CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, for substance use disorders is a common practice in the continuum of care. Evidence-based therapies have been designed to treat the patient’s deeper psychological hunger for substances and other compulsive behaviors. Substance abuse can spring from a variety of factors, from genetics and to the social environment.

A patient can expect CBT for substance abuse at a conventional rehab or even holistic addiction treatment. Psychotherapy techniques such as CBT examine the relationship between your:

  • Thoughts
  • Actions
  • Behaviors

CBT is noted for its versatility in treating many different disorders from eating disorders to relationship issues. Cognitive behavioral therapy for substance use disorders has the added benefit of research and practice to justify the results.

Considering the nature of addiction as a treatable disease, it’s important to understand the language surrounding those struggling. CBT for addiction may offer a window into the poor coping mechanisms you’ve adopted through substance abuse. Most individuals with mental health disorders do not seek treatment.

Substance use disorder can be defined as an inability to function without the substance, despite attempts to quit and neglect of negative outcomes. Addiction can hijack the reward system of the brain, full of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Addictive substances such as synthetic opioids or alcohol manipulate the pathways in the brain.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is best described as a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the processes behind your compulsive behaviors and methods to adjust them. Cognitive behavioral therapy works on a short-term basis through coaching.

CBT expresses these principles:

  • Your thoughts play a huge role in your actions
  • Your negative thoughts can become patterns that make life unbearable
  • Healthier coping mechanisms can be learned through practice

CBT forces you to evaluate your beliefs and ideals, even if they’re distorted. Most of the complications that come from addiction are how we feel about ourselves, the past and how our actions affect us with others. You might ask yourself; “Where do these beliefs come from?” or “What’s holding me back from what I want?”

If you’ve ever spent time at a psychiatrist’s office, chances are you have heard or experienced CBT. Your psychotherapist might mention how you’ve been struggling with distortions.

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions are false thoughts that strengthen negative patterns and emotions. These can play a major role in the way we process information and act on these beliefs. Cognitive distortions may come in the form of:

  • Filtering
  • Polarized thinking
  • Control fallacies
  • Fallacy of fairness
  • Overgeneralization
  • Catastrophizing
  • Heaven’s reward fallacy
  • Always being right
  • Personalization
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Blaming
  • Global Labeling
  • “Shoulds”

Filtering can be defined as focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive. Catastrophizing is similar but with a focus on the worst-case scenario (Ex. They hate me already”). Polarized thinking can be described as “All-or-nothing” thinking. Control fallacies convince you that you’re the one to blame or others.

The fallacy of fairness is the assumption that life should be fair. Overgeneralization might be assuming one rule for the experiences of one or all. Personalization convinces you that everything is about you. Jumping to conclusions influences you to make assumptions without evidence.

“Shoulds” can influence us to grapple with personal rules of behavior. Global labeling is an intense form of overgeneralization, while emotional reasoning presents the idea that “If I feel this way, it must be true.”

What Can I Expect During a Typical CBT Session

Cognitive behavioral therapy for substance use disorders is effective due to its lasting effects on recovery and intensive structure. Your psychotherapist will evaluate your health conditions through careful questioning. They will then determine the treatment plan for your needs.

A patient can anticipate weekly sessions that span from five to 20 weeks, with each session varying in length. Factors such as level of stress, level of symptoms, length of their struggle, and certain disorders affect treatment.

Talk therapy is used to address the thoughts the patient is dealing with. The behavioral element functions to examine these behaviors from these thoughts as a way to create new action plans. A patient can expect to do some homework during their sessions, such as practicing coping skills and journaling.

During CBT, a patient should anticipate learning about how their disorders manifest such as:

  • How their distortions manipulate them
  • Developing confidence and esteem through action
  • Understanding their motivations
  • Practical problem solving
  • Eliminating fears
  • Role-playing
  • Calming Techniques

What are the Different Techniques Used in CBT?

