Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) For Addiction Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 27, 2022

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a counseling approach used to treat various mental health and substance use issues. Learn more about DBT and how it can help people with addiction achieve long-term recovery.

DBT For Drug And Alcohol Treatment

Dialectical behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 1980’s.

It was originally developed to treat suicidal ideation in women with borderline personality disorder, or BPD.

Today, this form of psychotherapy is widely used to treat a range of mental health conditions, including depression, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Here you’ll find information on:

  • what DBT is
  • how DBT works
  • uses for DBT
  • benefits of DBT for treating addiction
  • how to find a rehab center that offers DBT

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical behavioral therapy is an acceptance-based counseling approach that can be helpful for people who have not benefited from other therapeutic modalities.

It takes inspiration from CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, which is also used to treat drug and alcohol addiction, with the added focus on teaching acceptance skills.

The four key modules of DBT include:

  • Mindfulness: Learning how to live in the moment and remain grounded.
  • Distress tolerance: Learning healthy coping skills for managing difficult situations.
  • Emotion Regulation: Learning how to manage intense emotions with supportive emotion regulation skills.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: Learning how to maintain healthy boundaries and use healthy strategies for resolving conflict in relationships.

This modality can be delivered in various settings, including group therapy settings, over the phone, and in individual counseling settings with a clinician.

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DBT Techniques For Addiction Treatment

Therapists who practice DBT may use a number of techniques associated with the core values and goals of this counseling approach, depending on individual client needs.

Common DBT techniques include:

  • DBT skills training
  • mindfulness coaching
  • consultation teams for therapists
  • individual therapy
  • DBT assignments (e.g. filling out diary cards)
  • phone coaching

Individual DBT For Substance Abuse

Dialectical behavioral therapy may be offered by an individual DBT therapist, who can work with you or a loved one to learn healthy skills for life in addiction recovery.

The two focal points of individual DBT include:

  • enhancing motivation to make positive behavioral changes (e.g. maintaining abstinence from alcohol or drugs of abuse)
  • developing a social and physical environment that is conducive to recovery, through comprehensive case management services

Group DBT For Substance Use Disorder

Dialectical behavioral therapy is also offered in a group-based format, such as in drug rehab programs and some community support groups.

Within a group setting, a therapist will use DBT-based activities, such as journaling or worksheets.

This teaches the following DBT skills:

  • mindfulness skills
  • validation
  • effective communication
  • how to identify and avoid harmful behavioral patterns
  • addressing emotional dysregulation in healthy ways

What Does Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Treat?

Dialectical behavioral therapy can be helpful for treating a range of psychiatric conditions in both adolescent and adult populations.

DBT uses include:

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy For Treating Alcohol Or Drug Addiction

Dialectical behavioral therapy has been adapted to meet the specific needs of people with drug and alcohol abuse issues to promote a healthy life in recovery.

Target areas of DBT for addiction include:

  • decreasing drug abuse (or maintaining drug abstinence)
  • reducing cravings or urges to use
  • alleviating physical discomfort associated with withdrawal
  • building a healthy social support system that can offer community reinforcement (e.g. by rekindling friendships, exploring new hobbies)
  • identifying achievable goals within recovery
  • avoiding opportunities to use and other triggers
  • increasing awareness of the consequences of substance abuse
  • managing impulsivity

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy For Dual Diagnosis

Many people who seek help for alcohol dependence or drug addiction also have a mental health condition, such as a mood disorder or personality disorder.

Because dialectical behavioral therapy can be helpful for a variety of psychiatric conditions, it is often offered as a component of dual diagnosis programs.

Common co-occurring disorders include:

How Does Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Work?

Individual DBT interventions typically take place through once-a-week therapy sessions for as long as a person needs. This could be weeks, months, or years.

DBT is a form of talk therapy. But a DBT therapist may also use worksheets, assign homework assignments, or use other interventions for skill-learning purposes.

Benefits Of DBT For Addiction

Dialectical behavioral therapy can be helpful for people who have issues surrounding control, negative emotions, or self-destructive actions.

DBT can teach alternative strategies and ways of thinking to cope with difficulties that arise.

What DBT can help with:

  • reducing suicidal behaviors
  • reducing substance use
  • reducing bulimic behaviors
  • boosting self-confidence
  • enhancing self-respect
  • managing impulsivity
  • encouraging recognition of personal strengths
  • improving communication skills
  • teaching new life skills
  • promoting positive behavioral change

Where To Find Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical behavioral therapy is offered in a variety of healthcare settings that offer addiction treatment and treatment for mental health disorders.

Where DBT treatment is offered:

  • inpatient treatment centers
  • residential rehab centers
  • outpatient treatment centers
  • outpatient counseling centers
  • clinician offices

Not all addiction rehab centers offer DBT. The availability of DBT in a rehab program may vary by facility depending on its treatment philosophy and the specialties of treatment staff.

Find An Addiction Rehab Center That Offers DBT

Achieving recovery from addiction is possible. If you’re looking for dialectical behavioral therapy for yourself or an addicted loved one, we may be able to help.

Contact us today online or by phone to find effective substance abuse that offers dialectical behavioral therapy along with other evidence-based treatment services.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 27, 2022
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