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How can cognitive behavioral therapy be used to help people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction?

People suffering from addiction may also suffer from a co-occurring mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. Research has found that when the co-occurring illness isn’t treated alongside the addiction, the individual is more likely to relapse after leaving a treatment facility. This is because the individual turns to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate for the underlying mental illness. To address this problem, most addiction treatment facilities also provide mental health services to recovering addicts. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is used to effectively treat addicts as they begin their recovery process.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

In the early 1960s, Dr. Aaron T. Beck created cognitive behavioral therapy as a means of helping patients discover how their behavior patterns affected their lives. While many people assume their poor choices in life and external events affect their emotional health, CBT helps patients realize that this cycle actually flows in the opposite direction.

In truth, your thoughts and feelings affect how you make certain choices or react to certain events. Once a patient understands how this pattern of thought and behavior works, they can modify their thoughts to produce more positive results in their daily lives.

Traditionally, CBT has been used to successfully treat the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

In recent years, CBT has been adapted to help people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. This type of therapy is particularly effective in treating addiction because it helps the individual recognize how their mood or emotional state affects their choice to use the drug or alcohol. Consciously thinking about this relationship can give the recovering addict more control in choosing not to relapse.

How Does CBT Help Addicts in Recovery?

There may be many reasons or triggers that push an addict to use drugs or alcohol. While some of these triggers are external, such as visiting a favorite bar, there are also internal triggers that prompt substance abuse.

An example of an internal trigger is the habit of entertaining negative thoughts that automatically pop up in your mind. If you’re already struggling with addiction, one of those negative thoughts may be enough to push you to use again.

Spending too much time focusing on these negative thoughts can affect your mental health over a long period of time, leading to a pattern of negative thinking and substance abuse.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches addicts to recognize those thoughts and the consequences they produce. This type of therapy can help people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction by teaching them how to recognize their negative thought patterns.

Often, people have negative thoughts for extended periods without recognizing that’s what’s happening. In this way, those random thoughts can influence how people behave or make decisions. They can even affect how people interact with one another.

Through CBT, a recovering addict will learn how to recognize those thoughts quickly and dismiss them. They will be less likely to let negative thoughts force them into making poor decisions. They will also be less likely to engage in high-risk behavior.

What Types of CBT Are Used in Treating Addiction?

Thought Records

This involves making a record of negative thoughts the addict experiences throughout their week. When they meet with their therapist, they will create a list of statements that support or disprove the negative thoughts. This gives the addict a more balanced perspective, and they may find that most of their negative thoughts are entirely baseless.

Behavioral Experiments

This is a process of experimenting with different thoughts to see which ones produce the best results. The therapist will help the individual come up with a positive thought for each negative thought so they can explore the results of each one. This will help the individual discover the best thought patterns for dealing with events in their lives.

Imagery Based Exposure

For some people, negative thoughts are the result of a traumatic life experience that they never resolved. Therapy sessions will revolve around exploring those memories in vivid detail. By picking apart those memories over and over, the trauma will lose its power over the individual. As a result, they will no longer be plagued by those negative thoughts.

Pleasant Activity Therapy

The recovering addict will work with their therapist to come up with a list of pleasant activities that they can easily do. These should be inexpensive activities that can be done anytime. Once the list has been created, the therapist will help the individual schedule these activities for various times throughout the week.

This gives the recovering addict something enjoyable to look forward to instead of focusing their thoughts on using drugs or alcohol. Creating frequent, positive experiences will help people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction by taking their focus away from their recovery for brief periods.

Is CBT Effective in Treating Addiction?

CBT has been used to successfully help people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction for many years now. In addition to the therapies specifically outlined here, it also helps by teaching individuals new ways to cope with their addiction. They learn new skills and discover healthy ways to motivate themselves to stay clean and sober.

Many people find CBT to be effective because it gives recovering addicts more control over the treatment process. While other types of therapy largely involve talking about the individual’s feelings, CBT takes a more hands-on approach. The therapist and addict work closely together to identify how their thought patterns and high-risk behaviors are related.

Since these types of therapy involve creating rapid solutions for coping with cravings and other withdrawal side effects, they’re especially effective in 30 to 90-day treatment programs. By the time the addict leaves a rehab facility, they are skilled in the broad range of coping mechanisms they learned in their CBT sessions. Even though they may still need to continue some form of therapy after completing a treatment program, CBT better prepares recovering addicts for their return to normal society.

If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, contact us immediately. Our counselors can help you start the treatment program that offers you the best possibility for sustained recovery.

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