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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Substance Abuse

For people who have a substance use disorder (SUD), the actual use of drugs is a symptom of underlying emotional and mental health issues. Understanding the causes and conditions of drug use is essential to accomplish sustained recovery from active drug use. After someone has stopped using, it is vital to learn new coping and life skills so that drugs and alcohol do not again become the solution to emotional problems.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a therapeutic modality that has proven successful in helping people formerly addicted to drugs gain new understandings of the underlying issues that drove their addiction. CBT is a short-term therapy option, and it requires the person in therapy to reflect upon automatic thoughts that contribute to poor quality of life, confront fears, do “homework” between sessions, and practice the new skills everywhere in life.

People with a history of substance abuse learn how to live life without drugs. Being in recovery usually requires changing places they spend time, the people they hang out with, and the activities that they used to do. CBT can be a valuable resource for developing a healthier outlook on life, a more positive image of themselves, and to live a better life that is sustainable.

What is CBT?

CBT is a therapy that has been successful in treating a variety of issues a person could experience, including depression, anxiety, sleeping, substance abuse, and even physical pain. CBT is a hands-on, collaborative therapy that blends cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. It helps someone develop healthier and happier lives by changing his or her beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. CBT works to help a person shift ideas about themselves by paying attention to the link between thoughts and behavior — a pattern of actions — as a means to deal with emotional problems.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist. Originally a psychoanalysis therapist, Dr. Beck noticed that many of his patients had an inner dialogue of thoughts that were not always disclosed in the sessions. He later coined the term “automatic thoughts” to describe the emotion-filled thoughts that happen. Automatic thoughts are instant, habitual, and usually unrecognized by the person having them; however, these thoughts have a direct impact on emotional well-being.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

CBT focuses on changing the internal dialogues and immediate thoughts with a combination of cognitive and behavioral approaches. For example, someone might have the immediate recurring thought:

“I always make mistakes. I can’t do anything right. No wonder nobody wants to be with me.”

This thought can occur whenever he or she gets in an argument, experiences disappointment, makes even the smallest mistake, or forgets to pick up bread at the store on their way home from work. CBT would work to identify this instant thought and explore what fear it might originate. Many people experience the fear of rejection, for example. Once recognized, the therapist and patient would work together to change the patient’s belief system:

  • Logic: It’s human to make mistakes. It doesn’t make you a mistake.
  • Practice: Role play exercises for real-world scenarios
  • Journals and Homework: keep a record to track progress in overcoming this fear of rejection
  • Identify Behaviors: does this instant thinking cause the patient to isolate. For example, a fear of rejection can stop someone from applying for jobs or seeking employment
  • Replace the thoughts: “Sometimes I make mistakes just like everybody else. Today I will use these experiences to learn and grow. I am lovable because I am constantly improving myself.”

CBT and Substance Use Disorders

CBT has been proven to be an effective therapeutic method to prevent alcohol and drug relapse. The goal of CBT is to diagnose and change unwanted behaviors by focusing on the link between thoughts and the actions that follow.

For many people in recovery, the most maladaptive behavior is their use of illicit drugs. Research shows that the methods of CBT are beneficial for developing relapse prevention plans so that people can live more fulfilling lives without resorting to their drug of choice to deal with life’s difficulties.

If you have questions or want more information on cognitive behavioral therapy and how it can help you or a loved one recover from addiction, Boardwalk Recovery can help. Our clinicians and caseworkers have extensive experience and expertise in developing individual treatment plans for anyone who is ready to live a purposeful and joyous life.

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