Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

Last Updated: February 16, 2023

When people participate in addiction treatment, they receive a variety of services that help them to overcome drug use triggers and reduce their risk of relapse. In most cases, treatment involves a combination of individual and group therapy. People may also take medication to help them manage drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. 

One form of therapy that can be beneficial for people in addiction treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This treatment modality is used for treating psychological disorders like anxiety, but it is also useful in addiction treatment.

What Do Couples Struggle With When One or Both People Are Addicted?

Whether you’re living with an alcoholic or with someone who is addicted to drugs, it is a challenge to maintain a healthy interpersonal relationship. Couples can fight, face physical and emotional abuse, and struggle with codependency due to addiction issues. According to Drug Rehab, “one family member’s heavy alcohol use can destroy the fundamentals of the family, sparking feelings of shame, guilt, anger, fear, grief and loneliness.”

If one of the people in the family is not addicted, that person can carry a lot of the financial and interpersonal organizing for the family because the other person is sometimes or always incapable of doing so. This is a serious weight for a partner to carry, and it can be destructive to all relationships in the family, from parent-child relationships to the relationship between the couple. When both people are struggling with addiction, this makes it especially difficult to do the emotional work that a relationship needs. Couples may be struggling more with maintaining housing and food and a semblance of normality, rather than focusing on their relationship.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, often called CBT, is a psychological intervention that can be used for a range of problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders, marital conflict and severe mental illness. The underlying beliefs supporting CBT are that psychological issues are created as a result of unhelpful thoughts and patterns of behavior. By helping to change distorted thinking patterns, CBT allows people to learn different ways of behaving. This reduces psychological distress as a result. 

Aaron Beck is credited with developing CBT in the 1960s after he noticed that patients with depression tended to have distorted thinking patterns that led to mood disturbances. Since its development, researchers have conducted numerous studies on CBT, and results have shown that this treatment is effective for treating numerous psychological problems. 

How Does CBT Work?

CBT works by helping people change dysfunctional thoughts and behavioral patterns and replace them with more adaptive ways of thinking and behaving. A CBT therapist may help you to engage in a process called functional analysis, which involves evaluating what happened before an unhelpful behavior or thought occurred. For instance, if you experience stress and then engage in dysfunctional thought patterns, you’ll learn to recognize that stress leads you to have unhelpful thoughts.

Once you identify the causes and consequences of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, you can train yourself to replace your unhelpful thoughts with healthier ways of thinking. CBT sessions typically help people to correct automatic thoughts, cognitive distortions and unhelpful underlying beliefs that lead to their distress. 

In sessions with a therapist, patients also engage in a process called CBT skills training. Through this process, they learn skills that include:

  • Awareness of their thoughts and emotions
  • The ability to identify how thoughts, behaviors and situations influence their emotions
  • The capacity to change dysfunctional thinking patterns to improve their emotions 

How Can CBT Help With Addiction?

CBT is helpful for addiction because it allows you to identify thoughts and situations that may trigger your drug use. By identifying these triggers, you can plan in advance how you will cope when faced with a trigger or an urge to use drugs or alcohol. CBT can also help you change distorted thoughts related to substance misuse, such as the belief that you cannot cope without drugs. 

Another reason that CBT is helpful for addiction is that it is effective for co-occurring mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Since around half of people with addictions have co-occurring mental health disorders, it is beneficial to choose a treatment modality like CBT that is effective for both substance use disorders and mental health conditions. 

What Is a CBT Session Like?

Most CBT sessions follow a similar format. Your first meeting with your therapist will focus on your addiction history and recovery goals. Later sessions will delve deeper into what is driving the substance use, what triggers you to take drugs and what coping mechanisms you can use to prevent relapse. You will talk these things over with your therapist or counselor in a relaxed, confidential and judgment-free setting where you can express yourself freely and share your thoughts and concerns as they arise. 

Most therapists recommend eight to 12 sessions, and you may be assigned “homework” between meetings. This may include keeping a journal of thoughts, doing relaxation exercises and completing worksheets that target specific areas of growth.

Example CBT Techniques

To treat addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, CBT may use techniques or strategies such as:

  • Guided discovery: This technique helps the therapist understand a patient’s viewpoint and guide the patient toward seeing things in an alternative light. By asking questions about the client’s views and encouraging them to explore other ways of thinking, the therapist helps a patient become aware of their underlying beliefs. With this awareness, a patient can then learn alternative ways of thinking. 
  • Thought logs: As part of their homework for CBT, patients may be asked to keep a log of their automatic negative thoughts. When an automatic negative thought arises, the client records the thought in a log, writes about the consequences of the thought and lists evidence that does and does not support the thought. The goal of these thought records is to help clients devise alternative thoughts or explanations that do not negatively influence mood the way that automatic negative thoughts do. 
  • Activity scheduling: This CBT technique helps patients to overcome procrastination and anxiety that arises from a long to-do list. With the help of a therapist, patients using activity scheduling create manageable daily to-do lists. This helps them to establish a routine and prepare for the day ahead, so they are not engaging in procrastination or struggling to make decisions about how to best spend their time and energy. 
  • The ABC model: When training patients to use CBT skills and overcome negative thinking patterns, therapists may use the ABC model, which stands for antecedents, behaviors and consequences. This model states that antecedents are triggers for specific behaviors or emotions, which then have consequences. 

Effectiveness of CBT for Addiction

Researchers have extensively studied the effectiveness of CBT in treating addiction, and the results have been promising. A review of 30 different studies found that CBT was more effective than no or minimal treatment, and it was comparable to other treatment modalities commonly used for addiction.

What can be concluded from these findings is that CBT does work for treating substance use disorders, but it is one of several treatment methods that can be effective. Each patient’s needs will differ, and treatment center staff can create a treatment plan that is most beneficial for a patient’s unique needs. For some patients, this treatment plan may include CBT for addiction.

Get Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction in Ohio

If you’re searching for a treatment program that provides CBT for drug addiction, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. Our treatment team develops individualized treatment plans tailored to each client’s unique needs. CBT for addiction can be a part of your treatment plan for addressing addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions. 

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When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

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