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How is CBT Used in Addiction Treatment?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment focused on chance. CBT is a psychological treatment that focuses on changing certain behavioural patterns and the way a person thinks. For someone going into rehab or looking for different methods of addiction therapy, we will discuss how CBT is used in addiction treatment and how effective it is.

How does CBT work?

CBT aims to target negative situations that contribute to you feeling anxious or sad. It teaches you how to make these problems and cycles more manageable and train you to alter negative thought processes in order to improve your emotional wellbeing. This technique teaches you to break down seemingly big problems into separate parts, thus making them easier to deal with and help you understand how these overwhelming problems are affecting you.

Cognitive (what you think) – CBT aims to teach you how to identify negative thinking and replace these dysfunctional thoughts with a more helpful dialogue. For example, if you’re convinced things are going wrong, as yourself how you would advise a friend if they were in the same situation.

Behaviour (how you act) – Your behaviour is what you do and how you react to things. Many people who have suffered from addiction often avoid certain situations and develop fears around certain activities. When practicing CBT, it is helpful to set daily goals and record everyday activities to overcome these fears. Writing down your goals and actions can give you a sense of achievement and help you to mark your progress.

Therapy (what you learn) – The purpose behind CBT is to adopt new skills that you can put into practice should you be faced with a challenging situation.

Below is an example of how a negative thought process might interrupt a person’s logical thinking and cause feelings of anxiety and stress.


You overhear someone say your name in conversation at a social event:

Thought: ‘They’re making fun of me/They’re saying nasty things about me’

Feelings: Hurt, paranoid and anxious

Behaviours: They avoid speaking to anyone for the rest of the event, internalise feelings and remove themselves from the situation early.

CBT Therapy for Addiction

What Happens During a Typical CBT Sessions?

Although CBT is considered to be a talking therapy, the approach is also very practical. The length of a session will depend on your specific needs, although typically they last between 30 – 60 minutes. Your therapist will advise you on how many sessions you require, and a programme can range between five – 20 weeks. Once your therapist has discussed your situation and what you wish to get out of therapy, the cognitive work can begin.

While you’re in cognitive behavioural therapy, you can expect to cover the following:

Talk in detail about your thoughts

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based around trying to change harmful thought patterns and discuss the problems you wish to overcome as well as situations that cause you stress. It is likely your therapist will ask you detailed questions about your internal dialogue, and while this may seem intrusive, it’s an integral part if you want to progress.

Analyse your problems

Breaking down your problems into more manageable issues will prevent you from becoming so overwhelmed by a situation. Instead, you are encouraged to break each problem down into thoughts, feelings and actions.

Learn new coping mechanisms

During CBT, you will be introduced to a range of new coping strategies designed to help you navigate difficult situations, as well as improve your emotional wellbeing and avoid dysfunctional behaviours and habits.

Homework is a key feature of CBT, and an important way to help you put into practice the new techniques you learn in sessions. You will work with your therapist to agree on which exercises you will do each which and gradually integrate these skills into your everyday life. This also allows your therapist to accurately assess how you are progressing outside of CBT and discuss this at the next session.

Why is CBT Used in Addiction Treatment?

Addiction is characterised by maladaptive behavioural patterns, which is why CBT is such a popular therapy used during treatment. One of the main goals of CBT is to correct these problematic behaviours, encourage change and target potential triggers to help you develop healthy coping mechanisms to prevent relapse. Setting yourself goals, attending support groups such as AA and SMART Recovery, learning effective communication skills and various forms of exercise are examples of healthy coping strategies often used in CBT.

Once you have regained some control over your negative thought process, you should notice that your behaviours begin to change too. The more often these techniques are practice, the greater your chances of maintaining long-term sobriety.

Treatment for addiction will look different for each person. Some therapists might suggest cognitive behavioural therapy for addiction in addition to other psychological therapies or medical treatments.

What Are the Benefits of CBT?

There has been endless research around the effectiveness of CBT for the treatment of addiction and it is proven to effective at treating a variety of disorders including addiction and other co-occurring mental health issues.


  • Altering dysfunctional thought processes allows you to better cope with distressing things in your life
  • CBT homework means you can learn to apply what you are doing in therapy to your everyday life
  • CBT both helps you deal with and acknowledge the past but still focus on moving forward
  • Realistic goals give people a sense of achievement on a regular basis
  • There is instant and continuous support from professionals
  • It can be completed in a relatively short space of time
  • It can boost your self-esteem by teaching you how to identify unhealthy habits. Increased self-awareness will ultimately help you stay sober.

CBT Helping Addiction

Where Can I Get CBT for Addiction?

A trained CBT therapist can provide cognitive behavioural therapy for addiction in the appropriate environment, whether it’s a residential rehab, hospital or community clinic. Sessions may take place on an individual or group basis, depending on your needs.

At Which Rehab we understand how effective CBT is in the treatment of addiction. If you’re looking for a facility which offers this as part of treatment, we can help point you in the right direction.

For advice on which type of recovery programme is best suited to your needs, call our free 24-hour confidential helpline for advice on treatment options available to you.