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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Overview of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on changing distorted ways of thinking that can lead to substance abuse.
  • CBT therapy sessions usually last about 1 hour a week for 16 weeks.
  • It is a well-established treatment for a wide variety of mental health and substance abuse disorders.
  • It can be combined with other treatments such as medication and motivational interviewing.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-established form of psychotherapy that has been scientifically tested to be effective in treating a wide variety of disorders, including substance abuse.

What makes CBT unique from other forms of psychotherapy is that it:

  • Places emphasis primarily on your present situation.
  • Is problem-focused.
  • Is time-limited.

In CBT, you learn how to identify distorted ways of thinking that may harm your day-to-day functioning. You also learn how to modify these beliefs and relate to others in a different way, and how to change your own behavior to make positive changes in your life.

Contact a treatment support specialist at for help finding a substance abuse treatment program that uses CBT or another type of therapy.

How CBT Is Used to Treat Addiction

What to Expect in a Therapy Session

Cognitive behavioral therapy sessions are typically very structured and last about 1 hour. Your therapist will likely spend the first few minutes of every session establishing an agenda for the session. This will be your opportunity to identify any important topics that you would like to discuss that day during the appointment.

The majority of sessions in CBT are focused on discussions of mood and individual difficulties.

Homework is also a large component of treatment. You are expected to complete exercises outside of the session each week. You and the therapist agree on the exercises.

Length of Treatment

One of the ways in which CBT is different from other forms of psychotherapy is that it is time-limited in nature. In fact, most individuals can expect weekly treatment sessions for no more than 16 weeks. Individual treatment sessions usually last about one hour.

Cost of Treatment

The cost of undergoing cognitive behavioral therapeutic intervention will differ across programs. Furthermore, health care insurance plans will vary in the amount of coverage they’ll provide for such treatment modalities.

CBT With Other Treatments

Doctor giving medicationSome data supported the use of naltrexone and CBT for treating alcohol dependence over monotherapy.3 However, other studies have not found any added benefit to combining treatments.4

More research is necessary in this area to identify the ideal combination of treatments for managing substance use disorders. Some examples of other treatments that may be used in combination with CBT include:

CBT is also frequently used in combination with medication treatment.

CBT Effectiveness in Treating Addiction

A number of previous studies have supported the role of CBT as a moderately effective means of treating alcohol and drug dependence.

Effectiveness in Treating Dual Diagnosis

Given that cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the present and is more problem-focused, it is ideal for treating people who have dual diagnoses (a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder). In fact, many recommend CBT above other dual diagnosis treatment approaches, as it can help individuals develop strong coping skills for managing both their use of substances, as well as their mental and behavioral health problem. 3,4

Drawbacks of This Approach

While CBT has been well-established as an effective treatment for a wide range of disorders, it is not for everyone. In particular, it is recommended that individuals with very severe and long-standing histories of substance dependence or addiction seek more intensive treatment before doing a trial of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Where to Get More Information

If you would like to know more about CBT or locate a CBT therapist in your area, visit the following websites:

If you’re looking for a program that uses cognitive behavioral therapy or other types of behavioral therapy to treat substance abuse or dual diagnosis conditions, call to speak with a treatment support specialist.

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