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What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is a classification of mental health counseling that began in the 1960s by Dr. Aaron T. Beck. According to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), CBT is a type of psychotherapy different from traditional psychodynamic therapy since the patient and therapist work together actively to address and manage problematic thoughts and feelings to overcome addiction.
It’s a popular addiction treatment and works well with other therapies. Along with addiction, CBT can also help those with co-occurring disorders, such as:
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Those with addictions may say they want to get better and change their behaviors of addiction, but find it extremely difficult to do so. More than 50 percent of addicts living with dual diagnoses have not received medical treatment or psychotherapy intervention associated with their recovery, according to Dual Diagnosis.org. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients overcome drug and alcohol addiction by:
- Providing self-help tools to help regulate and manage their moods
- Helping eliminate false beliefs and insecurities that may lead to substance abuse
- Teaching effective coping skills
- Identifying triggers (situations that trigger cravings throughout the day) and dealing with them. (recognizing, avoiding, coping)
The length and time-frame for CBT depend on the individual and their needs and comfort level. Some people need daily therapy, while others may need weekly. In a residential treatment center, CBT is often started once detox is complete. There are several techniques associated with CBT in addiction treatment:
- Thought records
- Behavioral experiments
- Interviewing (MI)
- Relapse Prevention
- Contingency management strategies
There are also different approaches to CBT, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Functional Analytic Psychotherapy. Whatever CBT is chosen, it’s been proven to have an excellent track record with many studies demonstrating its effectiveness for treating addiction, along with co-occurring disorders.
What to Expect from CBT?
Cognitive-behavioral therapists assist recovering addicts with identifying negative, habitual thoughts. When a thought is automatic, it’s based on impulse and usually comes from misconceptions and internalized feelings of self-doubt and fear. To deal with these thoughts, people will often turn to self-medicating by drinking or doing drugs. The goal of CBT is to talk through these feelings and emotions that are typically tied to uncomfortable or traumatic events and process them safely and effectively. When recovering addicts learn new ways of dealing with life’s stresses or trauma, they can replace their addiction with new, positive behaviors. During the first session, the therapist will walk you through the therapeutic process, address concerns, answer questions, and evaluate the issues you need to work on. The therapist will then work with you on goals and how you can best achieve them, which could include having homework. This is a time when the individual also must open up to the therapist about their struggles, fears, and behaviors. You may have a difficult time opening up, but it needs to be done for treatment must commence. During therapy, you will be taught various life skills and recovery techniques to help you stay clean. These include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Stress management skills
- Coping skills
Although there are no harmful side effects of CBT, you may feel some anxiety or discomfort when addressing issues or emotions. As therapy continues, those feelings should subside and leave you feeling more grounded and confident to live a drug-free life.
Types of Drug Addiction CBT Treats
Research shows that CBT is especially effective when used for recovering addicts that have abused alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Researchers discovered that the best treatment outcomes were associated with marijuana. Cocaine and opioids followed. For those with polydrug (more than one) addiction, CBT had the smallest effect.
Benefits of CBT
Every person living with the burden of addiction has unique circumstances that brought them to a recovery center. Identifying and treating issues that caused them to abuse drugs or alcohol helps decrease triggers and self-destructive behavior. The benefits of CBT, therefore include:
- Personal healing from trauma
- Building coping skills to reduce stress
- Helping individuals resolve problems in their relationships
- Reducing or eliminating certain symptoms of mental illnesses
- Preventing relapse of these symptoms
- Teaching a person to handle their emotions in a healthy way
- Strengthening a person’s communication skills
- Working as a treatment when medications cannot or do not want to be used
Coupled with other therapies, CBT is an effective treatment for drug and alcohol addiction when done in a safe and supportive environment.
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