Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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    cognitive behavioral therapy

    There are a few different types of therapy that work well as treatment for substance use disorders. One of the most effective forms of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

    Today, many women need addiction treatment. With the help of CBT for substance abuse, they can overcome self-destructive drug use patterns. However, this transformation does not happen overnight. Regular and consistent therapy sessions help patients stay on the right track to make a full recovery. CBT has several phases and offers many benefits to the patients.

    How Does CBT for Substance Abuse Work?

    CBT is a short-term treatment approach that aids in recognizing unhelpful or negative thoughts and behavioral patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapists assist individuals with their recovery by helping them identify negative thoughts and address them with constructive behavior. 

    These thoughts often arise from internalized feelings of fear and self-doubt. Often, people attempt to relieve such unpleasant thoughts and feelings by turning to their addiction.

    When recovering addicts can talk about painful experiences in a safe environment, it can help them find ways to positively manage these emotions. Eventually, they are able to replace destructive habits with positive coping skills.

    Components of CBT 

    Cognitive behavioral therapy consists of two main components in its treatment of alcohol and substance abuse. These components are functional analysis and skills training.

    Functional Analysis in CBT 

    This process in CBT involves identifying the causes and consequences of a particular behavior. In the functional analysis, the therapist and the client identify the circumstances, feelings, and thoughts that resulted from substance abuse or drinking. 

    This process assists in determining the risks that are likely to cause a relapse. The therapist asks the patient questions to understand the negative beliefs or thoughts and then looks for better ways of managing difficult situations, thoughts, or emotions.

    Skills Training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction 

    Large unexpected life changes such as divorce, grief, or trauma can be extremely challenging to manage in a healthy way. Some people turn to alcohol or substance abuse to cope. 

    The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to identify the source of the problem and find ways to replace unproductive coping methods with healthier habits and skills. Once the trigger is identified, the trigger can be avoided or a more productive way of overcoming the trigger can be practiced. 

    The Importance of Setting Realistic Goals

    Of course, this doesn’t happen immediately. It takes practice to process the triggers in the moment and practice the skills of actively choosing a long-term positive solution instead of a quick fix.

    cbt for substance abuse Stages of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    CBT for substance abuse involves four essential stages where the therapist works with the addict. The stages are as follows:

    1. Assessment Stage

    In this stage, the patient and therapist get to know each other. The therapist usually asks questions about past events that may have led to addiction. This gives the therapist insight to help you identify triggers in your life. Once the assessment is finished, the therapist creates a treatment plan with an estimated number of sessions needed.

    2. Cognitive Stage

    At this stage, you work together with your therapist to identify your negative thoughts and actions. You become aware of your emotions and thoughts that may have led to substance abuse. 

    Once you’ve identified these triggers, your therapist may give you skills to work on when you experience these thoughts or emotions. Also, your therapist may take notes to document your progress.

    3. Behavior Stage

    In the behavior stage, your therapist helps you choose productive ways to work through negative thoughts and feelings. Next, you practice these new coping skills when you encounter a trigger. It usually takes a few tries before you’re able to slow down and interrupt strong negative emotions, but this practice is essential to the recovery process.

    4. Learning Stage

    In this stage, you work together with your therapist to prevent relapse and ensure the changes affected are permanent. You also learn how to apply CBT tools to future challenges. This helps you to cope with unexpected difficult situations you will face in the future.

    Benefits of CBT for Substance Abuse

    Cognitive behavioral therapy for substance use disorders has a proven track record in treating women who have struggled with alcohol and substance addiction. Here are the most important benefits of CBT:

    1. A Crucial Network Support

    Cognitive behavioral therapy provides the affected people with a support network of people who understand how to recover from substance addiction. Since CBT is focused more on the “how” to adopt positive habits, it provides actionable guidance. Positive encouragement from people who have seen a recovery in action gives you the hope that you can do it, too!

    2. Enhances Self-Esteem

    Low esteem is one of the main factors for alcohol and drug addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy allows you to build your self-esteem. As you improve your self-image, you do not feel the need to engage in harmful behaviors to cope with negative self-talk. With continuous reinforcement, you are able to believe that you can conquer addiction and have a better life.

    3. Development of Positive Thoughts

    Women suffering from addiction usually also suffer from negative thinking patterns. Destructive thoughts usually reinforce feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair. Cognitive behavioral therapy for substance use disorders helps people change negative thought patterns to positive and constructive thoughts.

    4. Better Communication Skills

    Most people who suffer from addiction have a difficult time maintaining healthy relationships. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you to improve your communication skills to build or rebuild relationships with friends and family. You learn how to share your feelings with others without becoming overwhelmed with anger, shame, or other negative emotions.

