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CBT for Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is among the most highly supported treatments for drug and alcohol use disorders.1 Due to its multifaceted nature, professionals can tailor CBT for substance abuse and addiction treatment.2 This page will explore those facets along with the role of CBT in addiction treatment and its benefits.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of behavioral therapy based on 3 main principles that direct its different approaches.2 These principles include the belief that psychological problems are largely based on faulty or unhealthy ways of thinking and on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.2 The theory surmises that learning better ways to cope with problems allows relief from a person’s psychological problems.2

Through these principles, CBT aims to change a person’s unhealthy behaviors by providing individualized strategies that teach them to think differently and develop other coping skills.2 Led by a therapist in a group or individual setting, cognitive behavioral therapy for substance use disorders (SUDs) is planned with an individual’s needs in mind.2 For nearly 40 years, professionals have used CBT for addiction treatment, teaching patients how to change their thinking so they can better address problematic emotions and behaviors.1,2

Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help in Addiction Treatment?

Cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction has helped in addiction treatment for several decades and continues to help many more.1 It works by addressing some of the root causes of substance use disorders including stress and coping with negative life experiences.1,3 For example, CBT may help a person anticipate likely problems and effective coping strategies ahead of time to avoid undesirable behavior.4

Having a diagnosis of both co-occurring disorders and addiction is common.3 CBT is often a therapy of choice because it can effectively treat these disorders alongside substance misuse.5 As such, it has become popular for psychotherapy for the following reasons:6

  • It is the most researched form of psychotherapy.
  • No other form of psychotherapy has been shown to be consistently superior.
  • The theories of change on which CBT is built are well-researched and parallel existing research on the human mind and behavioral patterns.

How Is CBT Used in Drug and Alcohol Rehab?

On all levels of substance use disorder treatment, including inpatient addiction treatment, outpatient addiction treatment programs, and continued recovery programs, CBT is both effective and common.4 In rehab, cognitive behavioral therapy can be given in group or individual sessions, which increases a person’s exposure to other people’s coping mechanisms and progression in recovery.4 Often, a person encounters a variety of behavioral therapies during addiction treatment, and CBT is combined with other approaches to maximize efficacy.4

Examples of other well-established behavioral therapies that may be combined with CBT for substance use disorder treatment include:4

These and other therapies may be used, with or without medication, in programs that vary in intensity along different stages of recovery.4 Common levels of treatment include:4,7

  • This is typically the first step in addiction treatment. It is the process in which the body cleanses itself of the substance and can be accompanied by dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox centers can make the process safer and more comfortable.
  • Inpatient programs. Also known as residential programs, inpatient programs provide greater intensity of care at a treatment facility 24/7. They are typically best for those with more severe addiction or co-occurring mental or medical disorders.
  • Partial hospitalization rehab programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient addiction treatment programs (IOPs). These programs are usually a step between inpatient and traditional outpatient treatment. They may involve treatment for 6 to 8 hours per day for several days a week but allow a person to live at home.
  • Traditional outpatient treatment. This consists of regular but less frequent treatment sessions than more intense forms of treatment. They are usually offered at a time that may fit around a variety of schedules and may be a good starting point for people with mild to moderate substance use disorders.
  • Also known as continuing care, aftercare is ongoing involvement in recovery-oriented groups or treatment after the completion of a formal program. Addiction treatment aftercare programs may consist of continued traditional outpatient treatment, community mutual support groups, sober living homes, or other resources.

What Are the Benefits of CBT in Addiction Recovery?

As with many experiences during addiction treatment, the skills learned through CBT often remain after the completion of treatment.4 CBT for addiction teaches a person to become their own therapist by self-identifying problems and their solutions.2

For example, a person going through CBT may begin to:2

  • Recognize distorted thinking and reevaluate those thoughts with a new perspective considering reality.
  • Example (distorted thinking): “People will think I’m weird if I don’t get high with everyone else.”
  • Example (reevaluated thinking with a perspective from reality): “I can’t know what other people are thinking, but I can know what I want and what is good for me.”
  • Gain a fuller understanding of the behavior and motivation behind other people’s actions.
  • Example: A father came home drunk and angry every night.
  • Previous assumption: “My father couldn’t stand to be around me so never came home sober.”
  • A broader outlook: “My father may have been stressed about money, struggling with his own addiction, was ashamed, and didn’t have the coping skills necessary to interact with our family in a mature manner. Drinking was the only way he knew how to cope.”
  • Use problem-solving skills to cope in demanding situations.
  • Example of prior thoughts or actions: “I don’t know how I’m going to come up with enough rent this month, so I might as well spend what I have on some weed and relax while I can.”
  • Example of problem-solving skills: “I don’t know how I’m going to come up with enough rent, but let’s see what I can do. As a kid, I used to mow the lawn and wash windows, and I can always learn other skills. I’ll apply for some jobs and do what I can. If I’m working toward something, someone may be willing to help.”
  • Learn how to relax the body and calm the mind in pressured situations.
  • Utilize mental role-playing to identify and prepare for potentially difficult interactions with other people.

CBT can help a person resist relapse and other unwanted behaviors, improve difficult relationships, or explore their motivations for substance use.7

Does Health Insurance Cover CBT?

Most health insurance plans offer some coverage for substance use disorder treatment, which may include CBT. With mental health parity laws placed on state and federal levels in the past 20 years, insurance plans must offer at least equivalent coverage for mental health and substance use disorder benefits as other medical benefits.8 However, there are differences between states and some exceptions, so it is important to research your specific benefits before making assumptions.8

Additionally, while many treatment centers include CBT as a key part of treatment, not all do. To verify health insurance coverage for addiction treatment, alternative ways to cover the cost, and the availability of CBT at your treatment center of choice, contact the staff at Knowledgeable admissions navigators are available at or online to talk with you and answer any questions you may have. Contact them today to find the CBT and addiction treatment program that’s right for you.

If you are unsure about where to start, you can look at some of the facilities listed below to see if they provide the program you are looking for:

Find Out If Your Insurance Plan Covers CBT Treatment

American Addiction Centers can help people recover from addiction. To find out if your insurance covers buprenorphine treatment for you or your loved one at an American Addiction Centers facility, click here, or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential. You can also click here to find a rehab near me.

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