How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps to treat addictions

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that has a proven track record in the treatment of a range of mental health problems, including addiction. A type of psychotherapy, CBT can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. CBT’s efficacy is underpinned by scientific and empirical data. Often the treatment of choice, CBT is promoted and prescribed by both the NHS and private health care services.

Unlike some other talking therapies, CBT concentrates on current problems rather than focusing on issues you may have had in the past. It is based around perception and the theory that the way you perceive a situation is more closely connected to your reaction to it than to the actual situation itself. If someone is distressed for example, their perception of a given situation is likely to be distorted.

CBT helps people to unpick their thoughts and feelings by enabling them to evaluate whether they are realistic. In this way, you can learn how to change distorted thinking. If you can think in a more realistic way, you’re likely to feel better, be able to approach problems from a rational perspective and initiate behavioural change.

The cognitive model is at the heart of CBT and plays an important role in helping therapists to treat their clients’ difficulties. The model focuses on how people’s thoughts and perceptions influence the way they feel and consequently, behave. How we think, feel and act all interact together. In effect, how we think can determine how we feel and ultimately, how we behave.

CBT is used to help people become more aware of the impact of their negative thoughts. It can help you identify when you’ve skewed a situation to create distressing feelings and allows you to recognise those behavioural patterns that reinforce negative thinking. Negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. CBT aims to break that cycle by improving the way you feel.

CBT can help you address an overwhelming issue in a positive way. By exploring the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviours, it’s possible to deconstruct a problem and break it down into smaller, more manageable parts. This type of therapy helps to examine the underlying beliefs and conflicts between what you want to do and what you actually do.

Addiction is a prime example of this kind of conflicted behaviour. For example, while you may know that it is safer and healthier to avoid certain behaviours and substances, you go ahead and engage in them regardless. These behaviours often result in destructive consequences and even though you may regret engaging in them, it can be hard to stop doing so.

It’s particularly hard to break the cycle when you don’t know what’s perpetuating it. At East Coast Recovery, our bespoke treatment plans incorporate education. We ensure our clients fully understand, on a scientific level, the intricacies of their condition. We align our therapies with the disease model of addiction. This theory expounds that sobriety is not attainable by means of greater willpower. In effect, addiction should not be perceived as a moral failing but rather recognised as the disease that it is.

Many people trying to overcome addictive behaviours genuinely want to get clean but find it incredibly difficult to do so. CBT treats excessive behaviours, such as substance misuse, as a by-product of distorted thinking and its subsequent, negative feelings. It’s this negativity that can feed alcohol or drug use disorder.

As a talking therapy, CBT focuses on exploring patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour. During a session of CBT, you work with a therapist to take a closer look at your thoughts and feelings to break them down into their separate parts. Analysing these elements separately enables you, with the help of your therapist, to evaluate whether they are unrealistic and therefore, unhelpful. This also allows you to see the effect your thoughts and feelings have on each other and more importantly, on you.

A therapist is able to help you work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. After identifying what can be changed, your therapist will ask you to practice these changes in your daily life. You can consciously try to view situations in more realistic ways; ways that don’t automatically lead to negative emotions. Over time, this less distorted perception makes way for more positive thoughts and feelings, thereby helping to break the cycle of harmful behaviour.

As healthier behaviours become associated with more positive emotions, these will eventually replace the ingrained, harmful ones and become your automatic responses. The overarching aim of CBT is to teach you how to apply the skills learnt during therapy to your daily life, moving forward.

The skills acquired through CBT offer a strategy to help you manage your addiction after your treatment programme has come to an end. Recovery is an ongoing process and sobriety requires constant safeguarding.

The process of CBT requires cooperation. Therapists can help and advise but to get the most from the treatment, you need to commit to the process. The therapy involves honest soul-searching. You need to confront emotions and anxieties which can be difficult and uncomfortable.

Alongside Person-Centred Therapy, CBT forms an integral element of the 12-step model of treatment we follow here at East Coast Recovery. Both therapies focus on the view that everyone has the capacity and desire for personal growth and change. Our therapists help our clients to facilitate this change and development.

Some critics argue that because CBT only focuses on the immediate problem of addiction, it doesn’t address any potential, underlying issues. We incorporate different therapies into our treatment plans at East Coast Recovery to ensure that each programme is tailored to the exact needs of the individual. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is an alternative therapy that can bridge this potential gap. This therapy stresses the importance of the unconscious and past experience in shaping current behaviour. By tailoring our therapies to suit each client’s needs, we can ensure a holistic approach to the recovery process.

The 12-step model works in perfect harmony with the power of therapy, in all its forms, to create a formidable recovery solution. From group to one-on-one therapy, every client’s recovery plan is tailored to ensure precisely the right support.