What Role Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Play in Addiction Recovery?

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Updated 04/06/2023

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Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used in addiction treatment because it focuses on solving problems and developing coping skills to deal with challenging situations more successfully. CBT is best used for specific mental and behavioral health difficulties, including addiction treatment and recovery.

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is Different

CBT differs from other traditional therapy methods because it is usually short-term and attempts to solve a specific problem encountered by the person in therapy. CBT attempts to define the thought patterns behind feelings that lead to unhealthy behaviors and to replace them with more positive thoughts that will help people act in healthier ways.

Another thing that sets CBT apart from other therapies is that the therapist sees the client as a partner in the therapy rather than seeing the therapist as the only authority on what is wrong. CBT therapists use a technique called “collaborative empiricism” which is focused on the client and therapist working together to solve problems and apply techniques.

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CBT in Addiction Treatment

When treating addictions, therapists often use CBT to identify the thoughts and feelings that lead to substance abuse in order to be able to counter them with different thoughts and actions.

CBT also works to anticipate likely problems and decide how to best cope with them before they become unmanageable. These skills can help to prevent relapses by short-circuiting the thoughts that cause feelings that lead to using drugs or alcohol.

Many addictions stem from life experiences, often painful, that caused users to want to avoid their feelings or dull them with substances. By changing the thoughts surrounding the substance abuse, people can often move beyond painful feelings or at least begin to cope with them in much healthier ways.

Another part of CBT is self-monitoring to recognize cravings while they are still manageable and identifying situations that might cause addicts to use, then developing strategies for stopping cravings and avoiding risky situations. These techniques can help people stop abusing substances and can help prevent relapses.

Drawbacks to CBT

The short-term nature of CBT makes it less effective in dealing with deep-seated mental health issues, which often involve complex thoughts and feelings as well as defense mechanisms that can prevent people from making progress. Still, many addicts have found CBT to be successful, even when other methods have failed, and to lead to positive outcomes in a shorter period of time.

Another common drawback is that CBT often requires clients to do homework between sessions. The homework is not usually time-consuming, but may involve doing activities that are uncomfortable, such as engaging in social activities or taking some time to identify problem thoughts and feelings as they occur throughout the week and recording them.

CBT Works After Treatment Ends

Despite these drawbacks, CBT has been a tremendously effective treatment for many with addictions and other mental health problems, and most therapists use CBT as at least part of their treatment arsenal in addiction treatment.

Research has shown that the skills learned through CBT stick with individuals even after therapy or treatment has been completed. New approaches are being developed to make CBT even more effective, including combining medications for drug abuse with CBT techniques and using technologies like computer-based tools to retrain the brain to withstand common triggers that can lead to relapse.

For more information about CBT and our other programs, contact Recovery Village at Palmer Lake today.

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