How Psychotherapy Works For Addiction Treatment

How Psychotherapy Works For Addiction Treatment

An addiction takes a massive toll on a person’s life. It is a complex and complicated situation that is rooted in a person’s history and perpetuated further by current maladaptive behaviors and mindsets. Therapy provides a person with a means to take control over these things, and in turn, their addiction.

The Role Of Therapy Within Addiction Treatment

How Psychotherapy Works For Addiction Treatment Thoughts, Emotions, BeliefsThe purpose of therapy within addiction is to achieve or maintain sobriety and prevent relapse, while supporting you in your life as you contend with the environment around these pursuits. An addiction is rooted in a variety of triggers, behaviors, thoughts, emotions, situations, and social interactions. Therapy helps you to understand the role that these things have within your addiction and how they might precipitate or encourage your drug use. Your sessions will teach you how to either entirely avoid these things, or how to cope with them when they arise.

A trigger is a cue that you experience that elicits a drug-seeking reaction. It may be a person, place, event, memory, visual, auditory, or other sensory cue. Sometimes it is not possible to completely remove or avoid all triggers. In this case, you therapist will work with you in how to best manage the cravings and thought processes that arise when you encounter them.

Therapy addresses a diverse array of needs within a person’s life, here of some of the things that therapy can address:

  • Coping with major life situations: Sometimes certain events, such as a death in the family, loss of a job, a breakup or divorce, or a major illness, may lead you to self-medicate. Therapy can help you to come to grips with these situations and learn how to deal with their implications.
  • Coping with past trauma: A person may have experienced acts of physical or sexual violence, or may have witnessed or even been involved with causing these. Therapy can help you to cope with the ongoing effects of these situations. cause you stress within different areas of your life, including your job or within a relationship.
  • Taking care of yourself: Sometimes you might not take the best care of yourself either before an addiction starts and also during it. Therapy can help you to realize this and develop better patterns of self-care. One example is for people who have poor sleeping habits. Therapy can help you to resolve this so that you are better prepared to handle the rigors of an addiction and recovery.

How Psychotherapy Works For Addiction Treatment Addiction Trigger

In some circumstance, during the course of addiction treatment, a person may yield the best results if treated by a combination of therapy- and medication-based treatments. This is called medication-assisted therapy or treatment (MAT). This approach supports the person on each level that the addiction is affecting them, treating not only the mental and emotional demands, but also that of the physical. This approach is especially useful for alcohol and opiate dependence.

Types Of Psychotherapy

There are numerous forms of psychotherapy, and just as each person and their situation is unique, so might be the treatment and subsequent form or forms of psychotherapy. Many individuals find that therapy which integrates more than one approach might work best to serve their needs. An addiction is a dynamic, multi-faceted affliction. For these reasons, the most appropriate and successful treatment needs to engage a person on many levels.

According to Harvard Health, psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are the most popular forms, two forms that also hold success within the field of addiction treatment. However, each person and their circumstances are different, so the form of psychotherapy that is most successful can vary from individual to individual.

Mayo Clinic lists and describes the most effective forms of psychotherapy:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you identify unhealthy, negative thought processes and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a variant similar to CBT, that teaches behavioral skills to help you handle stress, manage your emotions, and improve your relationships with others
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy, which helps you become aware of and accept your thoughts and feelings and commit to making changes, increasing your ability to cope with and adjust to situations
  • Psychodynamic and psychoanalysis therapies, which focus on increasing your awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors, developing new insights into your motivations, and resolving conflicts
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy, which focuses on addressing problems with your current relationships with other people to improve your interpersonal skills — how you relate to others, such as family, friends, and colleagues
    Supportive psychotherapy, that reinforces your ability to cope with stress and difficult situations

In addition, if paired with other forms of psychotherapy, mentalization-based therapy (MBT) may prove beneficial to those who suffer with borderline personality disorder (BPD) as well as an addiction. MBT helps people to understand their thoughts and those of others, differentiating between them and helping them to have a more concrete sense of self and self-actualization.

Harnessing Your Thoughts, Emotions, And Beliefs

An addiction stems from and takes a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional states. Therapy will teach you to protect and strengthen these things by better understanding and controlling your thoughts and behaviors. Negative thoughts, behaviors, and reactions to situations can create a shaky foundation on which a drug addiction can take hold. Therapy will help you learn how to stop a negative thoughts or reactions before they transform into a negative action that might precede or become drug use and abuse.

Many times within an addiction there are other underlying, comorbid disorders, such as anxiety and depression that either birth, aggravate, or result from substance abuse and addiction. Therapy is an essential part in combating this. A person can’t fully recover if only one disorder is treated. If these things aren’t treated at the same time, it would be counterproductive because they could continue to exacerbate the addiction, negating a large part of your progress within your recovery.

