Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Addiction: The Breakdown

The concept of therapy can be intimidating for anyone, and even induce the occasional eye-roll. For those of us who have struggled with addiction, one of the most difficult battles a person can face, it can be easy to approach therapy with resistance and cynicism. Whether you have already been introduced to therapy or it is your first time considering it as part of an addiction treatment program, it can be helpful to understand the way therapy works and why it produces results. It is natural to experience a bit of uneasiness at the thought of revealing your secrets and insecurities to a total stranger, and you may be wondering why this is necessary when undergoing treatment for addiction.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, has been shown to have great success when used as part of a holistic substance abuse treatment plan. So, what is it, and how does it work?

You Are What You Think

CBT is all about thought patterns and how they shape our lives. When someone decides to seek treatment for addiction, it is likely that they are experiencing serious consequences in their lives as a result of substance abuse. While the substance abuse may have started as a way to numb negative emotions, the negative effects of the addiction on aspects of their life such as relationships, career, and finances will inevitably induce feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and isolation. These feelings are often accompanied by negative self-talk in which we exacerbate the problem by beating ourselves up or blaming others entirely. While problems that result from addiction are serious and require a great deal of effort to resolve, erratic and exaggerative emotions can turn a difficult problem into a seemingly impossible one.  

This vicious cycle will continue for as long as you allow your thought patterns to remain the same.  Thoughts that revolve around negative emotions or experiences often become so automatic that we are unaware of them as they occur. CBT uses specific techniques to enable you to recognize your negative thoughts as they arise, reframe them, and prevent the emotional repercussions of damaging self-talk. Thoughts lead to emotions, which then affect behavior. CBT allows us to slow this process down in order to examine it more closely and intervene before you find yourself acting on undesirable cravings and urges. For example, instead of deciding to drink because someone close to you hurt your feelings or made you angry, you can reframe the situation in a way that separates yourself and the actions of others. In this way, you can train your brain to respond to conflict without anger, extreme emotionality, or substance use.

Taking the Past into Consideration

Many people who struggle with addiction have unresolved conflict or trauma in their past.  Reconciling past pain is an important part of everyone’s growth, but it is especially important for those with substance abuse disorders who may also be experiencing symptoms of other mental illnesses as a result. CBT employs the use of guided imagery to explore painful memories that may be living in the subconscious and causing negative thought patterns. By facing the memory head-on and focusing on the details of significant negative experiences, you strip the event of its power over your present and future wellbeing.  

Another common reason for abusing drugs and alcohol is the need to self-medicate when memories, and the feelings attached to them, become unbearable. By working through these experiences one at a time and allowing yourself to fully experience the emotions in a controlled, safe environment, CBT allows you to heal the wounds of your past so that you no longer feel the need to numb yourself against them.

An Active Role in Your Recovery

While this all might sound good, you may be wondering how CBT differs from traditional psychotherapy. The concept of visiting a therapist usually brings to mind images of a quiet, passive stranger listening to you talk while saying very little and taking extensive notes. This dynamic can feel very detached and can sometimes leave a patient feeling even more isolated. With CBT, however, your therapist will take an active and involved approach to your treatment, helping you to restructure thought patterns and find a new perspective.  

In many cases, this will mean identifying co-occurring disorders and treating them alongside your addiction so that you can break the cycle of substance abuse and mental illness. Many people who struggle with addiction have undiagnosed depression or anxiety disorder, which may have contributed to their decision to use substances in the first place. Unfortunately, research tells us that substance abuse only worsens mental health disorders while simultaneously leading to addiction.  CBT can be applied to both addiction recovery and mental wellness by changing the way you think, as well as the way you react to the thoughts you are unable to control.

Lasting Recovery is Possible

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is just one aspect of a successful addiction treatment program. At Burning Tree, we know addiction treatment is not one-size-fits-all, and everyone is fighting a unique battle. We specialize in treating clients with a history of relapse, employing a wide range of successful techniques and methodologies in a compassionate environment. Here you will find a culture of honesty and accountability in which you will learn a new way to live, and ultimately foster a lifetime of sobriety and wellness. For more information, call us now at 866-287-2877.



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