Why is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Used for Substance Use Disorders?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of therapy that is highly effective for treating substance use disorders. It works by helping patients change their thoughts about drugs or alcohol, thereby helping them form new behavior patterns around a given substance. The method also teaches problem solving skills, coping mechanisms, relaxation techniques and facing fears. This article will talk about why CBT is used to treat substance use, helping you decide if it might be right for you or someone you love. 


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Addresses Negative Thoughts and Behaviors

By helping individuals see that harmful thoughts and behaviors are not logical or rational, they can learn to move away from these automatic thought and behavior patterns, making it more likely to overcome a substance abuse disorder. Often, a person turns to drugs or alcohol as a way to avoid trauma or harmful past experiences. Learning coping thoughts and behaviors helps a person work through the negative past events and live in a new and healthy way. 


CBT and Addiction

For many, addiction goes hand in hand with anxiety and/or depression. The automatic thoughts that arise with these co-occurring disorders often leads to the desire to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. As one learns to confront their thoughts and recognize them as being maladaptive, they can learn to identify and cope with triggers without relapsing. That includes stress management, problem solving, and strategies to deal with cravings. They may include the following:



  • Dismissing false beliefs
  • Learning and implementing self-help tools
  • Learning effective communication skills
  • Identifying and dealing with triggers


Managing Triggers

A trigger is a person, situation or anything else that makes a person want to use. Learning to manage these triggers is a big part of cognitive behavioral therapy. This is usually done in three steps.



  • Recognize the trigger.
  • Avoid the situation or person that is the trigger.
  • Use appropriate CBT techniques to deal with thoughts and emotions that lead to substance use.

what to expect of a typical day in an addiction treatment center

CBT Techniques

There are several specific activities that are used as part of a CBT recovery program. The ones that you use will depend on your specific situation and can be mixed and matched, as well as modified as needed, depending on your substance use disorder. This might include keeping a thought record that can be reviewed to find patterns and triggers. You might also undergo behavior experiments in which you compare the results of negative thoughts and behaviors with positive thoughts and behaviors to see which is more effective. You might also undergo imagery-based exposure where you are confronted with the factors that lead to your substance use. 


The goal of this repeated exposure is to take away some of the power the situation has over you so you are less likely to see it as a trigger. In addition, you will likely need to find pleasant and healthy activities to replace your substance use, which gives you something to look forward to and takes you out of previously triggering situations. 


If you’d like to find out more about how cognitive behavioral therapy can be beneficial for you, contact Canon Human Services Centers, Inc. today. 


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