Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a short-term, behavioral therapy that helps substance-dependent individuals “recognize” situations where they are most likely to use drugs and “avoid” these situations by being given the tools to “cope” more effectively with their problems.1 Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also known as CBT.
There are different approaches to cognitive-behavioral therapy, but most forms have the same basic characteristics, including:2
- It is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. [Thus], we can change the way we think to feel/act better, even if the situation does not change.
- It is considered to be one of the most rapid [forms of treatment] in terms of its results. It is highly instructive that uses homework assignments to help teach patients (the addict in treatment) that cognitive-behavioral therapy with a therapist is not an unlimited, never-ending process. Rather, there are techniques that the person needs to learn how to use in his or her own life.
- The goal of the counseling sessions and relationship between the therapist and the patient is to teach the patient how to think differently and act on what they are learning.
- In cognitive-behavioral therapy counselors base the treatment plan on what the patient’s goals are and then teaches him/her how to accomplish those goals.
- Therapists do this by asking the patient questions to gain understanding about the individual and to encourage the individual to ask questions of themselves.
- CBT teaches the patient to remain calm when there is a problem, so he/she can approach the issue with clarity and logic.
- The goal is to unlearn unwanted habits and reactions and learn a new way of reacting so that triggers to use can be averted.
- Encourages the patient to look at his/her thoughts as being guesses that need to be questioned and tested, in order to see if these guesses are incorrect. This can then change the patient’s way of thinking by showing them how a situation really is.
- There is homework in CBT, such as reading assignments and techniques to practice, which helps make what the patient has learned become a part of everyday life.2
There are several reasons why this type of behavioral therapy is very good for substance addicts, particularly cocaine addicts:
- The initial introduction to cognitive-behavioral therapy is comparatively short-term. Is a good tool for use in a clinical program.
- Due to extensive testing, there is a lot of empirical support that this method helps enable successful treatment.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is structured, goal-oriented, and focused. These are often three qualities that recovering addicts need in their routines to prevent relapse.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also flexible and individualized to the person, so that it can be used in a variety of settings.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is compatible with many other types of therapy.3
First, while in treatment, the therapist and the patient (addict) look at an instance when the patient used the drug. They both identify the person’s thoughts, feelings, and circumstances that happened before and after the drug use. Then, the situation is assessed on how the circumstance could have lead to the drug use and why the individual may have used the drug.
Once the functional analysis has happened, a highly individualized treatment program is created for the patient. This is because, depending on the level of substance use, “patients are likely to be using cocaine [or whatever drug he/she is dependent on] as the single means of coping with interpersonal and intrapersonal problems.”3
Therefore, the training gives the patient tools to:
- Foster the motivation for abstinence.
- Use coping skills to manage difficult situation.
- Substituting positive activities for negative, drug-using habit.
- Improve interpersonal function within relationships and enhance social supports, communities, and networks.
1)“A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach: Treating Cocaine Addiction.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Date downloaded: July 7, 2010.
2) “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.” National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists. Date downloaded: July 7, 2010.
3) “A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach: Treating Cocaine Addiction.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Date downloaded: July 7, 2010.