Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy In Addiction Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy empowers those suffering from addiction with the knowledge and tools to reset addictive behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was developed in the 1970s as a method for treating and preventing alcohol abuse. It was later adapted for treatment of a range of substance addictions and mental health disorders.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely-used form of therapy in addiction treatment that can be used on its own, or in addition to other types if therapy. This form of therapy teaches individuals how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all influence each other and how they can be influenced by others.

Treating alcohol and drug use disorders with CBT focuses on reducing and eliminating addictive behavioral patterns and replacing them with healthier alternatives. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in an addiction treatment program, aims to help individuals recognize trigger situations, develop ways to avoid them, and learn healthier ways to deal with emotions and situations that have led to substance abuse.

Negative, automatic thinking is often the root cause of depression and anxiety disorders that commonly co-occur with addiction. These automatic thoughts can make drug and alcohol abuse more likely to occur.

Negative patterns of thinking can become more likely to reoccur the more often they are used. Pathways in the brain will choose the path of least resistance, so if someone is constantly thinking they are a failure, the brain’s resistance to that thought lessens, making it more likely to occur.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps individuals overcome drug and alcohol addiction by helping them dismiss false beliefs or insecurities that lead to substance abuse. CBT also helps recovering individuals by providing them with self-help tools to better their overall mood, and teaching them effective communication skills.

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Understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a goal-oriented, therapeutic approach that works to adapt current negative thought patterns and behaviors in an effort to promote positive change. This therapy is collaborative, so the therapist and client work closely to achieve the end goal.

Cognitive behavioral therapy works by highlighting the harmful actions and emotions felt when dealing with addiction are not logical or rational. These actions and emotions have the potential to come from past experiences or current environmental factors.

The central element of cognitive behavioral therapy is anticipating likely problems and enhancing an individual’s self-control by helping them develop effective coping strategies.

There are various ways to approach CBT, but some of the different techniques include:

  • relaxation training to help with anxiety
  • exploring positive and negative consequences of continued substance abuse
  • self-monitoring to recognize cravings early on
  • identifying situations that might put one at risk for continued substance abuse
  • cognitive restructuring to modify thinking patterns
  • assertiveness training to help improve relationships
  • self-monitoring education to improve insight into self

Cognitive behavioral therapy also uses the concept of cognitive distortions or flawed perceptions. These distortions are a negative way of looking at life and can change the way you view the world. Some of these distortions include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: a thought processes where individuals perceive situations in absolutes, with no gray area in between.
  • Over-generalization: when individuals view recent, negative life events as never-ending patterns, which can cause them to feel defeated or like things will never change for the better.
  • Mental filter: when an individual dwells on only the negative aspects of events going on in their life.
  • Disqualifying the positive: when individuals insist that the positive aspects of their lives don’t count because of some other negative force.
  • Jumping to conclusions: when an individual assumes that their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are true without any supporting logic, evidence, or proof.

Benefits Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The ability to analyse thoughts and thinking, or cognition, affects someone’s overall well-being, changing harmful thought patterns is essential to improving recovering individual’s mental state.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a research-based treatment that has been shown to be effective for addiction treatment. CBT focuses on the present, solving current problems, achieving goals of recovery, and can provide the following benefits:

  • exploration of an individual’s patterns of behavior that lead to self-destructive actions and the base beliefs that are the root cause of these behaviors.
  • allowing individuals and therapists to work together in a therapeutic relationship to actively seek alternative ways of thinking.
  • learning skills that can be continually used to address recovery for life.
  • available in individual or group settings.
  • helping individuals develop personal coping strategies to handle potential stressors or difficulties following addiction treatment.

In addition to being helpful in treating addiction, cognitive behavioral therapy can also help treat disorders that often accompany addiction, including:

  • anxiety
  • attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • bipolar disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • eating disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Many people who suffer from addiction engage in addictive behaviors in an effort to escape, self-medicate, or avoid emotional or physical pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help address these psychological issues by dealing with underlying reasons for addiction in a positive manner and providing strategies to prevent future relapse.

What To Expect From A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Session

Cognitive behavioral therapy has a handful of different approaches, so it may appear very different depending on the therapist and the setting. Typically, the therapist will fill several different roles during treatment.

Some of these roles may include a “teacher” who educates a person on their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, and a “teammate” who will help ensure a person follows through on planned interventions to achieve overall goals.

Usually a cognitive behavioral therapy session will last 45 minutes to an hour, during which the individual discusses thoughts and behaviors they’ve noticed in themselves in the past week. While discussing these, the therapist may interject with logical reasoning that helps explain why those thoughts, feelings, and resulting actions may be negative and detrimental to overall health.

In addition to interjecting logical reasoning, the therapist will also offer positive coping skills the individual can use to help cope with the challenging thoughts and feelings they may have. CBT helps individuals learn skills that can be used in the present and future to reduce stress, improve behaviors, and increase overall well-being.

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is Different From Other Psychotherapies

Cognitive behavioral therapy differs from traditional types of psychotherapies because the individual and therapist actively work together to help the individual recover from addiction and other potential co-occurring disorders, according to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI).

Cognitive behavioral therapy is not a distinct therapeutic technique, rather a general classification term for a number of similar therapeutic approaches.

CBT offers a flexible, judgment-free zone where individuals can explore their thought processes with the help of a mental health professional. This type of therapy is adaptable, making it effective in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Many treatment centers include cognitive behavioral therapy as part of recovery programs. Research indicates that the skills individuals learn from CBT remain even after completing treatment.

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Finding Addiction Treatment That Uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Addiction treatment that uses cognitive behavioral therapy is available in most drug and alcohol rehab centers. Cognitive behavioral therapy within inpatient treatment programs can help individuals in recovery from addiction make a positive change. Studies have also indicated that the skills learned in CBT can be very helpful in preventing relapse in recovering individuals.

Breaking addiction often requires strong support and access to resources. Inpatient programs for addiction treatment can help people achieve their unique recovery goals and help avoid relapse as during your initial detox from your addictive substance.

For more about cognitive behavioral therapy in addiction treatment, contact our specialist today.


National Institute on Drug Abuse—Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Nicotine)
National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health—Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders

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