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What Are the Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction is one of the most prominent approaches for battling substance abuse, alcoholism, and similar addictive conditions. This approach aims at long-term addiction treatments by changing both an individual's behaviors and the destructive thought patterns that feed those behaviors. Since impulse control is a main factor behind addiction, addressing these issues is particularly useful. Scientific evidence also backs the treatment as a means of true neurological change and as a pharmaceutical-free and convenient form of therapy.

Many drug rehabilitation programs just focus on removing the temptation and hoping the body will acclimate accordingly. These approaches often do no not consider the complex mental processes that strengthen addiction. Brain pathways and particular ways of interpreting the world make some individuals more susceptible to developing dependence on a substance or an action. Cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction addresses these factors.

Every individual possesses certain cognitive techniques he or she uses to navigate the world. The cognitive portion of cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction aims to alter faulty techniques and methods. For example, an addicted individual might have learned helplessness or the viewpoint that no matter what he or she does, the future cannot be changed. These feelings may be compounded by a global perspective that says outside forces such as other people are responsible for everything that happens to the individual. As such, the individual does not accept personal responsibility for the choices he or she makes, but rather places blame on perceived forces beyond any control.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction uses specific techniques to transform these damaging beliefs into more positive intellectual outlets. The therapist might ask the patient to state reasons why he or she turns to the undesirable substance. When outside factors are mentioned, the therapist might challenge these notions and guide the individual towards personal accountability. In addition, the therapist might tackle feelings of helplessness by providing examples of how individuals in similar situations have taken control and overcome obstacles. Keeping journals is another popular method for encouraging positive cognitive development.

Control of behavior — or rather, the perceived lack of control — helps reinforce addictive patterns. The behavioral aspect of cognitive behavioral therapy provides patients with tangible proof that they can in fact control their actions. Approaches might, for example, focus on keeping individuals away from the addictive substance or action through systems of reward and punishment. Further, the cognitive aspect can give patients tools for control and the power to withstand challenges with coping mechanisms.

According to some follow-up studies, using cognitive behavioral therapy treatments may even help rewire brain transmission pathways. Behaviors become so ingrained in individuals because the behaviors are repeatedly practiced, which strengthens and solidifies the areas in the brain responsible for performing these actions. In a sense, some behaviors, including dangerous ones like indulging addictions, become almost second nature. Diligently performing new behaviors helps breaks the neural stronghold of old behaviors and helps pave and strengthen new mental routes.

The prolific use of cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction in psychiatry perhaps serves as the best testament to its effectiveness. Follow-up patient studies give cognitive behavioral therapy one of the lowest relapse ratings. While other therapeutic forms may have short-term success, this approach stands the test of time better than any other. Both patients and psychiatrists also appreciate the shorter, more convenient treatment sessions. As such, patients get the long-term results with the shorter-term time commitment.

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