    5. Relapse Prevention

    CBT provides you with tools and techniques to help avoid relapses. Since this type of therapy is focused on identifying negative thoughts and emotions that trigger the addiction, you can process what you are feeling. This pause allows you to make a more conscious choice in how to cope with strong thoughts and emotions.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    recovering from addiction What Sets Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Apart?

    There are many useful behavioral therapies used to treat a variety of different mental health disorders and addictions. Cognitive behavioral therapy shares similarities with some and diverges simultaneously. 

    Some factors that make this form of addiction treatment different from others include: 


    The goals of CBT and other therapies for addiction treatment differ. Cognitive behavioral therapy is more goal-oriented than many. CBT aims to help you identify negative thinking or addictive behaviors. It then provides you with tools to choose healthier coping mechanisms.

    CBT focuses more on the feelings and behaviors of the affected person than other mental health treatments. Identifying self-destructive factors that lead to drug use gives people the opportunity to challenge them and change for the better. 


    CBT is often more logic-focused than other therapies. It encourages patients to make use of critical thinking to promote positive behaviors. Hence, it may not be the best form of addiction treatment for those who suffer from a serious dual diagnosis. 

    A dual diagnosis is when someone has two health disorders at once. This includes substance use disorders and mental health disorders. People suffering from hallucinations or suicidal tendencies may benefit more from a therapy like dialectical behavioral therapy. 

    Length of Treatment

    Overall, CBT has a shorter treatment in comparison to other mental health therapies. CBT course of treatment is usually 5-20 sessions. It ties into being a structured, goal-oriented treatment for drug abuse and addiction. 


    Evidence-based research shows that CBT is most effective in the treatment of:

    • Depression
    • Phobia management
    • Drug abuse and addiction 
    • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

    That said, many people who fall outside of these categories can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. Clients at addiction treatment centers don’t need to limit themselves to attending one form of therapy. A comprehensive addiction treatment plan includes a variety of therapies. 

    How is CBT for Substance Abuse Helpful Specifically to Women?

    Women often face many difficulties in life that can cause mental health disorders, addiction, depression, and more. CBT is a safe way for women to engage with these challenges and seek treatment. Below are some of the issues facing women where CBT has proven to be an effective treatment:

    • PTSD
    • Depression
    • Anger management
    • Alcohol or drug abuse
    • Sexual and relationship problems
    • Female hormonal conditions as well as pregnancy-related distress

    Getting the Most Out of CBT for Substance Abuse Treatment

    To get the most out of CBT, there are some steps you can take.

    Approach Your Therapy Session as a Partnership

    To get the most out of your therapy, be an active participant and contribute to the problem-solving process. Engage with your therapist on how to process your negative emotions and strong feelings. This will help you set goals together and evaluate your progress over time.

    Be Honest and Open

    For you to achieve success, you will need to be open and honest about your feelings, experiences, and thoughts. Letting your therapist know your reservations will be instrumental in offering an effective therapy plan.

    Follow Your Treatment Plan

    Therapy can feel uncomfortable, challenging, and draining. It’s easy to come up with an excuse to skip sessions, but a lack of consistency will significantly slow down your progress.

    Don’t Expect Instant Results

    Overcoming addiction can be a painful process that requires work and patience. After the first few sessions, you may not notice any improvement. Stick with it to see results.

    Complete Your Assignments In-Between Sessions

    Therapists assign tasks such as reading or keeping a journal to patients in between the session to help with your recovery. Do the assignment carefully as they will help you in applying what you have learned in the sessions.

    Talk to Your Therapist if the Therapy Isn’t Working

    If you do not see any improvement after completing a handful of sessions, let your therapist know. The therapist can make changes to the existing session plan, suggest a different approach, or even a different therapist.

    New Directions Can Help Once You Take the First Step 

    If you or someone you know struggles with alcohol or drug addiction, there is hope! Our caring team is ready to help you. We serve women of all ages from different backgrounds. Most importantly, we provide a safe setting to make all women feel welcome while receiving the support they need for recovery.

    Want more information? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help. We’re just a call away from changing your future. 


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      Clinically Reviewed By:

      Heather Black-Coyne, LMFT, CADC II, Chief Clinical Officer

      Heather Black-Coyne, LMFT, CADC II, Chief Clinical Officer

      Heather most recently served as the Clinical Director of a gender-specific treatment center in Huntington Beach. She is trained in both Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which serve the needs of our patients, many of whom have experienced both complex trauma and substance use disorder.

      Medically Reviewed By:

      Dr. Alejandro Alva, M.D., Consulting Medical Director

      Dr. Alejandro Alva, M.D., Consulting Medical Director

      Alejandro Alva, MD, has a focus on substance abuse and chemical dependency treatment and general psychiatric disorders. Dr. Alva earned his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fullerton, and completed medical school at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara School of Medicine in Mexico. He then returned to California, where he completed his psychiatric residency at the University of California, Irvine.

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