How Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Work for Addiction Treatment?


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is a widely-used therapeutic intervention for mental health and substance use disorders. In simpler words, it is a type of talk therapy that helps explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and how they work together. Once you identify these patterns, your therapist enables you to change the negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours into positive ones. 

In this article, we will learn how effective is cognitive behavioural therapy and how it works for addiction treatment.

How CBT Works?

Cognitive behavioural therapy connects our behaviour with our cognition. When a person with substance use disorder or addiction undergoes CBT, their thoughts and beliefs are examined to understand the factors that influence their addictive behaviour. While behaviourism focuses on the action and behaviours of a person and the reasons for reinforcement, the human experience of cognition covers everything from our perceptions, emotions, understanding, and thoughts. It also includes the way we think or feel about our past experiences. In CBT, the therapists not only observe and control the person’s behaviour but also understand the reason behind their behaviours. 

CBT for Addiction

Addiction is a clear example of changing behavioural patterns. People who are dealing with addictive behaviours try hard to stop doing things or change their behaviours, but they couldn’t do it. 

According to the concept of CBT, addictive behaviours are the outcome of incorrect ideas and adverse emotions. These addictive behaviours can be a result of anything, such as:

  • Alcohol use
  • Drug use 
  • Gambling habits
  • Video game addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Compulsive shopping

In the addiction treatment process, CBT focuses on helping people with problematic behaviours. The therapists help them learn and practice new and different coping skills so that they can identify and correct their negative behaviours. Through CBT, patients also learn to anticipate future problems and practice skills to deal with them ahead of time. In CBT treatment, you may also be given homework or assignments like making daily progress reports, writing your experiences in a journal, and practising coping skills between sessions. Not only this, but CBT also help people deal with co-occurring disorders. If a person is suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of a substance use disorder, cognitive behavioural therapy has proved effective at treating a variety of conditions simultaneously.

CBT for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a condition when a person uses a substance more than the amount prescribed. When treating substance abuse, a form of therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy can help. It is also used together with medication and may help people change their substance usage habits. CBT works on techniques like investigating the positive and negative consequences of drinking or misusing substances, the skill of relaxation and calming your mind and body, and preparing for difficult situations using role play with the therapist. Also, CBT modifies the brain function or responsive behaviour to potential triggers, cravings, or urges to use substances.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Techniques

One of the most amazing benefits of CBT is that you can start making changes right away and use the learned skills in future. You can discuss with your therapists your unique struggles and work on the techniques that are suitable for you. These techniques of CBT will help in addiction treatment. Some of the common techniques are:

Writing Journals

Journaling is a process of recording your thoughts. Writing what you are feeling, regardless of positive or negative, will help you vent out. Write about the negative thoughts or feelings that constantly haunt you and how you replaced them with positive ones.

This addiction treatment process or technique will help you look back and see how your thought patterns changed over time and how far you have come in this journey.

Relaxation Techniques

Getting a grip on relaxation will benefit you in more ways than you know. While it may look different to every individual, relaxation will act as a stress buster and help you control your cravings. You can do anything from listening to music, taking a walk, taking a bubble bath, and gardening to reading a book in order to keep your mind and body calm.

Deep breathing is also a great relaxation exercise that you can do anytime, anywhere.

Thought Challenges

The thought challenges technique compels a person to gain a new perspective about each situation they face. Meaning, you look at the whole situation and examine or analyse it from multiple angles. Instead of assuming that what you think is the only truth, try out to look at the situation objectively. For example, if someone says that if I don’t get high right now, I’ll collapse or lose my mind, it might not be the actual situation. Your challenge is to decide which thoughts are real and which thoughts your body and mind are inventing as a result of addiction.

Benefits of CBT

A flexible and compliant treatment tool, cognitive behavioural therapy has been used worldwide for addiction treatment programs. Whether it is individual therapy or group therapy, CBT proves to be highly effective in assessing and correcting addictive behaviours. As it is evidence-based and focuses on recovery, it provides a range of benefits that include:

    • CBT pushes you to replace your negative thoughts with positive ones by analysing your old thinking patterns. Meaning, it acknowledges not your past but also teaches you to fight your future battles.
    • In the CBT sessions, you are asked to do the homework, such as monitoring automatic thoughts, behavioural skills, and more. It helps you to work outside the therapy sessions and imply the insights that you have gained in your personal life. 
    • The CBT sessions help patients to replace the negative thoughts and alter the behaviours that can trigger them for substance abuse. It also helps patients learn how to cope with stress and make healthy choices in the future.
  • CBT addresses self-defeating beliefs and incorporates self-awareness and self-esteem in your thoughts, assisting you in building a strong foundation for addiction recovery.

How to Find a CBT Professional?

One of the easiest and most affordable ways of finding a CBT professional is online searching. Visit any search engine and look for the best therapists in your area. You might also find good recommendations from online databases or websites. Many websites offer online therapy, addiction counselling, and provide self-guided workbooks to learn CBT techniques. Online therapy is perfect for those who have a busy or unpredictable schedule.

Also, you can ask for recommendations if you are already in a recovery process. If someone you know has personally taken therapies from a therapist, you can try them out to see if they are a suitable fit for you too. 

Lastly, choose someone that you feel comfortable with and consider everything from gender, age, and patient reviews, to the approach they use. If you find yourself uncomfortable at any point, find someone else.


Cognitive behavioural therapy is a constructive approach that helps in addiction treatment or substance abuse. CBT helps people identify beliefs and thought patterns and mould them into positive ones in order to change addictive behaviours. The coping skills taught in CBT sessions help deal with daily stressors.

You can ask for help if you want to know more about CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy. One of the best recovery methods for addiction treatment, CBT challenge a person to move in a positive direction. Also, it is important to prioritize the treatment plan before you enrol yourself. Find a rehab centre near you or contact the therapists in your area to avail effective CBT services today.


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