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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

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If you struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD), substance abuse treatment can be effective in helping you work through and overcome your addiction. Addiction treatment is a complex process that involves many services and interventions. Your substance abuse treatment plan can include several evidence-based behavioral therapies, such as rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT).

REBT and other evidence-based therapies offer numerous benefits, which can include improving conflict-resolution skills, replacing maladaptive decisions with healthy ones, strengthening the skills necessary to prevent relapse, and improving interpersonal relationships.1

REBT can help improve a person’s quality of life by replacing negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy ones.2 This page will help you gain an in-depth look at what REBT is, including key concepts and strategies, its effectiveness, how it can help you end your addiction, and treatment options available to you.

What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

REBT was created by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955, and it was developed to help regulate thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.2 REBT is a foundational component of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which was developed by Aaron Beck.3

Today, many clinicians refer to it as rational-emotive and cognitive behavioral therapy because of its strong roots in CBT.3 Under the CBT umbrella, REBT is also action-oriented and focuses on the present moment.2 REBT can help you identify and replace unhealthy and maladaptive thoughts and beliefs that are getting in the way of you achieving your goals and having a healthier and higher quality of life. Through skills building, you can learn to let go of thoughts that aren’t serving you and therefore reduce your self-sabotaging behaviors and negative emotions.2

What Are the Key Concepts of REBT?

REBT believes that emotional dysregulation is a result of faulty or irrational belief systems.3 REBT strives to identify the unhealthy beliefs that are leading to emotional distress and behavioral impairment and replace them with healthy ones. The premise of REBT is that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected; they can work together in healthy ways to improve your quality of life or negatively impact one another and lead to dysfunction in many areas of life.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of REBT, it is helpful to know the underlying assumptions of REBT, which include:4

  • Feelings, behaviors, and cognitions (thoughts) are constantly influencing one another positively or negatively.
  • People are responsible for their thoughts, feelings, and decisions, whether positive or negative.
  • Negative experiences tend to lead to chronic and rigid irrational thoughts.
  • Your environment and biology influence your experience and expression of emotions.
  • Your thoughts about the event are what cause dysfunction in your life, not the event itself.
  • You have the capacity for change, and a willingness to change is crucial for change to occur.
  • Through cognitive, behavioral, and emotional skills, your irrational beliefs can be eliminated and replaced.

To help develop an awareness of irrational beliefs and to effectively replace them with rational ones, REBT uses the ABC Model.

The ABC Model

According to REBT, the acronym ABC represents the breakdown in events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to dysfunction.

A–Activating Event

The activating event refers to the situation or trigger that occurs in your life that is thought to be the root of the dysfunction. However, in REBT, the activating event is not the actual cause of the impairment.5

B–Beliefs

In REBT, the resulting beliefs about the event are the cause of the impairment and dysfunction: not the event itself. Beliefs can include thoughts about the world, the event, others, and oneself. Beliefs can serve a positive purpose and be healthy, or be negative and cause dysfunction. Examples of dysfunctional beliefs are rigid, concrete, and absolute ways of thinking. Healthy beliefs are logical and flexible.5

C–Consequences

Emotional and behavioral consequences are a result of faulty beliefs that exist about the activating event. Adaptive beliefs lead to healthy emotions and actions, whereas maladaptive beliefs lead to maladaptive emotions and behaviors.5

The ABC model has been expanded over time to be more comprehensive and includes D and E.

D–Disputing Irrational Beliefs

Once awareness of distorted beliefs and the consequences of the distorted beliefs are developed, you are encouraged to dispute irrational beliefs and replace them with healthy cognitions. Disputing irrational beliefs assists you in recognizing the effect of illogical and irrational beliefs on your quality of life. Disputing helps you to replace the negative cognitions with beliefs that have healthy and positive life outcomes.5

It is important to note that disputing irrational beliefs involves 3 important steps:5

  • Detect: You question the rationality and logic of your beliefs.
  • Debate: You find evidence or empirical data that supports your beliefs. Your irrational beliefs will usually be disproven during this phase.
  • Decide: You determine the outcomes of holding on to your irrational beliefs and whether the beliefs are helpful or harmful.

