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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What is cognitive behavioral therapy? How is it used in treatment for substance abuse? Learn more about how cognitive behavioral therapy strengthens your awareness of and the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, aims to help you manage mental health and substance use disorders. CBT operates under the belief that thoughts are the underlying cause of your emotions, actions, and behaviors. The main goal of CBT therapy is learning how to identify thought patterns as a means to jump-start change.

South Coast offers CBT therapy as part of our treatment services to help you in your recovery journey. But what exactly is CBT and how can it help you? Let’s take a closer look.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

CBT is based on the premise that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. For this reason, CBT therapists work with you to incorporate positive behaviors and ways of thinking. Therefore, by changing your thoughts and behaviors, you can change the way you feel.

cognitive behavioral therapy

Typically, cognitive behavioral therapy sessions last for 60 to 90 minutes. During CBT sessions, you will work with your therapist to identify negative thinking patterns and behaviors. Once these negative thought patterns are identified, you learn how to challenge and change them. 

If you are struggling with negative thought patterns, you may also experience feelings of anxiety and depression. These feelings often result in behaviors like avoiding social situations and neglecting your responsibilities. In that case, you may turn to alcohol or drug abuse to numb those negative feelings.

During treatment, your CBT therapist helps you identify the underlying thought patterns that contribute to your substance abuse. Following this, your therapist will provide advice on how to challenge your thoughts. Your therapist will also teach you CBT techniques to help you cope when faced with an anxiety-provoking situation or other negative emotions.

CBT Techniques

Knowledge of self, decisions, attitudes, grief, and acceptance are all common concepts that can affect your ability to resolve internal and external battles in your life. To effectively change your thoughts and behavior, it is important to understand how you think and what causes your negative behaviors.

In addiction treatment, therapists utilize CBT techniques to help clients develop healthier thought patterns and encourage positive change.

CBT techniques include:

CBT therapy focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behavior for clear and logic-based responses to stressors. Simply put, CBT techniques reduce negative emotional responses and alter behaviors. To do so, cognitive behavioral therapy uses cognition and rationale to undo negative thought patterns that fuel maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Because of its ability to create lasting change, CBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of mental health disorders and substance use disorders. The techniques for CBT have been proven effective for a range of mental health issues, including, but not limited to: anxiety, depression, personality disorders, eating disorders, and used often are CBT techniques for anger. 

Examples of CBT Techniques

Cognitive Reframing

Cognitive reframing helps you identify negative thought patterns by paying close attention to your internal reactions to stress. During CBT, your therapist will ask questions to help you catch unhealthy thoughts, challenge them, and change them to a healthier alternative.

Thought Records

Thought records help you keep a log of your thoughts to help you identify unhealthy patterns that occur in your daily life. Keeping a journal also helps you document your progress in recovery and acts as evidence that you are healing and growing, regardless of any doubt you may feel.

Guided Discovery

Guided discovery challenges your negative beliefs and expands your perspective. Your therapist poses questions to challenge your negative beliefs and false assumptions. For example, you may be asked to present evidence to support your thought process.


During CBT, psychoeducation groups teach you about the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and their impact on your well-being. When you understand the unhealthy core beliefs that influence unwanted behaviors, you can regain control of your mind and remove unhealthy thought patterns that influence addictive behaviors.

Behavioral Experiments

Behavioral experiments help you manage catastrophic thinking. Before participating in a stressful task, your therapist will ask you to share what you think will happen. In a follow-up session, you discuss whether or not your worse-case scenario happened. This helps you recognize that catastrophic events aren't as common as you once thought.

Activity Scheduling

Activity scheduling helps you face anxiety-inducing situations. By scheduling a clear date and time for activities that you tend to avoid, you remove the looming fear of missing a deadline or never completing a task. This CBT strategy also helps you to establish good habits and routines that can reduce your fears associated with the situation.

Successive Approximation

Successive approximation is a CBT technique that involves breaking an overwhelming task down into smaller, less daunting steps. As you check steps off the list, you build your self-confidence and trust in your ability to succeed.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques help you learn practical coping skills to reduce your stress and increase your self-control. As you develop healthy stress reduction skills, you learn how to manage overwhelming emotions and self-soothe.

Role Playing

Role playing in CBT therapy helps you to prepare for stressful situations and improve your problem-solving abilities. In group therapy, role playing exercises also encourage you to consider the situation from another point of view.

What Happens During CBT Interventions?

During CBT interventions in treatment, you and your therapist have the space to discuss your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As you talk through your negative experiences, your therapist will prompt you with questions about your mindset.

For example, a CBT therapist may ask questions like:

Cognitive behavioral therapy

While you contemplate these questions, you will begin to see the level of influence your negative thoughts have on your feelings and behaviors. As a result, your therapist will help you develop a better understanding of things like why your work performance suffered and how your alcohol use developed into an addiction.

In doing so, you build a greater sense of awareness of your current thought patterns and how they impact your decisions. Following this, you and your therapist will work to reframe your thoughts in a more positive way, which can encourage a healthier mindset and productive behaviors.

Can CBT Therapy Help Me?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that can be effective in treating a variety of mental health disorders. If you are struggling with any kind of mental health issue, CBT may be a good option for you to consider.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can assist in the treatment of:

CBT therapy sessions help you identify negative or distorted thinking patterns, challenge these patterns, and replace them with more positive and realistic ones. For this reason, CBT techniques can also assist in lessening the impact or improving symptoms of other health conditions that are rooted in mental health.

CBT techniques can also assist in healing from conditions including:

Knowing that CBT focuses on changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors, it shows that you can learn coping skills that will improve your mental health, both in the moment and over time. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, speaking with your doctor or a mental health professional can help you decide if CBT is right for you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in
Substance Abuse Treatment

According to scientific research, CBT is an evidence-based treatment that is effective for people recovering from alcohol and drug use disorders. More specifically, individual CBT therapy is most effective for contingency management in recovery. For example, in rehabilitation programs that utilized CBT in the treatment of cocaine use disorders, 60% of patients passed their drug screenings a year later.

Similarly, studies support the effectiveness of substance abuse treatments utilizing motivational interviewing (MI) during individual therapy. The MI model is a CBT-based approach to therapy in treatment settings that place extra attention on the language of change and how to effectively use healthy communication to motivate positive change.

When used in group therapy settings, CBT can be effective as a tool to uncover and address the barriers that stand in the way of successful treatment outcomes. For instance, relapse prevention is an integral part of recovery from addiction. 

In mindfulness-based CBT therapy, relapse prevention groups can assist you in identifying potential high-risk situations that may lead to a relapse. During group therapy, you will collaborate with others to brainstorm healthier alternative behaviors and build a relapse-prevention plan. Research shows that of the skills learned in mindfulness-based relapse prevention groups, CBT therapy significantly reduces the relapse risk of drug use and heavy drinking.

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Recover with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

If you are struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy may be an effective treatment option for you. It is important to note that CBT requires active participation in order for it to be successful. If you think CBT might be right for you, please reach out to us today!

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