What to Know About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat Addiction
Addiction is a complicated disease with many facets. Addiction can develop from self-medicating to manage conditions such as anxiety or depression. Fortunately, working with a cognitive behavioral therapist during the detox and rehab process can lessen the pressure to use drugs to control negative thoughts.
Break the Need for Self-Medication
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions require you to identify and discuss the troubling situations in your life. As you develop awareness about these situations, you will begin to identify and understand the thoughts that impact your reaction to certain feelings and situations. Finally, you will be given tools to help you reshape those negative or inaccurate thoughts.
CBT can be especially helpful to anyone who has a lot of shame around their addiction. If your childhood was scarred by an addicted adult, you may have a revulsion around the disease. This revulsion can make it very hard to look at your addiction as something you have the power to address.
Because CBT sessions require you to understand the negative thoughts that may be impacting your current difficulties, you may have to deal with some harsh memories from your past. These experiences can be extremely stressful, but a form of CBT called exposure therapy can teach you to face your fears and lessen the impact of the bad memories over time.
During a severe response to stressful memories, your body and brain can go through the same stressors experienced at the time of the trauma. Even though you know that you are not physically in that place or in that same danger, you may suffer a flashback. Make your CBT therapist aware of these reactions so you can learn the tools you need to lessen the stress of lingering feelings and memories.
The ABC’s of Cognitive Therapy
One of the therapeutic standards for cognitive therapy is the ABC model, which is taught to help manage the pressure of cravings. Using the ABC model, your therapist can help you determine the:
- Activating event: Do you drink or use a drug after a bad day at work or after a fight with your spouse?
- Beliefs about the event: Is a bad day at work inevitable because your boss is a jerk or your co-workers are lazy? Is your spouse always badgering you as soon as you get home?
- Consequences of your behavior: Do you really want to be disconnected or foggy all night when your children need you? Do you really want to deal with the financial pressures that your drug of choice puts on your budget?
By changing your thoughts around the activating event, you can alter your beliefs. Maybe your boss is dealing with difficult circumstances at home. Maybe your coworker is tired because her new baby keeps disrupting her sleep. Once you loosen your hold on those “always” thoughts, you build in mental flexibility to alter your reaction to the situation.
By studying your consequences with a more flexible view, you can honestly assess what those addictive behaviors are costing you. You may notice that your children avoid you, which can really hurt. You may notice that your spouse doesn’t rely on you, which can damage your relationship.
As you come to understand your thoughts and how they have impacted your behavior over time, you have a starting point for conversations with your spouse. You will have a way forward to rebuild connections with your children.
Healing the Brain
Humanity’s basic needs, such as those for food, water, and shelter, are driven deep within the brain, and when we lack any of them, our emotions can override rational thought. For example, if your children are hungry, but you have no food or money to buy some, stealing food quickly becomes a viable option. Often, actions taken based on these deepest needs happen with no thought at all.
Our brains are also wired to create habits. Habits are an efficient way for the brain to guide our body through daily actions that are necessary or bring rewards. For example, we don’t really need to think about all the steps it takes to shower because it’s a habit. Repeated activities, day after day, grow into automatic routines that require little to no thought. This can be as simple as fixing a pot of coffee or walking to a bus stop.
Addiction hijacks the brain, often putting the need for the addictive substance on the survival list. You can end up spending the grocery budget on drugs or alcohol because the need is overriding. To an outsider who is not addicted, these behaviors may look like neglect or abuse, but because of the level of need in your brain, it makes sense to you.
CBT helps us create a bit of space between need and action. Even better, the ability to step back and reshape inaccurate thinking patterns can also become a habit. You may be given a helpful word, such as “maybe.” You may be trained to ask yourself a simple question before you act on a trigger.
The ability to understand that you can step back from a situation that is pushing your buttons is incredibly powerful. Instead of just reacting, you can make a different choice and choose an action that won’t be destructive or damaging. You can also look at yourself from a gentler viewpoint as you retrain your brain with these new tools.
Private and Group Therapies
During detox, the goal for your support team will be to keep your body and brain healthy enough to cleanse the drugs out of your system. Detox is not easy and should never be attempted alone; you will need monitoring for hydration and nutrition. Because detox can often nausea as well as more severe symptoms like tremor, hallucinations, sudden high blood pressure, seizures, and coma, professional support is critical.
As you move into the rehab and treatment process, you may participate in both group and private counseling that include features of CBT. During your private sessions, you may start to look at negative thoughts or concepts that you hold about your own worth. These concepts may have been acting on your view of your own self-worth for a long time and may have left you feeling isolated and alone.
Your therapist may have given you new tools to look at these thoughts. You may be able to look at them from a different angle and create enough mental space to understand how cognitive distortions can lower your self-esteem and harm your relationships. You can learn to alter how you look at yourself, your circumstances, and the world around you.
When you enter into group therapy, your feelings of isolation and loneliness can fall away. You are not the only person struggling to take their brain and their life back from addiction. You are not the only person who has tried and failed to control an addiction on their own.
As isolation falls away, you can learn to socialize without drugs and alcohol. You can learn to be more caring and altruistic; offering your own viewpoint or your personal coping tools becomes easier because you are not judging yourself as harshly as you have in the past.
It’s likely that everyone in your group therapy sessions is also undergoing private counseling, and for many, that may involve CBT. The coping tools and questions of other group members may be different from yours. As you loosen up the rigidity of your thinking, especially about your past, you may also be able to integrate some of their insights.
Tools You Can Take Home
CBT is generally treated as short-term therapy involving five to 20 sessions. While you can certainly go back for a brush-up or get help tackling a new problem, the skills you learn in CBT therapy to help overcome addiction can also be taken home to help you live a better life outside of rehab.
Events that formerly triggered you can still push you to react impulsively rather than responding thoughtfully. CBT gives you tools, but you still have to pick them up to tackle your challenges. However, once CBT teaches you how to break the connection between event and reaction, you can put that skill to use in almost any situation.
CBT can teach you to understand your needs and how they affect your thinking. It can also teach you skills to help you:
- manage powerful emotions like anger, fear, or sadness
- manage symptoms or prevent mental illness relapses
- cope with physical health problems
- resolve conflicts
- improve communication skills
- become more assertive
CBT cannot train you out of attending to your instincts. You will still get hangry, and you will still steal the blankets in your sleep. However, CBT can help you to understand how to manage the pressure and urgency of thoughts that come up when you don’t need to be in survival mode.
You can learn to relax without drugs and alcohol. You can retrain your brain to stop wrapping you in negativity that you need to numb or wash away. You can create mental space to understand why you have reacted instinctively in the past, with distorted ways of thinking, and what you can do to make room for new, more helpful thought patterns.
CBT can benefit you both in rehab and back in the “real” world. To get started with managing your addiction, reach out to our team at White Light Behavioral Health in Columbus, Ohio today.