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The Role of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Addiction Treatment

by | Last updated Oct 15, 2020 at 12:09PM | Published on Oct 14, 2020 | Addiction Treatments

Meaning of CBT

In most addiction treatment programs, you’re likely to encounter cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as the go-to treatment style to treat addiction. Plus, it’s one of the most commonly used techniques during individual therapy and can help people address inaccurate negative thinking. CBT is a powerful and helpful tool that’s proven effective in treating many mental health illnesses, including addiction.

What’s The Meaning of CBT?

First of all, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy guided by a therapist to address negative thinking and emotional and behavioral patterns. CBT can help people prepare better to manage stressful life situations that often lead to unfavorable outcomes, like an addiction.

When Is It Used?

CBT is used to treat a wide range of issues. It’s usually the preferred psychotherapy method because it quickly shows individuals how to identify their triggers and provides the tools for coping with these challenges. When done in a structured way, it often requires fewer sessions than other forms of therapy. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used to treat a myriad of mental health disorders, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Sexual disorders
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Substance use disorders 

In addition, CBT can also help those struggling with behavioral disorders. In most cases, CBT is most effective when combined with other treatments, including group therapy and medication. 

How Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Works for Addiction Treatment

An all-or-nothing mindset is one of the most common types of negative thinking that often becomes an obstacle to self-change. Negative thinking patterns are common among those with anxiety, depression, and addiction. When someone has self-destructive thoughts, it fuels their sense of powerlessness and lack of control over their substance use disorder. 

CBT is based on recognizing these automatic thoughts and behaviors and regulating these distressing emotions using alternative thinking ways. By choosing a present-oriented and problem-focused approach, this type of therapy helps people:

  • Identify patterns of behaviors that lead to self-destructive actions like using drugs
  • Pinpoint harmful thought patterns and actively seek alternatives
  • Learn useful, practical, and helpful strategies to manage triggers in everyday life
  • Formulate coping strategies to address potential stressors after addiction treatment

What to Expect from Treatment

CBT can be private, in groups, or during family sessions, most recovering addicts start with individual therapy sessions. This form of psychotherapy is well-known, and most people don’t feel intimidated by it because it’s essentially a conversation between you and the therapist.

First Session

The first session is all about learning what concerns the patient wants to work on. The therapist will most likely ask questions about current and past emotional health and physical health to understand your situation better. At this point, they might discuss the possibility of other treatments, like group therapy or medications. 

Then, you’re both in some kind of interview. But, it’s essential that you feel comfortable with your therapy, which is why you should ask as many questions as you can to ensure they’re a good match. Here are some common questions you might want to ask:

  • What’s their approach
  • What type of therapy is best for you
  • The goals of your treatment
  • The length of each session
  • The average number of sessions you might need

You must also know that your therapist might not be able to answer your questions on that first session. It takes a few meetings to fully understand your situation and determine the best course of action. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist during the first sessions, it might be time to find another. Regardless, having a connection with your therapist will help you get the most out of your treatment. 

During CBT

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy, which means you’ll be encouraged to talk about your thoughts and feelings. At first, it might be challenging to open up about your feelings or even find the right words to describe your situation. Your therapist is there to help you gain more confidence and become more comfortable. 

Above all, CBT is a problem-focused and goal-oriented approach. So, it’s common to have homework after each session, including activities, reading, or practices that can help you build what you’re learning during your sessions. Throughout treatment, you’re encouraged to apply your learnings in your daily life. 

Furthermore, depending on your unique goals, specific problems, and progress, your therapist might also combine other forms of therapy. For example, interpersonal therapy helps with your relationships with other people. EMDR might help with PTSD triggers, and so on.

Session Breakdown

Each session feels entirely different; CBT works in different steps or stages that help you make progress at a comfortable pace. Here’s a quick breakdown of what this means. 

Identify triggering situations. Remember that CBT is problem-focused, so your therapist wants to identify the conditions in your life that cause triggers, like a divorce, grief, or mental illness. You’ll start working on each of these problems at a time.

Bring awareness to thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about these triggers. Then, your therapist will encourage you to share your thoughts about these triggering situations. They’ll observe your self-talk about these issues to recognize any negative-thinking patterns. Your interpretation of these issues, other people, and events can be quite telling.

Identify inaccurate thinking. We often tell ourselves different stories about what happened. We create our unique reality, and sometimes we don’t recognize the negative thoughts we build around our story. 

Reshape inaccurate thinking. At this stage, your therapist will ask you to confront your version of reality to analyze if you’re holding on to an erroneous perception of reality. It can be challenging to see our cognitive distortions, but with practice, you’ll be able to see it for yourself. But, your therapist will then show you the tools to reshape your thinking and learn problem-solving skills to manage these triggers and behavioral patterns.

Length of Therapy

On average, CBT is a short-term therapy, with most plans including anywhere between 5 to 20 sessions. As you go through the different sessions, you’ll be able to reassess if you need less or more therapy sessions. 

Still, other factors determine the length of therapy like the type of disorder, severity of symptoms, how quickly you make progress, and how much support you’re receiving. 

Where to Find a CBT Therapist

A psychotherapist is a general term that means psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed social workers, and other licensed professionals with mental health training can do psychotherapists. 

If you choose to attend addiction treatment, odds are they’ll have several psychotherapists on staff. Even still, to find a therapist, you want to make sure that they:

  • Have the right education. Most psychotherapists have a master’s or doctoral degree with training in psychological counseling. 
  • Are certified and licensed. Make sure they meet the state certification and licensing requirements for their discipline. 
  • Have the right area of expertise. While all psychotherapists can treat a myriad of mental health conditions, you should look for one with experience treating your symptoms or area of concern. 

Getting Help for Addiction

Finally, although CBT isn’t a magic cure for addiction, it can give people the tools to cope with challenging situations healthily. Psychotherapy is a powerful treatment and a critical portion of addiction recovery. Besides, it gives people the right tools to achieve long-term recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please seek help today. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our licensed and certified psychotherapists can help you navigate the ups and downs of addiction. Combined with other resources, including group counseling, family therapy, life skills development, and more, we can help you move away from addiction and start walking toward recovery. Don’t let addiction tell the story of your life. Take control of your story by seeking help today. 

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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