships affect substance abuse

The classes teach family members how to support their loved one during and after treatment. They also help build bonds among family members and increase treatment retention rates.

Social Support

Social support sessions are the foundation of the continuing care phase of the Matrix model. They’re introduced during weeks 13 to 16 of intensive outpatient treatment, and they’re continued for 36 weeks during continuing care.

The sessions help patients relearn social skills. Clients with many weeks of sustained recovery assist clients who are preparing to finish intensive outpatient treatment. As the latter patients maintain progress through the therapy, they turn into role models who help others who are new to the sessions.

A therapist leads the social support sessions, but clients are sometimes divided into small groups to discuss specific topics, such as rejection, isolation, patience and intimacy.

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Guiding Principles of the Matrix Model

Several overarching principles guide Matrix model therapies. Each principle is backed by psychological research on substance use disorders, treatment and recovery.

Matrix model principles include:

  • Forming positive and collaborative relationships between therapists and clients
  • Displaying clear structure and expectations
  • Teaching science-based educational information
  • Using cognitive behavioral therapy concepts
  • Encouraging positive changes in behavior
  • Informing family members about recovery concepts
  • Facilitating participation in self-help groups
  • Monitoring substance abuse through drug tests

The principles guide therapists, clients and other members of the treatment team throughout the treatment and aftercare plans.

Effectiveness of the Matrix Model

Several government agencies and nonprofit organizations endorse the Matrix model for people with stimulant use disorders. More than 42 percent of rehab facilities across the United States use the Matrix model, according to the 2016 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services.

Early Studies

The first studies on the Matrix model contained problematic designs that prevented researchers from drawing firm conclusions. However, they did prove that the concept of the model worked.

In a 1986 study published in NIDA Research Monograph, researchers found that cocaine users who participated in the Matrix model had lower relapse rates than patients treated in a hospital setting. However, the study had a small sample size that may have influenced the results.

In the 1990s, researchers conducted a two-year study involving 100 participants addicted to cocaine. Once again, the study’s results supported the effectiveness of the Matrix model, but the design of the study prevented researchers from proving that the approach was effective. The study was published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in 1995.

Another study, published in 2002 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found evidence that the Matrix model could be used for people addicted to methamphetamine. This study’s design also inhibited firm conclusions from being developed.

The Methamphetamine Treatment Project

As of 2014, the Methamphetamine Treatment Project was the largest randomized clinical trial studying treatment approaches for methamphetamine addiction. A randomized clinical trial is one of the most reliable research methods.

The trial ran for 18 months between 1999 and 2001. It included 978 participants who were randomly assigned treatment with the Matrix model or treatment as usual. Treatment as usual included a variety of different outpatient treatments.

The researchers concluded that Matrix model participants had higher retention rates in treatment and were more likely to pass urine tests during treatment. But Matrix model participants had similar success rates to those receiving the other treatments during long-term follow-up.

The Matrix model is an effective approach for treating people addicted to cocaine, crystal meth and other stimulants. It involves several evidence-based treatment approaches that are incorporated in a proven, cost-effective treatment program.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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