E–Effective Rational Beliefs

After disputing occurs, replacing your beliefs with rational belief statements helps you develop a healthy new philosophy about life, yourself, and others. This is the last stage of REBT and occurs after you have identified the dysfunctional beliefs, developed awareness regarding the negative consequences of those beliefs, and have effectively disputed your beliefs.5

What Are the Benefits of REBT?

Disputing and replacing irrational beliefs can have a profound impact on your quality of life, including:2

  • Increasing your effectiveness and productivity at home, work, and school.
  • Improving your satisfaction at work.
  • Strengthening your relationships with others.
  • Improving your mental health and emotional wellness.
  • Reducing the frequency and severity of negative emotions such as guilt, anxiety, depression, and anger.
  • Decreasing unhealthy and ineffective behaviors such as aggression, substance use, sleep problems, and procrastination.

REBT Effectiveness

REBT can be used to treat a variety of mental health and behavioral disorders. Because of its focus on the present moment, overcoming hardship, and achieving your life goals, REBT has been shown to help treat:2

  • Substance use disorders.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Eating disorders and unhealthy eating habits.
  • Anger and aggressive behaviors.
  • Procrastination.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Useless guilt.
  • Unhealthy anger and anger reactivity.

REBT is versatile and can be applied in a variety of settings, including organizational, educational, and counseling environments.3 Research also shows that REBT is effective in treating:3

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Social phobia.
  • Disruptive behavior disorders.
  • Parental stress.
  • Side effects of breast cancer treatment.
  • Psychotic disorders and symptoms.

What Should I Expect During an REBT Session?

REBT can be practiced in a variety of settings, including group, individual, and educational environments.6 The ultimate goal of REBT is to develop and sustain cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functionality to help you achieve your goals and increase your quality of life.6 REBT responds to dysfunctional ways of thinking; however, it can also be used preventatively. More specifically, REBT can be used to strengthen mood and mental health by increasing the presence of healthy, rational beliefs.6

The therapist’s role in REBT is that of an encouraging teacher or educator who empowers their clients to make changes by identifying, disputing, and replacing irrational beliefs.7 Individual sessions can range in length. However, they usually last for about one hour. The number of sessions you attend varies based on your presenting needs and treatment goals and can include a handful of sessions or sessions that occur for more than a year.

How Does REBT Aid in Addiction Recovery?

If you are struggling with addiction, REBT may be able to help you. Because REBT targets underlying beliefs that cause emotional and behavioral dysfunction, REBT can help uncover and replace irrational beliefs that may influence your addiction.

REBT focuses on the present moment and current areas of dysfunction and recognizes that emotional and behavioral dysfunction is a result of faulty ways of thinking.2 Therefore, REBT can help you uncover faulty beliefs that are contributing to your substance use and understand the consequences of using drugs or alcohol. REBT will then teach you how to replace your thoughts with beliefs that help you end your substance use, increase your quality of life, and achieve your goals.2

REBT can teach you different ways of thinking and responding to stressors in your life. These skills can help you to manage cravings without emotionally reacting to them and achieve long-term recovery success.1 REBT may be used as a complementary intervention and can be used with other addiction treatment services such as medication management, 12-step programs, group therapy, family therapy, and other behavioral therapies such as motivational interviewing. Effective substance abuse treatment will include a variety of different services that is based on your needs and overall recovery goals.1

Find an REBT Counselor or Rehab Center Near Me

If you are seeking addiction treatment, please contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) today. AAC provides effective treatment programs that include evidence-based therapies such as REBT. Call us free at and capitalize on the benefits that substance abuse treatment has to offer, such as identifying the underlying causes of addiction, learning skills to get and stay sober, and improving relationships with family and friends.

At AAC, we understand the devastating impact of addiction and work with you to create a comprehensive treatment plan that helps you to overcome adversity and achieve your goals. Locate a rehab center or check your insurance coverage offered by your health insurance provider today.

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Kristen Fuller, MD, enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies in educating the public on the stigma associated with mental health. Dr. Fuller is also an outdoor activist, an avid photographer, and is the founder of an outdoor women's blog titled, GoldenStateofMinds. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, backpacking, skiing, camping, and paddle boarding with her dogs in Mammoth Lakes, California, where she calls home.
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