Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a powerful tool in fighting addiction. It’s a form of psychotherapy, also referred to as “talk therapy.” It can be used to address the underlying causes of not just substance use disorder, but it can be used for various mental disorders like depression, anxiety, or phobias.
CBT doesn’t always amount to years in the therapist’s chair, either. It can be quite effective on a short-term schedule, ranging from a few weeks to a few months, to get results. In part that’s because CBT operates under the belief that the past may be important, but it’s more vital to develop tools to handle current problems and prepare the patient for long-term recovery.
Substance Use Disorders
A substance use disorder (SUD) is defined as a situation where an individual continues to use drugs and/or alcohol despite the negative consequences it levels on a person’s day-to-day life. That includes health, work, school, or family, as well as getting into dangerous situations or getting into trouble with the law.
For 2018, an estimated 20.3 million people in the United States ages 12 and older had a substance use disorder.
Causes vary, but genetics, environment, age of first use, and any underlying mental health conditions (trauma, bipolar disorder, etc.) can all affect the likelihood of drug or alcohol addiction.
Addiction can be very challenging to overcome, in part because drug and alcohol use, especially when started at a younger age, or through extended use, rewires the brain, affecting how it experiences rewards as well as the areas that govern impulse control.
That’s where medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can prove extremely helpful in recovery. It includes medications to help a person safely and comfortably navigate withdrawal. Medicines may also be prescribed to address underlying conditions like depression when needed. MAT also includes behavioral therapies — like CBT — and counseling. The goal is to mend both the more pressing issues like detoxification, which can be painful and sometimes dangerous while developing new coping mechanisms.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
CBT addresses both the cognitive (how we think and feel) and the behavioral during treatment. CBT dwells less on the underlying causes, however, and focuses more on changing how we respond to negative patterns of thought, emotions, and behaviors. It can be very effective for treating SUDs when paired with medication-assisted therapy.
As the therapist helps the patient uncover what is fueling the dysfunctional behavior (whether it’s drug use, panic attacks, or whatever else it may be), they’ll also work on helping the patient see things from a different perspective as they work on healthier ways to respond.
It’s been shown to work on its own as well as paired with other treatment approaches. Evidence shows can be quite effective as part of the treatment regimen for alcohol and drug use disorders.
CBT focuses on how negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings and actions. The therapist will usually help the patient:
- Identify key problems or issues
- Become aware of unproductive thought patterns and their downsides
- Take negative thinking and mold it in ways to change feelings
- Learn and develop new behaviors
Changing old thinking patterns and replacing them with healthier responses is a key component in the relapse prevention part of addiction recovery.