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Are CBT and DBT Effective For Addiction Treatment?


man in behavioral therapy for addiction

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are types of talk psychotherapy used to help people with mental health or addiction issues. Both can play an important role in addiction treatment. Determining which therapy is best for which person requires a personalized analysis by a health care team. Since each person’s needs are unique, some may experience better results with CBT, while others may benefit from DBT. Others may need to pair both to achieve long-term recovery from addiction.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to help a person understand how their thoughts and emotions impact their actions. Many people do not realize that negative thoughts or inaccurate ways of thinking can affect how they view certain situations, particularly challenging moments. When this happens, they may react poorly to stress, including turning to addictive substances for relief.

While CBT is often used to help those with conditions ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to eating disorders, a person does not have to have a mental health concern or an addiction to benefit from CBT. CBT is an effective form of talk therapy for many people who need to better manage stress in their lives.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help with:

  • Managing symptoms of mental illness
  • Preventing a relapse of mental illness symptoms and addiction
  • Treating a mental illness alongside or instead of medications
  • Learning techniques for coping with stressful life situations
  • Identifying ways to manage emotions
  • Resolving relationship conflicts and learning better ways to communicate
  • Dealing with grief or loss
  • Overcoming emotional trauma related to abuse or violence
  • Coping with a medical illness
  • Managing chronic physical symptoms
  • Understanding and preventing relapse

Steps of CBT

The length of time someone undergoes CBT will depend on the individual, but CBT is usually not considered a long-term form of therapy. A person in treatment can expect to undergo this type of therapy for between five and 20 sessions.

CBT works by focusing on four steps:

  • identifying any situations or conditions in a person’s life that are troubling them, including mental health or addiction challenges
  • increasing their awareness of the thoughts and emotions they have around these challenges
  • recognizing any thinking around their addiction or their mental health that is inaccurate or negative
  • adjusting their inaccurate perceptions to better reflect the reality of the situation

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Originally created to address issues stemming from borderline personality disorder, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy can be helpful for individuals who have a strong element of emotional dysfunction connected to their addiction.

Despite the name, DBT is a form of CBT. While CBT focuses primarily on changing negative behaviors, DBT aims to bring together both acceptance and change so that a person achieves even better recovery results.

A particularly unique aspect of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is an emphasis on individual experiences, even if they are difficult or stressful. This helps the therapist to reassure the person in treatment to persevere even as they endeavor to change long-term negative behaviors. To do this, DBT incorporates emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness skills, as well as mindfulness.

Steps of DBT

This form of talk therapy focuses on four stages and incorporates:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group skills training
  • Coaching, if needed, for crises between sessions

People in DBT sessions agree to complete homework that helps them practice new skills, such as filling out daily “diary cards” to track a range of emotions, urges, behaviors and skills. The goal of the sessions and the homework is to develop and enhance positive life skills.

One key life skill that DBT addresses is a person’s “distress tolerance.” This skill helps the individual manage intense emotions without resorting to self-injury, substance abuse, or other impulsive reactions. DBT also helps individuals learn to regulate their emotions by correctly recognizing, labeling, and adjusting their feelings as needed.

Finally, DBT helps to develop mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness by teaching the person self-awareness and ways to successfully navigate conflicts.

Both CBT and DBT offer effective options for most people in addiction recovery. Both also work well alongside medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Either therapy can be helpful in managing relapse triggers so that someone can maintain their sobriety.

We invite you to find out more about CBT and DBT as therapeutic options for addiction treatment by contacting our team directly.

Building on a belief that spiritual development and healthy recovery can bring inner peace to clients overcoming addiction and substance abuse, we take a people-centered approach to addiction treatment. Find out how our personalized addiction treatment program can help you.

Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Dr. Saeed is a psychiatry specialist with over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He received training in General Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was selected as the Medical Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently serves as the medical director at Into Action Recovery Centers. Full Bio

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