Therapy is a very valuable tool in working with patients facing addiction, especially for those who have experienced some kind of trauma or stressor that contributed to ongoing drug or alcohol abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is among the central opportunities available for patients at New Light Medical, offering a way to work through negative feelings associated with life challenges. A popular and proven approach to addressing the drivers behind addiction, the principles of CBT can inspire a change in perspective, thought patterns, and coping methods.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is based on the ways in which individuals perceive a situation as opposed to focusing solely on an individual’s reactions to a situation. As a goal-oriented form of therapy, CBT emphasizes altering perceptions in order to address problems.
CBT was introduced by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1960s. A trained psychiatrist practicing psychotherapy, Dr. Beck realized over the course of working with hundreds of patients that many of those who came to his office seemed to have an internal dialogue that captured a far broader range of emotions than their spoken words. He hypothesized that the course of these thought patterns could drive responses and reactions to situations, contributing strongly to how an individual feels and, subsequently, behaves.
Through the course of Dr. Beck’s studies, he coined the term “automatic thoughts” to describe those emotion-backed ideas and concepts that may arise in one’s mind and contribute to the feelings surrounding an action or event. A person who has baseline negative thoughts about a situation – for example, dwelling on a mistake made at work and assuming that continuing to try to perform well is fruitless – may fall into a cycle of negative thoughts, leading to inappropriate reactions – like calling out of work or quitting a job based on little else but gut reaction.
In CBT, patients are taught to identify these kinds of thought patterns and redirect automatic thoughts so that initial reactions are more positive and optimistic. Through CBT, an individual stressed about work would be trained to take a more realistic approach to the situation, recognize the potential for positive performance, and, if needed, find the confidence to speak up and receive guidance and support.
For those struggling with addiction, it’s common to be plagued by negative thought patterns. Addicted individuals may struggle with self-loathing – “I’m too weak and stupid to quit, so I should just keep using” – or depression – “Nothing in my life is good; drugs are my only way out.” This dangerous thinking can only further the spiral of addiction, keeping affected individuals in the grasp of drug or alcohol abuse.
CBT can get to the root of these issues, helping patients to explore the differences between damaging, unhelpful ideas and truths. For example, an addict who feels guilt, anxiety, and remorse after taking another dose while trying to quit can change his thought patterns from dwelling on failure to seeing a relapse as a small mistake that can be overcome. CBT provides insight into the links between feelings, thought processes, and actions, allowing individuals struggling with self-deprecating thoughts and self-destructive behavior to see these problematic trends and proactively work to adjust them.
CBT therapy can offer benefits that include:
CBT can be very valuable in addressing addiction directly as well as working with dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders. Due to the nature of addiction, co-occurring disorders are increasingly common; according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 8 million adults in the U.S. live with co-occurring disorders.
Unfortunately, those with mental health disorders are statistically more likely to struggle with addiction and substance abuse, creating a situation that is often far more difficult to address than addiction alone. For these individuals, CBT can help to solidify bonds between symptoms of co-occurring disorders and problematic behavior in order to highlight how mental health can contribute to addiction. CBT can also help those with mental health issues to separate feelings and emotions associated with a co-occurring disorder from healthy, normal thoughts.
In a clinical treatment setting, CBT can function as a successful treatment for many disorders that co-occur with addiction, including:
Behavioral therapy as a concept is focused, as the name implies, on behavior; these practices strive to ultimately help patients identify unhealthy actions. While CBT is classified as a behavioral therapy process, the cognitive component is far more important. Instead of honing in on behavior specifically, CBT goes a step further, exploring the motivations behind such behavior in order to target destructive actions at the source. Due to the nature of addiction and the links to past life events and co-occurring disorders, addressing damaging thoughts can make a significant difference.
CBT is often a shorter process than other forms of psychotherapy. Many similar behavioral therapy processes span months or even years in duration, making them possible but impractical in a residential rehabilitation stay. CBT can be adjusted to fit in with a 30-day rehab program, helping patients to quickly focus on the dangerous thoughts that drive addiction in order to see a rapid shift in behavioral responses.
The efficacy of CBT is evident, both anecdotally and clinically. One meta-analysis of 11 studies evaluating behavioral therapy modalities found that CBT showed higher response rates than alternatives in seven reviews, with only one review stating that CBT has lower response rates. This study, coupled with many others examining CBT’s efficacy in response to depression and anxiety disorders, demonstrates a strong evidence-base.
Unlike other forms of therapy, CBT can be extremely structured and regimented. Rather than just talking about feelings and life events, therapists will hone in on the most important problem or problems affecting a patient in order to target therapy around key issues. In rehabilitation, addiction is always the central problem, coupled with mental health disorders for dual diagnosis patients.
Most CBT appointments begin with filling out forms and surveys to assess mood, creating an objective way to evaluate symptoms and feelings. Patients will then discuss their feelings and actions since the last session and in comparison to prior sessions, a process known as a mood check. Patients will begin to address the current problems they are facing, like cravings or temptations, and recount challenges or successes in modifying thoughts and behaviors. This information can then be used to set the agenda for the session. From here, the format of therapy can vary based on patient feedback; some appointments will delve into homework or problems assigned at the last session, while others will involve problem-solving activities like assessing the productivity of thoughts and discussing how to refocus reoccurring negative thought patterns.
Appointments may include action plans, like reading therapy notes, keeping a log of thought patterns in response to events, or implementing behavioral changes. These activities can be an important part of ensuring a successful course of treatment, so patients are encouraged to take any post-appointment assignments seriously.
CBT can take place in a group or individual format. While individual CBT sessions will hone in specifically on individual patient needs and problems, group sessions often revolve around greater issues affecting all or most members of the group, like coping with cravings and identifying the common drivers behind ongoing substance abuse.
For those seeking a proven modality to refocus the thoughts behind addiction, learn new ways to cope with stressful or traumatic situations, and create a productive life after substance abuse, New Light Medical can help. Our therapists are specially trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, offering expertise and experience to patients in need. With CBT, patients can learn to identify the difference between healthy and unhealthy thoughts and the associated actions, helping to change behavior in a meaningful way. CBT can assist in healing the wounds that led to use as well as provide tools for preventing relapse, encouraging patients to live happy, healthy lives after treatment.
If you or someone you love is facing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, New Light Medical is here. Please contact us today at (844) 379-3955 to learn more.