By Wesley Gallagher
If you’ve done any research on therapy before, you might recognize the term Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). But you might not know that CBT, while beneficial for a range of mental health issues, has also been proven effective in treating addiction. In fact, it is widely used in substance use disorder treatment, often with great and lasting success.
What Is CBT?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on helping you change negative or unproductive thinking patterns so that you can achieve greater emotional balance and respond to yourself and the world in healthier ways.
The theory behind CBT is that the way we see and think about the world influences our behavior, so the goal in this form of talk therapy is to identify thoughts that are not an accurate assessment of reality. Once these thoughts are identified, certain strategies are used to challenge and change them. Because CBT is a targeted, results-oriented therapy, it can be highly effective in a fairly short period of time.
Rather than focusing on your childhood and past events, CBT focuses on your present circumstances and how you view them. The goal is to find current irrational beliefs or fears and address them, replacing them with new and more accurate ways of thinking about your circumstances or your actions. This change in the way you view things will ultimately lead to a change in the choices you make and the actions you take.
Practice and “homework” are often an integral part of CBT treatment, as you may be asked to pay attention to or even write down your thoughts about certain situations that happen in between sessions. These thoughts will then be evaluated in your therapy session to see how accurate and helpful they are. This concrete practice, along with the skills it teaches, is one of the reasons CBT works so well.
CBT and Substance Abuse
So how does this concept work in addiction recovery? Well, the focus of CBT is on how our thoughts lead to certain behaviors, particularly conflicts between what we want to do, or know we should do, and what we actually do. Addiction is a perfect example of something we do that we don’t want to do, or that we know we shouldn’t do. We know it’s unhealthy and dangerous to abuse substances, and yet we still do it. Those behaviors often result in a range of negative consequences as well, which lead to even more regret. Still, people battling a substance use disorder find it hard, if not nearly impossible, to stop on their own.
According to a study published in Psychiatric Clinics of North America, the thing about drugs and alcohol is that they are powerful reinforcers of behavior. The effects they have, such as enhancing social experiences and numbing painful and negative emotions, keep bringing people back. CBT works systematically to reverse these reinforcing behaviors and replace them with behaviors that reinforce abstinence instead.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy looks at the inaccurate thoughts and associated negative feelings that lead to substance abuse. During CBT, you’ll focus on recording thoughts and feelings, as well as the things that trigger those thoughts and feelings. You’ll then look at the behaviors that proceed from them. Once you’ve identified the thoughts and feelings behind your unwanted behaviors, you can work to replace them with new, more accurate and positive thoughts and feelings.
Over time, you will be able to change your thoughts by intentionally looking at situations in more realistic ways that don’t lead to negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. CBT helps you to build the internal skills you need to train yourself out of repeating the deeply rooted behaviors that have driven your addiction.
Other skills learned in CBT may include emotional regulation, interpersonal relationship skills, and organizational and problem-solving skills. All of these will help you along the road to recovery as you learn to cope with life without using substances. Not only will you learn how to handle situations where alcohol or drugs may be present, but you’ll also work to repair relationships that may have been harmed during your addiction. You’ll practice building social support and turning toward healthy activities to cope with negative experiences and emotions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques
Cognitive behavioral therapists use specific cognitive therapy techniques for addiction recovery. The CBT exercises include the following:
Thought records examine negative thoughts and look for evidence that disproves those thoughts. The person in treatment will list evidence for and against their negative thought patterns. By critically evaluating this evidence, the person can think more balanced and less harsh thoughts.
Behavioral experiments contrast positive and negative thoughts to see which is more effective in changing their behavior. Everyone is different; some respond better to self-kindness, while others respond better to self-criticism. This technique allows people to determine what works best for them to reduce negative thought patterns.
For those in addiction recovery, the individual thinks of a memory that evokes a powerful negative feeling. With imagery-based exposure, they recognize every sight, sound, emotion, thought, and impulse associated with that memory. By frequently revisiting painful memories, the person can reduce the anxiety caused by them over time.
Pleasant Activity Schedule
Creating a pleasant activity schedule involves making a weekly list of healthy and fun activities that break up your typical daily routine. The tasks should be simple and encourage positive emotions. Scheduling these activities will reduce negative thought patterns and prevent the addict from turning to drugs or alcohol.
Those in addiction recovery can practice these cognitive behavioral therapy techniques outside the therapist’s office. These CBT exercises can also be done independently or in a group setting.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at The Meadows Malibu
If you are struggling with addiction or mental health issues, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other treatments could be just what you need to find healing. The Meadows Malibu offers CBT in partnership with a range of other therapeutic interventions to put you on the path to recovery, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to get the help you need.