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Effectiveness of CBT for Drug Addiction

CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of therapy based on the theories of cognition and principles of behaviorism. While behaviorism deals with how behavior can be modified or controlled, theories of cognition tend to focus on how people view, feel, and think about the world and themselves.

CBT is a renowned psychological treatment that emphasizes efforts to change and alter behavioral and thinking patterns. In this article, it will be indicted how CBT can help individuals with substance abuse problems or addictions. In addition, it will also describe its effectiveness and potential as a type of treatment.

Fundamentals of CBT

CBT evaluates the way our behavior and actions are associated with our cognition. In addition, when a person with drug addiction is being treated, a CBT therapist tends to look for the ways in which beliefs and thoughts affect the addictive behavior of their client.

Behaviourism tends to focus on what strengthens and reinforces the actions or behaviors a person exhibits. Meanwhile, cognitive theories tend to focus on the perceptions of individuals such as what they feel, hear, see, and even their emotions.

Rather than just controlling and observing the behaviors of a person, the therapist also closely pays attention to what the client is thinking. A therapist even considers how their feelings, thoughts, and perceptions lead them to act and behave in a certain manner. Addiction is undoubtedly a decent example of such a type of conflicted behavior.

Even though we may know that it is safer and healthier to avoid addictive substances and behaviors, we decide and choose to still engage in it. It is capable of leading to severely upsetting consequences. These behaviors may be regretted by people. However, it can be challenging to stop repeating them. There are also times when a person does not know why these behaviors should not be repeated.

CBT is fundamentally a goal-oriented therapy that tends to address different cognitive problems such as maladaptive thinking, dysfunctional automatic thoughts, and underlying beliefs. When a therapist utilizes CBT, it is actually customized according to the client’s condition.

It was in the 1960s that Aaron Beck, a renowned psychiatrist, developed and created cognitive behavioral therapy. It is important to note that the theory originated when the perspective of Beck changed on the conditions of mental health. He began to perceive anxiety and depression as cognitive disorders instead of mood disorders.

For instance, if the interpretation of a situation by a person is seen or perceived from the negative lens of cognition, it is highly likely to influence their mood negatively. Cognitive distortions or maladaptive thinking such as personalizing situations and overgeneralizing can result in misguided conclusions and errors in logic. It can sometimes result in anxiety and depression.

Underlying prime or core beliefs are capable of shaping the life of a person. In addition, they can also serve as the foundation or base of automatic thinking. The ways of perceiving and thinking of a person can affect the way they tend to understand and perceive their surroundings.

It was believed by Beck that dysfunctional thinking has a critical role in behavioral and mental disorders. The prime objective of CBT is concerned with addressing these negative perceptions and their consequent behaviors to ensure that positive perceptions are developed.

CBT and Addiction

Typically, addiction involves utilizing a substance or performing other actions repeatedly despite their negative consequences. Even though someone who is attempting to overcome and address addictive behaviors may say they want to change, they still find it challenging to do so. Withdrawing from these substances can be difficult.

In accordance with the CBT approach, different addictive behaviors are a consequence of negative feelings and inaccurate thoughts. Most people have thoughts based on beliefs that are often unrealistic, untrue, and even impossible to live up to. Consequently, these thoughts can then lead to harmful and negative feelings that feed addictive behaviors, depression, and anxiety.

They can even lead to food addiction, video game addiction, problem gambling, drug use, and drinking. It can even lead to other kinds of excessive behavior.

Normally, when CBT is utilized for the treatment of addictions, it focuses on the systematic recording of thoughts, related events, and feelings that trigger those negative feelings and thoughts. Once it is identified where these addictive behaviors tend to come in front, the therapist can begin to alter and change the processes that sabotage and affect the efforts of changing these harmful behaviors.

It is worth noting that CBT assists people in looking at patterns of feelings and thoughts that they experience repeatedly. They can also begin to alter these thoughts with time by taking a more realistic perspective that does not lead to negative behaviors and emotions. At the same time, when healthier behaviors are rewarded, it results in the association of healthier behaviors with more positive feelings and emotions.

Substance Use and CBT

Generally, substance abuse is concerned with the utilization of a substance in a manner that is not intended. It also involves the use of the substance more than the prescribed amount. Substance abuse treatment often includes a specific type of therapy such as CBT. There are times when it is used in combination with medications.

Actually, CBT may play an important role in helping people change and alter their habits of substance usage. It is generally because CBT is focused on assisting and enabling people to learn how to challenge and identify the irrational and negative thought patterns that eventually lead to the use of a substance. CBT even tends to teach new coping skills to assist people to manage relapses, cravings, and stress.


One of the prime benefits of CBT is that changes can be made right away by an individual and these skills can be used for the rest of their lives. In fact, a client can collaborate with the therapist on the techniques that seem suitable and adequate for their specific situation. Some common techniques that may be utilized are:

Thought Challenges: When it comes to thought challenges, a client looks at the whole situation and considers it from several angles. Rather than just assuming that your own beliefs and thoughts are true, you are actually challenged to analyze the situation in an objective manner.

We often tend to have unrealistic and wrong beliefs. On the basis of these wrong beliefs, we tend to have negative feelings.

Journaling: A client might note down the thoughts and feelings that he may have between different therapy sessions. It must also be written how they were replaced with better and more positive ones. Actually, as a technique, it can help in looking back and seeing how a change has occurred in the thought patterns with time.

Relaxation Techniques: It is worth noting that relaxation techniques are capable of looking different for everyone. For instance, it might involve taking a bath, gardening, or listening to music. These exercises and techniques can be quite effective when a client has a stressor that causes him to have a specific craving.

Exercises for relaxation such as deep breathing can be performed and carried out anywhere.


There is no doubt that CBT has a proven and successful track record. There are various studies that demonstrate how effective it is in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and other related problems.

In addition to it, CBT may be quite effective in teaching individuals and people better coping skills that help them in the reduction of their substance use. At the same time, CBT might offer several lasting benefits that stay even after the treatment. These effects could even protect against and help in managing relapses.

It may be surprising to realize that the CBT approaches and methods that became popularized in the late 20th century are being supplemented and refined by behavior therapy’s third wave. It tends to focus on acceptance, mindfulness, and living in the moment.

Role-playing techniques may be utilized by therapists for the development of a plan regarding how problematic situations can be addressed in the future. For instance, creating a list of pros and cons of reactions to different types of situations can assist people in acquiring an understanding of how their actions and thoughts may influence things. In therapy, it is important to play out these scenarios before they are developed in life.

There is no doubt that CBT with a trained therapist assists clients in controlling their cognition and even developing healthier methods of behaving, emoting, and thinking independently. The client and the therapist collaborate with each other in the development of strategies to acquire an awareness of negative beliefs and thought patterns. It also helps in learning how to address different problems and even change their behaviors. As a solution-based therapy, it actually focuses more on the present and less on the past. It also conveys what should be done to make things and situations better.

CBT can undoubtedly be considered and used for the management of drug addiction.