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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Substance Abuse

Table of Contents

CBT Triangle

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

What CBT is NOT

Cognitive behavioral therapy should not be confused with the following:

  • Psychoanalysis – This Freudian approach aims to get at the bottom of subconscious determinants of your actions/behavior.
  • Person-centered/ humanistic therapy – This approach involves a mostly-passive therapist that says little during sessions in an attempt to have you resolve your issues independently.

If you have recently started therapy or have been considering treatment for drug abuse, you’re likely to hear about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT is an approach to treatment that was originally developed to treat depression but has been expanded to improve symptoms of various mental health illnesses and issues including:

  • Addiction.
  • Anxiety.
  • Psychosis.
  • Trauma.

A major component of CBT is that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected in a way that one influences and is influenced by the others. For example, feelings are impacted by your thoughts and behaviors, and your feelings impact your thoughts and behaviors. This notion gives some level of power to the client to improve the unwanted facet by addressing the other two.

So, if you have feelings that you do not like, you can modify them by changing your thoughts and behaviors.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

The goal of CBT is to increase your awareness of your thoughts, actions, and the consequences of each. Through this process, you gain a better understanding of your motivations and the role of drug abuse in your life.

To learn more about your options for treatment that include cognitive behavioral therapy, call and start your journey toward a happy, healthy life today.

Cognitive Distortions

Many times, cognitive behavioral therapy will focus on studying your thought patterns to look for negative views of yourself, the world around you and your future. Chances are good that there will be flawed perceptions called cognitive distortions. These distortions are like a dark lens that changes the way you view the world. Some cognitive distortions include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: Perceiving situations in absolute, black-and-white categories.
  • Overgeneralization: Viewing a recent, negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  • Mental filter: Dwelling only on the negatives.
  • Disqualifying the positive: Insisting that your positives don’t count because of some other force.
  • Jumping to conclusions: Assuming your thoughts, feelings or beliefs are true without any supporting evidence.

By changing your thoughts to become more positive, you can improve your feelings and behaviors.

Co-occurring Disorders

CBT for substance abuse will also prove helpful in identifying and treating comorbid mental health issues that often accompany addiction. Many people engage in addictive behaviors to escape or avoid emotional pain.

CBT can address those psychological issues directly to:

  • Reduce the underlying reasons for addiction.
  • Prevent future relapse.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

CBT Works

Simply, CBT is a frequently used therapeutic style for addiction and mental illness because it works. In fact, CBT has been studied and tested over the years to prove its efficacy and value in a number of settings and for a number of presenting problems.

CBT will look very different depending on the therapist and the setting. A strong benefit of CBT is that it allows for incredible flexibility and freedom. Generally, your therapist will serve several functions during the course of your treatment:

  • Teacher. They will provide education regarding your symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. (Homework may be given to gather more information away from session.)
  • Teammate. As you work through the process, they will assist with your follow-through on planned interventions to achieve your goals.

A typical CBT session will last 45 minutes to an hour and will involve discussing irrational thoughts, negative behaviors, and stress of the last week. From there, your therapist will challenge your negative thinking and faulty beliefs while offering positive coping skills to employ when faced with challenges.

CBT helps clients learn skills that can be used in the present and interventions that can be applied to the future to reduce stress, improve behaviors, and increase overall well-being.

Other CBT Techniques

Other interventions in CBT include:

  • Relaxation training for anxiety.
  • Assertiveness training to improve relationships.
  • Self-monitoring education to improve insight.
  • Cognitive restructuring to modify thinking patterns.

Finding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders

If you are interested in starting cognitive behavioral therapy, you are in luck. Because of its strong reputation for being effective across a range of issues, mental health professionals trained in CBT are widely available. Chances are high that any outpatient individual, outpatient group, inpatient, residential treatment, or rehabilitation program you would attend will be staffed with competent CBT therapists.

The best news is that CBT is very low-risk. The odds of something negative or harmful happening from attending a CBT session is minimal.

If you are unsure whether addiction, depression, anxiety, or other issues are negatively impacting your life, a CBT therapist can assess your situation and symptoms to see if you meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis. CBT therapists work with people looking to achieve more from life, as well as people with serious mental health and substance use issues.

Other Supplemental Therapies

Another major benefit of CBT for addiction is that it integrates aspects of various therapy styles while allowing clients to benefit from other services. Many CBT therapists utilize aspects of the following orientations into their sessions:

  • Motivational Interviewing – This style of therapy involves a certain method of questioning that is particularly helpful in addiction, and it fits easily with CBT.
  • Holistic Approach – A holistic approach will look at your overall well-being to find ways to improve your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
  • 12-Step Programs – Some differences of opinion exist between programs like AA and NA, but the similarities are enough to make these two interventions work well together. Many clients will attend regular meetings in conjunction with their CBT sessions.
  • Medication Management – When you work with a CBT therapist, they might recommend a psychiatric evaluation. You may be prescribed medication to help improve your symptoms. Many studies show that CBT and medication work better together than either alone.

The best type of substance abuse treatment for you or a loved one will be tailored to your personal needs. Call to find a program that incorporates the types of care that you are looking for. Don’t put your physical and emotional health for another day.

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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