Whether you are dealing with substance abuse, anxiety, depression, or some other challenge, getting professional help can be the difference between overcoming such issues or living with them year after year. There tends to be a stigma attached to seeing a therapist, but the reality is that most people seek out therapy at some point in their life. After all, at times life can throw some big obstacles our way.
Take substance abuse or addiction, for example. No one intentionally becomes addicted to substances or behaviours. What may start out as innocent behaviour, such as drinking with friends, can turn out to be an addiction that’s tough to beat by yourself? Sometimes it requires professional substance abuse treatment.
When treating substance abuse, an individualized treatment plan is created that involves treating the addiction, as well as the emotions and behaviours underlying the addiction. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy that works quite well to help individuals change negative thoughts, belief patterns, and behaviours.
Using the framework that thoughts influence beliefs and beliefs influence behaviours, CBT works by targeting faulty or negative thoughts and modifying or revamping them into more healthy ones.
If you’re struggling with substance abuse, it’s likely that underneath the addiction, you’ve picked up some unhealthy, destructive thoughts and beliefs. This could have started in childhood or perhaps it has occurred over time as an adult.
Thoughts like, “I’m a failure”, “Nothing ever works out for me” or “I’ll never be able to quit” can keep you stuck in a negative cycle year after year. Such thoughts and patterns may cause you to struggle with things like anxiety, depression, shame, fear, and more.
CBT helps you start digging to see what’s going on in your thought life. What kinds of thoughts are predominantly running in your mind? Are they mostly positive or negative? When you can take the time to learn what’s there, you can then start working on changing the negatives to positives.
For example, let’s say Steve is abusing alcohol to deal with feeling deeply depressed. He’s been drinking for years now, oftentimes justifying it because of an overly stressful job. However, he’s hit a point in his life where he knows that if he doesn’t do something different, he’s going to end up depressed and drinking forever. He may even lose his marriage.
Steve investigates addiction treatment at a residential rehab center that uses CBT as part of its treatment plan. When he agrees to attend treatment, he will meet with a qualified CBT therapist and they will both get to work exploring his thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
He will have the opportunity to learn what self-destructive thoughts or belief patterns have been driving his life. He will be able to honestly look at his coping skills and how effective they have been. He will also be able to work with the therapist to change negative or distorted thoughts to more positive ones. He will be able to learn more effective, healthy coping skills for stress too.
In the time he spends in addiction treatment, he can effectively learn a great deal about himself that he was oblivious to before. He can cultivate alternative behaviours that will help him enjoy a better life, addiction-free.
CBT is a short-term therapy that helps you work on present-day problems by looking at past thoughts that may have contributed to problems. A therapist using CBT will help you explore your thoughts and behaviour patterns, especially the ones that have been leading you to use or abuse alcohol or drugs.
The therapeutic relationship is important to set the stage for positive change. As you commit to undergoing CBT, you will have the opportunity to work together with a qualified therapist to address whatever needs to change in your life.
One goal of the therapeutic setting is to create a safe atmosphere where you feel you can trust the therapist. You feel as if you can remove all masks and be vulnerable and authentic as you share about your life. Having that safe person and space can help you make huge strides in addiction recovery.
CBT can also help you learn better coping skills or strategies to face life’s circumstances or stress. If turning to alcohol or drugs was your “go-to” for struggles in the past, you can certainly learn new, healthier coping skills moving forward.
Many CBT therapists also use homework to help clients practise new skills outside of therapy. You may be given a workbook to work through or certain exercises that will foster more positive thoughts and behaviours while at home or in the community.
CBT, or “talk therapy”, is based on cognition and behaviourism. Cognition deals with thoughts and feelings. Behaviourism deals with behaviours. Substance abuse is an example of behaviour patterns that someone engages in that they may not want to be doing. They want to stay sober or clean, but they behave in ways that keep them using.
CBT is an approach that understands the culprit of such behaviour are negative thoughts and/or beliefs under the surface. Whether the addiction is to alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, etc., the addictive behaviour stems from negative thoughts and feelings.
By treating both the physical part of the addiction, as well as the emotional part using CBT, your chances of achieving long-term sobriety increase significantly. And, you will be more inclined to actually enjoy your life.
CBT is well-known for its success in treating various mental health conditions, such as:
It is sometimes used alongside other behavioural therapies, including Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
If you or a family member are struggling with an addiction, know that effective treatments are available. You do not have to struggle any longer. The first step toward freedom from addiction is to admit that you may need some help. Then, simply reach out.