The techniques practiced in cognitive behavioral therapy for substance abuse disorders can include:

  • Exposure Therapy
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Mindfulness-based CBT

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is constructed to reduce anxiety and fear-based reactions to triggers. This can be helpful at treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress or obsessive-compulsive disorders. In this therapy, a patient will be exposed to their fear-based trigger to develop psychological resistance.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and mindfulness are the techniques used in this form of therapy. This technique targets ways to cope with unwanted thoughts and feelings that might influence negative outcomes.  Acceptance and commitment therapy encourages the patient to reflect on their experiences and rewrite the context.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a form of therapy to calm the intense thoughts that intrude on the mind. EMDR is a tool to rewire the brain’s way of processing information by making the triggers less stressful. EMDR is reported to occur when you dream or REM (rapid eye movement). It can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other phobias.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy, can be performed through individual or group sessions. Eastern health practices can be included in this form of therapy, which highlights mindfulness and acceptance. DBT is highly effective for the treatment of many disorders, by focusing on how the patient develops interpersonal skills and regulating emotions. DBT does not focus so much on the trauma but rather the coping techniques around it.

Interpersonal Therapy

A patient can expect 12-16 one-hour sessions weekly. Interpersonal therapy can be used to address issues on a short-term basis, such as depression throughout different age groups. This form of therapy is designed to discover the root cause of depression.

How Does CBT Help in Treating Addiction?

Substance abuse can be triggered by feelings of shame and guilt, infecting the person from within. Substances serve as an escape from a variety of stresses and traumas that linger in the mind. CBT helps the person struggling with addiction confront the parts of themselves that want to hide and drive their compulsive behaviors.

Those who are struggling with addiction may be dealing with co-occurring disorders. Their substance abuse could have intensified the mental health disorder or vice versa. Dual diagnosis treatment is a form of treatment to handle these cases. CBT is one of the resources available to treat these individuals in comprehensive programs.

It can be challenging to remain sober, especially if you lack a support system. Boredom and stress are strong factors for relapse, which unfolds in stages. CBT preps you to deal with these through rational problem solving and emotional awareness.

Negative thoughts can lead to behaviors with drastic consequences. Discovering and maintaining hobbies are effective methods of long-term recovery. Self-compassion and discipline are necessary to build your resolve through this journey.

What Are the Benefits of CBT for Substance Abuse?

There is a wealth of benefits from participating in CBT for drug abuse. The benefits of CBT have been reported to occur between 12-16 weeks, but each case is different. CBT promotes self-accountability where the patient feels more in control of their recovery by digging deep.

It can be uncomfortable to address these parts of yourself but each step marks progress towards healthy living. CBT for addiction is hands-on and detailed focused for your experiences.

In addition, CBT for drug abuse is noted for being quite engaging. The outcomes of therapy are directly influenced by the patient’s desire to heal. For example, CBT has been an effective method used to treat anxiety. Depression is another mental health disorder that has been treated through CBT.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has the benefit of long-term recovery from behavioral disorders. This is promising for those in the recovery process, as relapse may convince them otherwise. CBT promotes the use of setting goals and identifying the underlying issues behind your feelings.

CBT could help you heal trauma through healthier processing, even lending a hand in recovering from grief or relapse symptoms. Improved interpersonal relationships have been reported through CBT by encouraging honesty. CBT for substance abuse may reduce mental health symptoms, making recovery more accessible.

Is CBT for Addiction Suited for Me?

A person seeking treatment for mental health or substance use disorders would be a good candidate. If you’re struggling with depression, marijuana addiction, alcohol addiction, and methamphetamine addiction, CBT may be suited for you.

Those with severe mental health disorders or learning difficulties may not find CBT as effective. It would be vital to discuss treatment with a counselor or medical professional.

If you are a poly-drug user, chances are CBT will not be best for you.

Find Support Through BRC Healthcare

The road to recovery can be bumpy and stressful navigating through cravings. CBT for drug abuse can be an excellent resource for support. BRC Healthcare recognizes the value of quality addiction treatment. We aim to provide you with the tools to succeed in exchange for your dedication to growth. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, please contact one of our facilities today.