Substance use disorders continue to be a significant threat to public health in the United States. As addiction and overdose rates maintain high numbers each year, researchers, doctors, and clinicians continue to look for ways to treat addiction in a way that leads to lasting sobriety. In addiction treatment, there are a variety of therapy options that are designed to pinpoint and treat the underlying issues of a substance use disorder. Individual and group therapy are staples in addiction treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is another common option. Next to those gold standard treatment approaches is another common evidence-based treatment: rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). What is REBT, and how can it be used to address addiction and the issues that come with it?
REBT is one of the more popular types of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is a form of therapy that’s designed to identify triggers and negative coping strategies. The aim of the therapy is to help increase self-efficacy, which is your ability to deal with situations that may threaten your sobriety. REBT is specifically intended to help modify your thoughts and behavior in a way that helps to treat symptoms of substance used disorders and underlying issues.
REBT presupposes that circumstances don’t cause symptoms like cravings and compulsions to use. Instead, your response to circumstances is what can lead to issues like negative thoughts and cravings. For instance, when you are faced with a challenging situation, you can respond negatively or with positive coping to determine whether or not you experience symptoms.
REBT can be an important part of relapse prevention strategies in treatment. In addiction treatment, learning to protect your sobriety from relapse is an important part of long-lasting recovery.
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Responding to a high-risk or challenging situation with positive coping strategies sounds like a simple enough plan, but it can be a challenge to many people in recovery. High-risk situations may come and go before you realize them. Plus, negative coping habits may be second nature until you learn a new strategy. Part of REBT is learning to identify high-risk situations and then learning to cope with them effectively.
REBT uses what’s called the ABC method to identify and deal with high-risk situations. ABC represents adversity, beliefs, and consequences. More specifically, it refers to an activating event that poses a challenge to your coping mechanisms, your belief in the implications or outcome of that event, and the consequences of your beliefs.
As an example, an activating event could be your spouse forgetting to take out the garbage like you asked. You may respond with a negative belief that they don’t listen to you because they don’t care. The consequences of that belief may be an argument or resentment.
REBT is used to help increase your awareness of potentially triggering activating events and developing positive responses that facilitate better consequences.
A positive coping response can help increase your self-efficacy, which allows you to safeguard your sobriety.
American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
Dartmouth College. (2006). Understanding our response to stress and adversity. Retrieved from https://www.dartmouth.edu/~eap/abcstress2.pdf
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery