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How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works in Addiction Treatment

In addiction treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used methods to help patients toward recovery. While a combination of therapy and medication is often the most beneficial treatment tactic, therapy and other types of behavioral treatments are very effective and can even be used without medication to treat addiction. Those patients who use cognitive behavioral therapy are often able to change the way they think and feel about their drug use for the better which leads to a more solid and longer lasting recovery.

What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Do?

overcoming addiction

In cognitive behavioral therapy people learn skills that aid in relapse prevention.

According to the NIH, “Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to help people recognize, avoid, and cope with situations in which they are most likely to abuse substances.” This type of therapy works to help patients change the way they think about their drug abuse in order to change their behavior. Being aware of your situation and knowing your triggers are both important elements of this type of therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients work through their addictions with mindfulness and self-motivation, important tactics which help promote long-term relapse protection. While there are other types of behavioral treatments that can be used instead of or in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, the latter is beneficial to nearly every type of substance abuse syndrome, including nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids.

What is the History of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Addiction Treatment?

As stated by the NIDA, “Cognitive behavioral therapy was developed as a method to prevent relapse when treating problem drinking, and later it was adapted for cocaine-addicted individuals.” Since it is so universal in its teachings and has been beneficial to so many patients, it is used now to treat almost every substance abuse syndrome, depending on the needs of the specific patient.

What it has become is a “first line treatment” that is used to help many individuals through the treatment of mental disorders, especially young people, and drug addiction is one of these for which it is often most effective as a treatment (NCBI). Changing the way someone perceives their addiction and their substance abuse is often much more effective than merely treating them with medication alone.

Why is Medication Used in Conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

In some instances, patients choose to go through addiction treatment without the use of medication, possibly because they do not wish to risk becoming addicted to another substance. But, by using cognitive behavioral therapy and medication together, doctors are able to help patients learn better coping skills and get a new perspective while also being able to concentrate on their therapy with the help of medication.

For many individuals, cravings can be extremely strong and distracting, especially early in treatment. Medications can curb these cravings, and the sometimes intense symptoms of withdrawal, in order to allow patients to concentrate on their therapy sessions. This isn’t always necessary but is usually the ideal combination when it comes to addiction treatment for most patients.

What Do Patients Learn in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Patients learn many skills in cognitive behavioral therapy. The NIDA states, “A central element of cognitive behavioral therapy is anticipating likely problems and enhancing patients’ self-control by helping them develop effective coping strategies.” The main skills patients learn in cognitive behavioral therapy are:

  • How to recognize the triggers that may cause them to experience cravings, relapse, or be faced with other addiction-related issues
  • How to better cope with cravings when they do occur
  • How to practice mindfulness, a concept that helps individuals be extremely present and aware of their feelings at that specific time as well as what is happening around them
  • How to be more self-aware and to monitor their feelings while being cautious of those which may be problematic to their continued recovery
  • How to “identify situations that might put one at risk for use” and how to avoid these
  • How to understand and separate the “positive and negative consequences of continued drug use”

In cognitive behavioral therapy, patients are able to learn many new skills that they can use to cope with their addictions during and after treatment. This type of therapy helps to lay the groundwork for a longer, more successful recovery in many cases.

Why is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Necessary for Patients Post-Treatment?

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps many patients who are still in the treatment process, but it is especially beneficial to those who are in their post-treatment recovery phase. Because many of the skills and lessons taught in cognitive behavioral therapy sessions are about coping with the issues that come from being out in the world and dealing with triggers that cause one to consider relapse, these lessons and skills are used again and again by those who are still dealing with their addictions even after formal treatment is over.

Drug addiction is a chronic disease that can cause relapse months or, in some cases, years after formal treatment has ended, so a treatment strategy that teaches coping skills that can be used after treatment is over is necessary. According to the NIDA, “As with other chronic diseases, addiction requires an ongoing and active disease management strategy.” Cognitive behavioral therapy is one such long-term strategy that patients can come back to over and over.

What is the Usual Length of Time for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treatment?

According to the NIDA, “Good outcomes are contingent on adequate treatment length,” no matter what type of treatment is involved. In most instances, treatment that lasts longer than 90 days is ideal for “maintaining positive outcomes.” Depending on whether or not the patient receives all they can from the treatment beforehand, this 90 day period should be the best length for the treatment of patients in cognitive behavioral therapy, and other methods may be employed in addition to, before, or after the therapy program.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is, in many instances, an essential element of drug addiction treatment that helps patients gain an entirely new perspective on their drug abuse and addiction. This is incredibly beneficial and the reason why many patients are given this particular type of therapy for the treatment of one or more substance abuse syndromes.

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