Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that can be effective for helping people overcome substance abuse and addiction.
Behavioral therapy, paired with other treatment services, can help you identify negative patterns, learn effective coping strategies, and improve overall quality of life.
Here you’ll find information on:
- what cognitive behavioral therapy is
- how it works
- uses for CBT
- benefits of CBT
- how to find CBT for addiction
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a counseling approach first developed in the 1960s by Dr. Aaron T. Beck and inspired by behavioral treatments of the early 20th century.
This form of talk therapy is used to identify negative thinking or unhelpful behavioral patterns—e.g. compulsive drug use—that can harm your mental and emotional health.
Core principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) include:
- Psychological problems are based, at least in part, on unhelpful thought patterns.
- Psychological problems are based, at least in part, on patterns of unhelpful behaviors.
- People can find relief from psychological problems, and resulting symptoms, from identifying and using more supportive coping skills.
More broadly, this therapeutic approach can serve to help you explore the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
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What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is scientifically proven to help treat a variety of conditions, including various mental health disorders and addictions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy may be used to treat:
- postpartum depression
- anxiety disorders
- panic disorder
- anger issues
- bipolar disorder
- eating disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- distress related to medical conditions (e.g. chronic pain)
- substance use disorder
Many mental health and substance use disorders share overlap in their risk factors, and effects on health and overall well-being.
For this reason, CBT can be helpful for treating these various conditions, including a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders.
CBT For Substance Abuse
Substance use disorders are commonly treated with both medical and behavioral health interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is shown to be effective for:
- opioid addiction
- alcohol addiction
- dual diagnosis
- marijuana dependence
- nicotine dependence
- teen drug and alcohol abuse
This therapy is offered as part of a holistic approach to addiction, which understands addiction as an illness influenced by biological, emotional, social, and environmental factors.
CBT For Co-Occurring Disorders
A sizable percentage of Americans with a substance use disorder are diagnosed with, or meet the criteria for, a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression.
Through research, experts have found that treating addiction can be most effective when all co-occurring conditions are treated together, at once.
Because CBT is an evidence-based treatment for a variety of mental health conditions, it is commonly used for treating co-occurring disorders—i.e. dual diagnosis.
How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy that can be short-term or long-term depending on your needs and the treatment setting.
Patients attend therapy sessions with a CBT therapist, who can help you explore the connection between your thoughts, emotions, and subsequent actions.
Goals and therapeutic techniques associated with CBT include:
- identifying and changing automatic negative thoughts
- better understanding how thoughts and emotions influence your actions
- learning supportive coping strategies to manage negative thoughts, flashbacks, stress, and other difficulties
- using problem-solving skills for stress management and conflict resolution
- developing greater confidence in your skills and abilities
- learning to face fears and utilize relaxation techniques for times of stress
This form of talk therapy, paired with other interventions, can help people identify the initial thoughts and emotions that can affect how you behave.
For example, instances of self-doubt that could lead to someone deciding to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or act out in anger or aggression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques
Therapists who practice CBT with patients who have addiction issues may use a variety of techniques both within sessions, as well as tasks to be completed outside of sessions.
For instance, common CBT techniques include:
- cognitive restructuring (i.e. reframing thoughts/cognitive distortions)
- self-monitoring (e.g. journaling)
- activity scheduling
- guided discovery
- relaxation and calming techniques
Benefits Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Decades of research into the efficacy of CBT have identified a number of benefits this psychotherapy can offer people with certain mental health or substance use issues.
Cognitive behavioral therapy may help with:
- reducing mental health symptoms
- re-evaluating automatic negative thoughts
- reducing risk of drug relapse
- improving communication skills
- teaching useful coping tools and life skills
- improving responses to life difficulties
- learning how to effectively cope with past trauma or grief
- improved understanding of your emotions
- reducing self-harm behaviors
- managing symptoms of mental illness (e.g. psychosis)
- promoting the use of self-help strategies
- addressing specific problems related to substance use
Where Can I Receive CBT Treatment
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of therapy offered by drug and alcohol rehab programs and addiction treatment providers.
This form of therapy may be offered by:
- inpatient treatment centers or hospitals
- residential rehab centers
- outpatient treatment centers
- counseling centers
- individual treatment providers (e.g. psychotherapists, social workers)
CBT is one of the most frequently utilized modalities. It may be offered as an intervention to supplement other treatments, including motivational interviewing, relapse prevention, and medication-assisted treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) FAQs
Find answers here to frequently asked questions about CBT and how it can help people with a drug or alcohol use disorder overcome addiction for good.
❓ Is CBT Effective In Treating Addiction?
✔️ CBT is an evidence-based treatment for substance abuse, meaning it has proven to be effective for treating substance use issues, as well as mental health problems.
Studies show it can help reduce the risk of relapse in people with certain drug addictions, especially when paired with other medical and behavioral healthcare services.
❓ What Is An Example Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
✔️ A variety of therapeutic techniques are used within CBT for addiction. One example is role-play, in which a therapist may guide you through a prospective, real-life scenario.
As this scenario plays out, a person can practice identifying negative thoughts or urges, and determining effective coping skills for responding to them.
Find A Rehab Program That Offers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If you’re looking for an addiction rehab center that offers cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for yourself or a loved one, we may be able to help.
Call our helpline today to learn more about CBT or how to find a treatment facility for substance abuse that offers cognitive behavioural therapy.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed