How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Heals Substance Use Disorders

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Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a widely used and effective treatment method for a range of mental health issues, including substance use disorders. Developed in the 1960s by Dr. Aaron T. Beck, CBT is based on the principle that our thoughts, feelings and actions are interconnected, and that changing our thought patterns can lead to changes in feelings and behaviors. In many studies, CBT has shown to be as effective, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or medications.

Pura Vida offers cognitive behavioral therapy to our clients. Our sessions can be done in a group with other people who are facing similar challenges as you or one-on-one with your therapist. Let’s learn more about how and why CBT can help you overcome a substance use disorder.

Understanding Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders (SUDs) are complex conditions characterized by an uncontrollable use of substances despite harmful consequences like legal troubles, health problems and relationship conflicts. These disorders stem from a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors. Effective treatment requires addressing the underlying thoughts and behaviors that contribute to substance use, such as low self-esteem, unresolved trauma or depression.

The Principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is grounded in several principles:

  • Cognitive restructuring. This involves identifying and challenging distorted thinking patterns that contribute to maladaptive behaviors. For example, you might think that the only way you can loosen up and have fun is by drinking.
  • Behavioral activation. This skill teaches you how to change your actions. The goal is to find activities that are rewarding and reduce reliance on drugs or alcohol.
  • Skill building. By developing essential life skills, you’re able to cope with stress in healthier ways and problem solve on your own.

These are just some of the principles that CBT is rooted in. The ultimate goal is to help clients develop a more rational perspective and learn how to problem solve and handle stress in effective ways. Essentially, you will be building skills that keep you away from substances and support a healthy life.

The CBT Process for Substance Use Disorders

Let’s explore the process of CBT when treating substance use disorders so that you know what to expect:

Assessment and goal setting

The therapy begins with a thorough assessment of your substance use, mental health status and life circumstances. Based on this information, you will develop goals to guide the treatment process. The best goals are SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound.

Identify triggers and high-risk situations

You will work with your therapist to identify situations, emotions and thoughts that trigger your desire to use substances. Understanding your triggers is crucial for developing strategies to avoid or manage them. You won’t be able to avoid all of your triggers, but you can build a more protective life when you recognize what they are.

Challenge negative thought patterns

CBT focuses on identifying and challenging irrational or harmful thoughts related to substance use. Techniques like cognitive restructuring can help you reframe your thoughts to be more realistic and positive.

Develop coping strategies

Since stress is inevitable, it’s important to have ways to cope. Your therapist will teach you ways to deal with stress, such as meditation, relaxation techniques, exercise and distraction methods. It may take some trial and error to find what works for you so be patient!

Behavioral interventions

Behavioral activation encourages you to engage in enjoyable and fulfilling activities that do not involve substance use. This way, you can replace substance use with healthier behaviors that provide emotional benefits. Great activities to try include sports, exercise, painting, reading or playing an instrument.

Relapse prevention

A significant component of CBT is preparing for and preventing relapse. Even though relapse can be a normal part of the recovery process, it’s still something you want to avoid when possible. By learning how to recognize the early warning signs of relapse, you can develop a plan before you end up returning to use.

Skill building and reinforcement

CBT emphasizes building life skills that enhance overall functioning and reduce the need for substances. These skills include problem solving, communication and assertiveness training.

Effectiveness of CBT

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT in treating substance use disorders. It works by reducing the frequency and intensity of substance use, improving treatment retention rates, enhancing overall quality of life and equipping individuals with tools that will help them manage their recovery long-term.

Like other types of treatment, CBT is often integrated with other treatment modalities to increase its effectiveness. This may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT), group therapy and family therapy. It’s extremely versatile and can be used at various stages of the recovery process to support healing.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Santa Rosa, CA

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a powerful tool in the treatment of substance use disorders. By addressing the underlying cognitive and behavioral patterns that contribute to substance use, CBT can help you develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving. Its structured approach, focus on skill-building and evidence-based techniques make it a cornerstone of effective addiction treatment. To learn more about how we incorporate CBT into our treatment programs, contact Pura Vida today.