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What Is CBT in Drug Rehab? Understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Updated on December 16, 2008

A simulated CBT therapy session

If you've been reading about addiction treatment or evaluating different drug rehab programs, one term you've likely come across is CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral therapy.

CBT is very commonly used in legitimate addiction treatment protocols. It is evidence based and an accepted treatment for a wide range of mental health issues, including for substance abuse.

You may feel more confident when evaluating different forms of addiction treatment if you get informed about the therapy methods these providers talk about. Here is a very brief overview of CBT.

Understanding CBT

CBT is actually an umbrella term for a number of psychological techniques that share a few very common similarities.

The conceptual core of CBT is that although we often blame the outside world for our feelings and our actions – it actually the thoughts in our heads that emerge in response to outside world stimuli that cause us to feel certain ways, and to act in certain ways.

This is very fortunate, because although you cannot change the ways of the world, you can relearn new ways to think. You can change the thoughts that these outside events evoke, and you can thus learn to act or feel differently in response to these outside world events.

For example:

You go out to a party and you ask a girl for a dance and she turns you down. This external stimuli triggers in you thoughts such as:

  • "I am no good" or "I am so ugly" or, "why should I even bother trying to find someone to dance with".

These thought processes in turn evoke very negative emotions and can evoke maladaptive behaviors – such as, instead of trying again, you head to the bar and get blind drunk.

Using CBT, the therapist and the client might examine that scenario and try to come up with new ways to think about the stimuli

  • Instead of I am no good – you might think…maybe she already has a date or is not feeling well or is heartbroken…

Instead of, why should I even bother trying to find someone else – you might think, well there are lots of fish in the sea, and you'll never hit a home run unless you take a few cuts at the plate!

You retrain your thinking process, and in turn you change your emotional and behavioral response to the event. Instead of heading straight to the bar, you instead take another try on the dance floor and maybe you meet someone instead of wasting a night drunk.

It sounds quite informal, but the methodology used is actually quite structured. You are formally retrained in how to think!

Components of CBT

CBT Therapy is usually:

1. Client Centered

The therapist listens and questions the client to learn about the problems, desires and goals of the client. The therapist then helps the client to realize alternative ways to think about certain elements of life, and teaches them formal methods for encouraging this change in thought

2. Brief

Some types of psychotherapy are very lengthy. CBT is much briefer, and the client can show significant improvement quickly. The average length of a CBT therapy relationship is only 16 sessions.

3. Evidence based

CBT therapy is not abstract. All forms of cognitive behavioral therapies use sound scientific and evidence based techniques.

See the links below for more in depth discussion on CBT.

a lecture on CBT

More from the same lecture


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      Gorav Gupta 3 years ago

      thanks for providing useful information on CBT. Combination of CBT,Psychotherapy ,Medication, support groups and Holistic treatment delivers the best results.

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      David Wiggins 4 years ago

      The sad thing is.....if a patient does not want therapy or CBT, little can be done to help this person. I have a good friend who is choking on his own life because he refuses to believe he has a problem, even tho he has been arrested sevral times for the same thing......drugs!!! Sad

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      Marilyn L Davis 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for a succinct and informative article. You have explained it concisely and well; hopefully those needing substance abuse treatment will look for one using CBT.

      I opened and ran a woman’s recovery home from 1990-2011, using many of the methods you describe.

    • CRe8tiVeLiFe profile image

      Erin 4 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow ;-)

      As someone working on pursuing a therapy license, I want to commend you for the accuracy of the information you presented. I love that you have it all in one place and it's easy for people interested in different types of therapy to understand. I wonder if you would consider doing a similar blog on DBT therapy or even EMDR?

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      terek 6 years ago

      Nice Article ;) Thanks for sharing.

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      Cliff 7 years ago

      i agree with this CBT rehabilitation program where an addict needs to undergo this kind of treatment in order to be heal.

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      kim 7 years ago

      awesome article! I wrote a similar one, but this seems to pick up where mine left off and then take a specific direction.