Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy addresses unhealthy thoughts and feelings to treat addiction and mental illness.

Understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a classification of mental health counseling founded in the 1960s by Dr. Aaron T. Beck. CBT helps people address problematic thoughts and feelings to overcome addiction and is widely used in addiction treatment programs.

Alongside addiction, CBT also treats co-occurring disorders such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Find an addiction treatment center specializing in CBT today.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy shows that many harmful actions and emotions are not logical or rational. These feelings and behaviors may come from past experiences or environmental factors.

Cognitive Behavioral therapists help recovering addicts identify their negative automatic thoughts. An automatic thought is based on impulse and often comes from misconceptions and internalized feelings of self-doubt and fear. Often, people try to self-medicate these painful thoughts and feelings by drinking or abusing drugs.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Addiction Treatment

Automatic negative thoughts are often a root cause of depression and anxiety disorders. Automatic thoughts tend to make someone more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can be practiced outside the therapist’s office. Recovering addicts can do many CBT exercises on their own, from home or in a group setting.


CBT helps patients overcome drug addiction and alcoholism by:

  • Helping to dismiss false beliefs and insecurities that lead to substance abuse
  • Providing self-help tools to better their moods
  • Teaching effective communication skills

Triggers, or situations cause cravings throughout the day, keep many addicted people from getting sober. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps recovering addicts deal with triggers in three key ways, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  • Recognize – Identify what circumstances lead to using drugs or alcohol.
  • Avoid – Remove yourself from trigger situations whenever possible or appropriate.
  • Cope – Use CBT techniques to address and alleviate emotions and thoughts that lead to substance abuse.

Addiction support groups like the Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) programalso incorporate CBT principles into their self-help exercises to encourage continued sobriety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Cognitive behavioral therapists use specific exercises to help addiction recovery. Examples of CBT techniques used in addiction treatment include:

  • Thought Records – Recovering addicts examine automatic negative thoughts and look for objective evidence supporting and disproving those thoughts. They list evidence for and against their automatic thoughts to compare and contrast. The goal is to help them think more balanced and less harsh thoughts by critically evaluating what they’re thinking.
  • Behavioral Experiments – These exercises contrast negative thoughts against positive ones to see which is more effective in changing behavior. Some people respond better to self-kindness and others to self-criticism.
  • Imagery Based Exposure – In this exercise, recovering addicts think of a memory that produces powerful negative feelings. They take note of every sight, sound, emotion, thought and impulse in that moment. By frequently revisiting painful memories, the addicted person can reduce the anxiety caused by them over time.
  • Pleasant Activity Schedule – This technique involves making a weekly list of healthy, fun activities to break up daily routines. Scheduling these pleasant activities helps reduce negative automatic thoughts and the subsequent need to use drugs or drink.
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How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Differs from Other Psychotherapies

Cognitive behavioral therapy offers a hands-on alternative approach to less engaging therapy methods. Recovering addicts do more than talk to their therapists during a CBT session and therapists do more than passively listen. Instead, addicts and therapists work together to treat addiction.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is adaptable to a variety of different settings. Many therapists and addiction treatment centers include CBT as part of their recovery plans.

Find the Resources You Need to Beat Addiction

Overcoming addiction requires many people and resources. Inpatient and outpatient drug addiction treatment can help you get sober and avoid relapse. Mental health counselors are available to teach the life skills necessary to maintain recovery.

Make a change today by finding a treatment center.