Although 23.5 million people in the United States need treatment for substance abuse, just 11% of those people receive professional treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
This is unfortunate, as the psychotherapy services found in professional treatment settings remain one of the best options for addiction treatment. A particular form of psychotherapy, called cognitive therapy, has accumulated considerable scientific support and may be an effective treatment for your loved one.
What Is Cognitive Therapy?
Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy that attempts to disentangle the links between our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. All of us sometimes struggle to see the connection between how we think and how we feel. For example, perhaps you are under pressure at work.
Thinking, “I don’t think I’m going to make this deadline” may lead to additional negative thoughts, such as “I shouldn’t have been put on this project. I’m not good enough to succeed at it.” These thoughts may lead to feelings of anxiety, stress and worry. In response to the negative feelings, you may begin working faster and faster, which causes you to make errors in your final report.
These responses happen so automatically that we don’t often notice them at the time. However, they can keep us stuck in patterns of thinking and responding that are unhelpful in the long term.
Principles of Cognitive Therapy for Addiction
Cognitive therapy has been shown to be effective in treating addiction to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opioids (such as heroin or prescription painkillers), and other drugs. Cognitive therapy for addiction typically includes two general components: functional analysis and skills training.
Functional analysis refers to a way of disentangling those connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The therapist will help your loved one recognize how thoughts and feelings may contribute to drug-seeking behavior.
For example, perhaps stress with parents is a trigger for your loved one to drink or use drugs. During cognitive therapy, the person can begin to understand the thoughts that may be fueling the addictive behavior. Perhaps getting into a fight leads him to think, “My parents are so stupid. My life would be better off without them.” This may lead to a cascade of anger, frustration and shame. Drugs may be one outlet to relieve those negative feelings, keeping the person stuck in an addiction cycle.
Recognizing the patterns between thoughts, feelings and actions can allow a person to change their reactions to situations that trigger the urge to use.
The second component of cognitive therapy is skills training. A person struggling with addiction has learned a lot of bad habits or unhelpful behaviors that keep them stuck in the cycle of addiction. During skills training, the therapist can help the person find new ways of coping. This might include:
- Learning stress management techniques
- Identifying triggers for relapse
- Practicing communication skills
- Rebuilding relationships with loved ones
As a person begins making progress in these areas, therapy can shift to focus on longer-term goals such as going back to school, finding employment, healthy eating and exercise behaviors, and building a supportive social network.
Contact us at 877-466-0620 to learn more about CBT and our addiction treatment services.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment statistics, DrugFacts, March 2011, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-statistics
- McHugh, R.K., Hearon, B., & Otto, M., Cognitive-behavioral therapy for substance use disorders, Psychiatric Clinics of North America, September 2010, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897895/