The efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for addiction treatment

Cognitive Behavioral coping skills Treatment (CBT) is a short-term approach, focused on helping substance dependent individuals to abstain from their drug of choice. But, is CBT truly effective in treating addiction? We review here.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT,  is a type psychotherapy used in addiction treatment. But how effective is CBT?  Is it a successful part of addiction therapy programs?

The answer to these questions is YES! Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as been shown to be effective in treatment addiction… and you can learn more in the following text. At the end, we invite you to post your comments and questions. In fact, we try respond to all legitimate questions promptly.

Q: What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
A: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a blend of two therapies: Cognitive Therapy (CT) and Behavioral Therapy (BT).

Cognitive Therapy or CT – This type of therapy focuses on a person’s thoughts and beliefs, and how they influence a person’s mood and actions. It aims to change a person’s thinking to be more adaptive and healthy.

Behavioral Therapy or BT – This kind of therapy focuses on a person’s actions and aims to change unhealthy behavior patterns.

Basically, CBT has been formed on the core premise that people start using drugs as a maladaptive patterns in which learning processes play a critical role. People who go through therapy learn to identify and correct problematic behaviors by applying a range of different skills that can be used to stop drug abuse and to address a range of other problems that often co-occur with it. So, by changing the patterns, experts have seen improvements in emotional state and resolution of problematic behaviors.

Some specific techniques used during CBT for addiction therapy include:

  • addressing ambivalence and fostering motivation to quit
  • addressing subtle emotional or cognitive states
  • dealing with issues of drug availability
  • developing strategies for coping with cravings
  • developing strategies to avoid high risk situations
  • exploring the positive and negative consequences of continued drug use
  • problem solving skills

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy like?

CBT is usually offered during the course of 12 to 16 sessions, usually lsating for about 12 weeks. Sessions can be 45-90 minutes long. Intensive therapy session of longer than 2 hours are scheduled on a case-by-case basis. This comparatively brief, short-term treatment is intended to produce initial abstinence and stabilization. In many cases, CBT is sufficient enough to bring about sustained improvement for up to a year after treatment ends.

CBT is a lot like a Q&A or interview with a trusted confidante. You will be encouraged to talk honestly and explore issues deeply related to your drug use. You’ll be asked leading questions regarding how you used drugs, how you feel about your drug-of-choice, and what drugs or alcohol do for you. Then, your therapist will carefully match the content, timing, and nature of your talk with what you need in the moment.

CBT is nothing to be afraid of. It’s a series of chats that aims to help you improve your thinking process, and to learn about both physical and emotional cues. Ideally, your therapist will work with you on a highly individualized plan for recovery. And rather than viewing treatment as cookbook psychoeducation, everything that you learn will be based on your needs and self-development goals where you are RIGHT NOW.

Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy work to treat addiction?

Yes, CBT works and HAS BEEN SHOWN TO BE EFFECTIVE in substance abuse treatment. In fact, evidence from numerous large scale trials and quantitative reviews supports the efficacy of CBT for alcohol and drug use disorders. Furthermore, group CBT has been shown to be as effective as one-on-one, or individual, CBT. Finally, CBT even more beneficial as aftercare or when delivered as in combination with othe behavioral therapies, like Contingency Management.

How effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for addiction?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is highly effective in the treatment of addiction. Results in CBT vary according to protocol used and client motivation, as well as the drug-of-choice. However, when therapists consistently use specific interventions, you have the best chances for success. These include:

  • changes in motivational and cognitive barriers
  • learning based approaches to target maladaptive behavioral patterns
  • skills deficits identification and training

The benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for addiction

CBT is a widely used treatment approach in an increasing number of addiction treatment programs due to its many benefits. Here are some:

  1. A support network — Everyone especially people in addiction recovery need a safety net. CBT acts as a support network by providing positive encouragement during tough situations that may lead to relapse.
  2. Positive thinking — Because point of view things is crucial, negative thoughts can influence your recovery by reinforcing feelings of helplessness and discouragement. Practicing positive thinking as a part of CBT makes you more confident, and when you feel strong, you can handle situations successfully without engaging in destructive behaviors.
  3. Withstand peer pressure — By becoming aware of the stressors that lead to and triggers of drug or alcohol seeking behavior, and by growing self-esteem, you become reluctant to peer pressure. As you achieve goals throughout CBT, your motivation also grows, so resisting peers when they pressure you to use can become a confident choice.
  4. It’s cost effective — CBT can be conducted successfully on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. Even if CBT sessions take place in a residential treatment facility, they may not require overnight stays, thus significanlty reducing the cost of the addiction treatment. Plus, investing in a therapy that will keep you away from your drug-of-choice costs a lot less than feeding the addiction.
  5. Keeping up with daily routines — Since CBT often takes place in an outpatient program, you can still undergo treatment and continue your normal daily life and activities. Being able to take care of the family, go to work, go to classes, and working on your recovery is convenient; therapy sessions are scheduled in the evenings.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the treatment of addiction

CBT treatment for addiction requires regular structure, including agenda-setting, identification of goals, and the assignment and review of homework. IF CBT has these stuctures in place, it can more easily help people remember and apply treatment techniques outside of the treatment sessions.

But the bottom line is this: learning about your patterns of thought/feeling and then changing them can keep clean and sober. For more on CBT for addiction, please reach out to us in the comments section, or contact us at Addiction Blog.

The efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for addiction treatment questions

Still have questions about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for addiction treatment? Please, send us your questions to we will get back to them as soon as we can.

Reference sources: NIH: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment
NIH: Psychotherapies
NCBI: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders
NIDA: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
NIDA: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach: Treating Cocaine Addiction
NCBI: Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment With Adult Alcohol and Illicit Drug Users: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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