Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

If you or someone you care about struggles with addiction, it may be time to explore the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy is used for a variety of different issues but has been proven helpful specifically for addiction recovery.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction 

Most people would agree that introducing an unregulated amount of substance into the body for the purpose of disrupting the brain’s natural chemical signals sounds like a risky idea. Yet, over 13% of Americans are doing this exact thing, each month. The nature of addiction is that it overrides any common sense that would dictate that the risk is not worth the reward. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for addiction treatment seeks to assist a client in learning how to override the irrational behavior of substance use. This positive change occurs through understanding the underlying thoughts, beliefs, and feelings which contribute to a person continuing in a life of self-sabotage.

Development of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the brainchild of a psychiatrist named Aaron Beck. He spent his university years studying under the influence of the psychoanalytical practices which had been popularized by Sigmund Freud, several decades prior. While testing the results of psychoanalysis in treating his own patients, Beck found that certain types of disorders did not appear to improve. This inspired him to design a new approach toward bringing relief to his patients. 

Beck discovered that working with patients to identify the thoughts and beliefs that lie behind observed actions provided a road map for changing behaviors. He set aside the psychoanalytical practice of digging deep into a person’s past to find the answers to problems and began focusing on the maladaptive perceptions which exist in the present. During the decade of the 1960s, the practice of CBT was introduced into mainstream mental health treatments, and it has played an important role, ever since.

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works

Cognition refers to our thinking. How we process incoming information, how we store that information, and how we bring it back outdrives the majority of actions during our waking hours. If you have ever heard the concept that your attitude determines your future, you have been exposed to a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy idea.

The influence of psychoanalysis on CBT is apparent in the way that a trained CBT therapist will work with a client to uncover the events of the past which have resulted in certain beliefs being embedded deep within our psyche. Unlike psychoanalysis, a CBT therapist won’t seek to ascribe meaning to these beliefs. Instead, the focus will be on whether these beliefs are something that helps a client to live a better life or hold the client back from reaching a goal.

The most obvious way that can be used to determine whether a person’s thoughts are productive is by observing the outcome of such thoughts. The outcome of our thinking is that we decide upon some type of behavior. Behaviors are considered objective data, as they can be observed, monitored, and tracked.  As our thinking transforms into something that better serves our goals for a healthy future, our behaviors tend to follow suit. 

Think about engaging in physical exercise, as an example. The mindset that inspires us to get into shape often involves some type of consideration that doing so will benefit our future. We might be imagining the potential to attract a mate or a future where we will need to be physically stronger. Whether we decide to commit to the exercise routine will be dependent upon our maintenance of that initial, inspiring, idea. When the viability of that thought fades, we tend to migrate back toward sitting on the couch with some snacks. 

Our lack of commitment to the exercise regimen is a clear sign that our thinking about the matter has shifted. A Cognitive Behavioral Therapist would work with you to figure out what inspired you to exercise, in the first place, and then explore which change within your thinking resulted in your giving up. Behind that lack of inspiration is likely to dwell what is known as a core belief

These core beliefs tend to dictate a majority of our decisions and actions, throughout our lifetime. It may be the case that you don’t believe you deserve to look and feel good, or it may be the case that you hold the belief that you aren’t capable of committing to anything. Finding and adjusting that core belief can result in not only a renewed desire to resume exercising, but can also unlock keys to other areas in life that you have thus far been held back from realizing. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Addiction Treatment

The structure of CBT allows it to be used in conjunction with many other forms of therapy. One of the most effective combinations with CBT is that of substance abuse treatment. With the cognitive knowledge that addiction is destructive being apparent to most people, there has to be something behind the scenes that is driving the sabotaging behavior. Once the physical factors of addiction have been addressed – typically through some form of detox or medication control – the cognitive beliefs which threaten to influence a person to return to substance use can be explored.

With alcohol or drug abuse treatment, the targeted behavior for change is self-evident. The person in treatment needs to stop using the substance. The motivation for this behavioral change will play a key factor in the likelihood of success of CBT treatment. In order for a target behavior to be addressed, the individual has to genuinely view the behavior as a problem. Due to the personal commitment involved in treatment, a CBT therapist will likely employ a series of questions toward determining a client’s level of buy-in to the process.

Once engagement in the process has been determined, a CBT therapist will work with you to form a game plan. This plan is likely to involve exploring situations where the temptation to use substances will be high, and developing a contingency plan for resisting the temptation. This type of plan tends to involve frequent monitoring of behaviors – either through self-report or accountability measures – and rewards for choosing the appropriate behavioral responses. This ongoing behavioral maintenance will be applied in concurrence with assistance toward changing the negative thinking patterns which contribute to addiction.