How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work for Drug Addicts?

Addiction is a very dynamic, progressive disease that we’re only just beginning to really understand. For many years, the conception was that addicts were merely bad people or sinners, weak of character and will, consciously choosing to harm themselves and others. However, we’ve since developed a much more enlightened understanding of addiction. We know that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that causes a compulsive urge to indulge in harmful behaviors in spite of the numerous consequences. In short, it forces individuals to act against their own self-interests.

Over the course of active addiction, an individual experiences many effects as a direct result of chemical dependency. Oftentimes we focus on the numerous health and physical effects that occur as a result of habitual, compulsive substance abuse, but it’s often suggested that the psychological and spiritual effects are even worse. Addicts frequently lose their jobs and families and homes, fall into financial ruin, damage or destroy important relationships, and seek fulfillment and meaning through a persistent state of intoxication and numbness. As an addict falls deeper into the pits of despair as a result of addiction, the disease becomes the driving force of his or her life. With a substance abuse habit being such a central influence, it can be difficult or even impossible for those with chemical dependencies to overcome the disease of addiction on their own.

Fortunately, addiction treatment programs such as those available at the Palm Beach Institute give addicts a means of regaining their health and independence. Moreover, individuals who are embarking on the journey of recovery can personalize recovery programming with complementary and supplemental treatments, ensuring that each individual’s specific needs are addressed while in treatment. However, while there’s much potential for individualization in the treatment process, counseling and psychotherapy play a central part in virtually all addiction treatment programs. In fact, there are a number of specific psychotherapeutic techniques that addiction counselors frequently use when they are helping addicts to overcome thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to the development or longevity of alcoholism and drug addiction. The following will define and describe cognitive behavioral therapy, which is one of the most effective and widely used techniques for counseling individuals suffering from addiction, as well as explain the part that cognitive-behavioral therapy can play in helping addicts to overcome harmful, self-destructive behaviors.

What Exactly Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The purpose of psychotherapy is to treat various psychological afflictions and disorders with counseling rather than with medication. However, there are many different techniques that a therapist can use when counseling a patient; the technique used in a given situation depends on the symptoms or afflictions of the patient as well as the desired outcomes. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a specific type of counseling that is unique for several key reasons. While much psychotherapy tends to be long-term and a cumulative healing process, cognitive behavioral therapy is actually most effective when used for short periods. In practice, cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-oriented counseling that focuses on the dynamic or relationship between an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and emotions and his or her behavior.

To put it another way, cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to help the patient overcome maladaptive or harmful behaviors by helping the individual to understand the mental processes that are causing or contributing to those behaviors. One of the most obvious differences between cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of psychotherapy is that cognitive-behavioral therapy is very cooperative, necessitating a joint effort on the parts of both the patient and therapist as they work together to overcome the symptoms the patient has been experiencing. A more proactive form of psychological intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy affords individuals the means of replacing unhealthy behaviors with more productive, constructive behaviors.

Utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Addiction & Substance Abuse Treatment

Since habitual alcohol and drug abuse represents a very self-destructive and maladaptive behavior, the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of addiction would seem an obvious, natural application. In fact, cognitive-behavioral therapy was originally implemented in the treatment of alcoholism to help minimize an alcoholic’s chance of relapse after treatment. Nowadays, this technique is used for the treatment of all addictions and has proven useful for more than just relapse prevention. In particular, it’s common for addiction counselors to utilize cognitive behavioral therapy to help addicts identify thoughts and feelings that have caused problem behaviors in the past. Moreover, cognitive behavioral therapy has been useful in helping addicts to overcome negative, self-deprecating thoughts as well as improving self-esteem.

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Curtail Destructive Behavior

Perhaps the most useful function of cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction is in helping addicts to overcome or change harmful, unhealthy behaviors. Being a very goal-oriented form of treatment, a central process of cognitive-behavioral therapy involves identifying the specific thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and attitudes that contribute to or even cause negative behaviors; when those cognitions are identified, the patient and therapist work together to overcome those negative cognitions—often referred to as cognitive restructuring—so that they won’t continue to trigger destructive behaviors. An important part of this requires the therapist to teach an individual to overcome negative thinking, which involves being able to identify unobjective negativity and learning to judge situations realistically based on evidence and potential outcomes. The basis of cognitive behavioral therapy is founded on the understanding that an individual’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and attitudes are interrelated processes in a continuous cycle; moreover, overcoming self-destructive behaviors requires a therapist to teach a patient how to intervene at various points of that cycle.

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