Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy In Addiction Recovery: A Guide

One of the most recommended steps to take in addiction recovery is going to CBT, otherwise known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. However, few actually know what CBT is, why it’s helpful in addiction recovery, or how it’s different from other forms of therapy.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of therapy that aims to change the negative thought and behavioral patterns that may be preventing someone from reaching their goals.

A key idea in CBT is that your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are connected and that each one has an influence over the others. Therefore, the way to change your feelings and behaviors is by changing the way you think about the situation.

When you go to a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy session the therapist will likely ask you about what you’re struggling with and then try and dig deeper to figure out the thought patterns behind these struggles.

Once they’ve identified some of the negative thought patterns they’ll help you to work through them and replace them with a more positive narrative. The theory behind CBT is that this positive narrative will trickle down and eventually affect your behavior and your overall perception of the world.

Why Is CBT Helpful In Addiction Recovery?

CBT was designed to help with the cognitive distortions that many who suffer from a mental illness experience. So how does that relate to addiction?

Addiction and other mental illnesses have a very high comorbidity rate. One study found that 43% of people who were in treatment for abusing prescription painkillers also suffered from a mental illness.

The reality is that even if the person suffering from addiction does not have a diagnosable mental illness, they likely experience some level of cognitive distortion. After all, the most common reason that people cite using and abusing drugs, no matter what kind, is to get an escape.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help people to look at their lives and think about why they feel the need to have an escape in the form of drugs. Once that has been figured out they can begin to restructure their internal narrative to one that does not support them continuing their drug use.

Outside of everything else, addiction recovery is just a stressful process. It is helpful to have someone during this time with who you can speak freely about your experiences, who can validate your emotions, and who will help you to maintain your mental health throughout recovery.

How Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Different From Other Forms Of Therapy?

There are many different types of therapy, too many to be described in this article. However, the four most common types of therapy are Psychodynamic, Behavioral, Humanistic, and, of course, CBT.

Psychodynamic Therapy

In Psychodynamic therapy, the goal is for the therapist to listen for patterns in your speech or thoughts that give hints as to what is going on in your subconscious mind. This form of therapy also spends a lot of time looking at your past and even more specifically your childhood.

This is a long-term form of therapy and people are usually in treatment for many years to figure out and work through what is creating their distress.

This form of therapy is also considered useful for substance abuse disorders.


Behavioral therapy is mainly used with those suffering from severe phobias or anxiety disorders.

One very common form of Behavioral therapy is Systematic Desensitization. In the case of a person with a phobia, the therapist would work with the patient to gradually increase their exposure to whatever they’re afraid of.

This typically starts very small with pictures of the fear object and eventually moves on to being in the same room with it. This form of therapy can also take many months and years to be effective as it is a slow-moving therapy.


The goal of Humanistic therapy is to learn and practice self-acceptance while uncovering your true self. The idea is that this will eventually lead you to live your most fulfilled and happy life.

This is the most self-directed form of therapy as you are the one that needs to come to your own conclusions. The therapist’s role is simply to listen and ask clarifying and thought-provoking questions.

Humanistic therapy is also sometimes recommended for the treatment of substance abuse disorders.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In contrast to both Psychodynamic and Humanistic, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is very direct and the role of the therapist is more active in the session. With the other types, the therapist will mainly be listening to the patient speak, but in CBT the therapist is an active part of the conversation.

Their role is to actively challenge your thought processes and help you learn to rewire them to have a more positive framework.

That being said, CBT also tends to be a more goal-oriented, short-term form of therapy. The goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is for you to start therapy, set goals for yourself, achieve those goals with the help of your therapist, then move on.

That is one thing that can make CBT a great option for addiction. The patient can say exactly what they want to work on, in this case, a substance abuse problem, and they can see tangible progress in whether or not they stay sober.

In the other forms of therapy recommended for addiction, you won’t see as much clear goal setting. This can make it so the therapy goes on for longer and while it still may be helpful, you won’t necessarily see as obvious of results in the short term.

Key Takeaways

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on changing the negative thought patterns that someone has. The theory behind CBT is that by changing these thought patterns the person can have more control over their life and reduce the distress that they experience.

This is ideal for addiction because the patient is able to set goals, i.e. staying sober, and work toward those with a clear plan.

CBT is also a short-term form of therapy which helps many to feel like they have an end goal with that end goal being recovery.

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