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  • Addiction and mental illness are associated with changes in the brain that can interfere with functioning and well-being. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that can produce positive changes in thinking and behavior. 

    The focus of CBT is learning to identify and change unhealthy behaviors, beliefs, and thinking patterns. CBT is a valuable aspect of addiction treatment that can be effective alone or in combination with medication.   

    What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the belief that cognitions (thoughts), behaviors, and emotions are linked. 

    Cognitive distortions, or false thoughts, can alter our perception of ourselves and others. These false thoughts can instigate unhealthy behaviors and reactions. When someone is stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviors, CBT can help restructure those processes. 

    CBT is a goal-oriented type of therapy that helps individuals become aware of unhealthy patterns and find new ways of coping. People with mental illness, including substance use disorders, can learn healthy coping skills and relieve symptoms.

    CBT is used for a wide range of mental health disorders, including:

    • substance abuse/addiction
    • general anxiety disorder 
    • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
    • depression
    • eating disorders
    • schizophrenia
    • social anxiety
    • panic disorder
    • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

    A trusted psychotherapist can help you learn to identify and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Many alternative forms of psychoanalysis focus on coping with past traumas. CBT focuses on current challenges and learning healthy coping strategies. 

    How CBT Works

    CBT can be an effective short-term treatment option that can provide long-lasting benefits. Depending on your individual needs, you may receive between 5-20 therapy sessions. 

    After an assessment, a health care professional will create a personalized treatment plan with strategies that fit your needs. 

    Every individual treatment plan will differ but initial treatment sessions may involve:

    • building trust with a therapist
    • identifying specific problems
    • identifying negative thought patterns
    • restructuring unhealthy thoughts 
    • role-playing potentially challenging situations
    • learning mindfulness techniques

    Your therapist may offer homework assignments to practice specific coping skills in real life situations. Homework may also include journaling or reflecting on thoughts and feelings that come up in between treatment sessions. 

    How Addiction Affects Thoughts & Behaviors

    Addiction is associated with unhealthy behavioral patterns, including drug seeking and compulsive drug use. Long-term substance abuse can lead to changes in brain functioning that can affect thoughts and reactions. 

    During a pattern of substance abuse, someone may believe drugs or alcohol helps them feel better. Drugs and alcohol may provide a temporary “high” because many increase dopamine in the brain. 

    However, as the effects of the substances wear off, the person may feel low, anxious, or depressed. This reinforces a cycle of drug or alcohol use to maintain the high and avoid uncomfortable feelings. 

    CBT For Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

    Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, can be challenging to overcome on your own. For some people, the routine associated with drug or alcohol use can become as addictive as the substance. 

    CBT can help someone become aware of these behaviors as well as cravings and dependence on the substance. Along with awareness of thoughts and behaviors, CBT can teach you new skills which can be beneficial for long-term abstinence. 

    The following is a few ways CBT can improve addiction-related behaviors:

    • learning how to cope with cravings
    • identifying unhealthy thoughts and applying healthy responses
    • being assertive when faced with social pressures
    • learning problem-solving skills
    • education about addiction
    • practicing positive self-talk
    • joining a self-help or 12-step groups 
    • replacing old habits with healthy activities (like yoga or meditation)

    The priority of CBT is learning to apply these new skills in everyday situations. Through CBT, individuals can learn to help themselves and improve quality of life. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective alone or in combination with medication and other treatments. 

    Benefits Of CBT

    CBT has been widely studied and found to be an effective treatment for mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), CBT is backed by extensive scientific evidence that its methods produce positive changes. 

    The National Library of Medicine reported multiple reports that found CBT was effective for alcohol and substance use disorders. Reviews of one clinical trial shows CBT was at least moderately effective in substance abuse treatment. 

    CBT was most effective on individuals dependent on cannabis, cocaine, and opioids. 

    Most importantly, evidence supports long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol in individuals who received CBT. A study of treatment for cocaine dependence found 60% of individuals who received CBT remained abstinent a year later. 

    Finding A Treatment Provider

    Your healthcare provider or local health clinic may refer you to a psychologist trained in CBT. 

    Many inpatient and outpatient treatment programs utilize behavioral therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. These programs often offer a wide variety of other services that can be combined with CBT. 

    CBT may improve the benefits of other treatment methods when incorporated into a comprehensive program. These treatment methods may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT), psychiatric medication, support groups, and other therapies

    To learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy and other treatment options, please contact us today. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on May 25, 2022
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