Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that involves efforts to change thinking and behavioral patterns that drive addiction. It is an effective treatment for substance abuse and is also commonly used to treat other problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and eating disorders.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a psychological approach to addiction treatment. There are many ways psychological approaches are used in addiction treatment, including in the many drug and alcohol rehab treatments in New Jersey. It considers the psychological framework of an individual in order to help them overcome their addictions. Those struggling with substance use disorder often suffer from harmful and destructive thinking. If these negative ways and patterns in a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors remain unchanged, it leads to a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies and the inability to overcome an addiction. Hence, when working towards sobriety, it is essential for people to be aware of and understand how one’s negative thoughts and how it influences one’s behavior.

What Is CBT?

A combination of two therapies, ‘cognitive therapy’ and ‘behavior therapy’, CBT is centered around the idea that a person’s behaviors and feelings are influenced by internal factors such as one’s thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. In order to change unhelpful behavior or negative feelings, you have to change the way you think. CBT can help those suffering from substance abuse by:

  • Increasing self-discipline
  • Being aware of situations that prompt substance use
  • Coming up with beneficial ways to deal with situations instead of turning to drugs or alcohol
  • Learning how to manage problems that may lead to alcohol or drug dependence

There are various types of CBT and they include:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)
  • Rational behavior therapy
  • Rational living therapy

How Does CBT Work?

Two key processes of CBT that are used when treating substance abuse include skills training and functional analysis.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Skills Training

Most people who suffer from alcohol and drug dependence use them to deal with depression, stress, trauma, or other problems. Those who seek professional help for their addictions are most likely using such substances as the main way to manage their problems. By unlearning harmful behaviors, CBT aims to help people develop healthier and more beneficial coping strategies. Those who undergo skills training will learn how to:

  • Change their views and attitudes about their alcohol and drug dependence
  • Get rid of unhealthy habits and develop better ones
  • Equip themselves with better coping strategies

In addition, skills training also teaches people how to manage their pain and anguish better. When people are able to cope with such feelings, there will be a lower chance of them turning to alcohol or drugs.

Functional Analysis

Functional analysis is a vital step in CBT as it involves the therapist and client going through the causes and effects of the client’s self-destructive behavior, also known as a behavior chain. By identifying the feelings or situations that might prompt drug or alcohol use, the therapist and client will then be able to change parts of the behavior chain to create a new, effective pattern that is in the client’s best interest.

Some questions that a therapist might ask a client some of these questions to understand what he or she was thinking before drinking or taking drugs include:

  • What the client was doing before using the substance
  • How the client was feeling
  • If there were any positive or negative outcomes after using the substance

By asking these questions, the therapist encourages the client to reflect back on the thoughts, circumstances, and feelings that drove their substance use. Through this, the therapist and client will then be able to pinpoint the areas in which the client has difficulty managing.

How Does CBT Benefit Those With An Addiction?

For those with alcohol or drug dependence, their recoveries are often hindered by their destructive thoughts and emotions. By breaking the cycle of negative thinking, CBT helps people develop new ways of thinking that encourage healthier behavioral patterns. Those who suffer from addictions can benefit from CBT through:

  • Learning alternative methods to cope with stressful situations
  • Adopting new thought patterns
  • Being aware of harmful thoughts or behaviors
  • Practicing the strategies that have been taught

The skills that are acquired through CBT are long-lasting and are useful in other aspects of a person’s life. Research shows that nearly ⅗  of those who have gone through CBT for drug or alcohol addiction were abstinent for a year.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT’s Treatment Time

CBT is generally considered short-term therapy which normally requires up to 16 sessions. Most people prefer this type of psychotherapy as it is shorter than other types of therapy and it is goal-oriented whilst also tackles the current problems that a client is struggling with.

Is CBT Effective?

Though CBT is often seen as a rigorous type of therapy as it involves a lot of work and self-reflection, the benefits that people obtain from CBT prove that it is one of the most effective treatments for substance addiction. CBT can be used independently or with other forms of treatment. Some common interventions used in CBT include learning strategies to modify thought and behavioral patterns, skills developments, and motivational elements.

Supported by more than 50 controlled trials on substance abuse, CBT is a highly researched form of treatment. Numerous studies on CBT’s use with other mental illnesses have also been conducted. Though some studies show varying levels of effectiveness of CBT when compared to other types of treatment, people have benefited from CBT as compared to receiving no treatment at all. Although CBT is effective on its own, people are encouraged to engage in other rehabilitative efforts such as support groups to gain the most from their treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are two well-known support groups where people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction can find emotional guidance and support.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an established form of short-term therapy. It has proven to be effective in supporting the long-term recovery of those who suffer from various disorders, especially alcohol and drug addiction. However, like all treatments for substance abuse, not everyone reacts to CBT the same way. It is also important that there is a diagnosis of the cause of a person’s addiction. CBT may not be as effective for someone whose substance abuse is due to more biological factors, which will require targeted medicine to counteract the chemical effects of the substance. Though it may be effective for some, other forms of treatment may be required for others. Everyone’s path to recovery is different and as such, it is important for people to find the treatment option that is best suited for them.

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