In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Principles of Drug Addiction and Treatment speaks of this, stating “as many as 6 in 10 people with an illicit substance use disorder also suffer from another mental illness; and rates are similar for users of licit drugs—i.e., tobacco and alcohol…Research indicates that treating both (or multiple) illnesses simultaneously in an integrated fashion is generally the best treatment approach for these patients.”

Prior to and during a drug addiction, a person commonly struggles with many of the following negative emotions: shame, fear, self-loathing, blame, anger, sadness, and loneliness. These emotions can be very draining and leave you devoid of the energy that is necessary to propagate positive emotions and mindfulness.

Therapy will illustrate to you the destructive qualities of these emotions and their many times unfounded roots. Often a person will create a situation in their head that is unrealistic or blown out of proportion, allowing these negative emotions a space in which to fester.

Stress is one of the biggest causes of drug abuse and addiction. Many times a person feels incapable of handling this stress on their own and turns to drugs to moderate or self-medicate the stressful situations. Therapy will direct you towards healthy and proactive ways by which you can gain control over and alleviate your stress level.

What To Expect During Psychotherapy

Your first session sets the foundation for every session thereafter. This is an opportunity for the therapist to get to know you and understand your situation and addiction; that way they can determine the best avenue of care and treatment for you. It is crucial for your success that you strive to be as honest and open as you can be about your life, addiction, and any other relevant information that might influence your drug or alcohol abuse. The more information they have to work with, the greater chance that they have of offering you thorough care that promotes lasting effects and support you as you work toward recovery.

Prior to, or during your first session, you will likely fill out a drug or alcohol screening. This is a self-report questionnaire that asks questions about your drug and/or alcohol use, and the behaviors, thoughts, circumstances, and reactions that revolve around it. Your therapist will then review this information and do a more thorough evaluation that will allow them the chance to flesh out the what they’ve gathered from this initial input. Paired with the type and intensity of your drug use, this helps give the therapist direction so they know how to best direct their focus during your sessions and treatment.

Due the the intimate, and at times, straight forward nature of the conversations that you will be having with your therapist, you may feel like giving up or walking away. Bear in mind this is a completely natural reaction, but despite this, it is important that you persist in moving forward through the progression of your dialogue. Remember, change and improvement take time. Putting in the work allows you the opportunity to gain control over your life and your addiction.

If you have any questions throughout your therapy or treatment you should ask. Remember, this is not just a time for them to ask you questions. You should always be aware of the goals and direction that the therapy is taking. This is a two-way street. Having an open dialogue between yourself and your addiction treatment team is just one more thing that will help you lay a solid foundation for your recovery.

Finding A Therapist Or Program That Fits

They key to having a successful experience with therapy is having the right person or team behind you. Every person is unique. Each person who struggles with substance abuse and addiction has a history and recovery journey that is specific to their experience and needs. If you do not feel comfortable with your therapist, consider trying someone else. Now, as we mentioned before, there are certain times where subject matter and conversations might make you uncomfortable—this is different and could occur regardless of who the individual is. Here, we’re talking about your rapport with your therapist. Having a good connection and relationship with the professionals who help you is very important for your success.

Psychotherapy can be administered by a variety of people, and in some cases, due to the nature, intensity, and form of your rehabilitation or treatment, you may work with more than one person within your addiction support team to receive this treatment. Therapy may be directed by a psychiatric nurse, social worker, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

How Psychotherapy Works For Addiction Treatment Therapy Is Crucial

Therapy is a crucial part of recovery and rehabilitation. It may take part outside of a treatment program or even after as a means to help you upkeep your recovery. In a treatment program, it might be offered within an outpatient or inpatient setting, and either in group and/or an individual mode.

How Will Therapy Make You Feel?

Therapy can at times be mentally and emotionally exhausting, to the extent that it might leave you physically tired as well. It is important to try and take care of yourself in all respects—get plenty of sleep so you can go into your sessions with the therapist and afterwards feel as centered as possible.

Psychotherapy carries little risks, but be aware that because of its nature, you might encounter some emotions, thoughts, memories, or mindsets that are painful or uncomfortable to deal with. You might become very angry, despondent, or encounter denial. You might at times cry or even have an angry outburst.

Remember, this is a very trying process for anyone, but coupled with the effects of the drugs or alcohol use or withdrawal, your emotions are on high alert, so you might be more apt to experience these things. The therapist will help you contend with the roller coaster of emotions you might feel, while guiding you toward coping with them and understanding their role or detriment within your sessions.

This is why it is important to be working with an individual who is highly skilled and trained to deal with these situations and direct you in how to best work through them. This measure of discomfort precipitates the healing and introspection that is necessary to move forward into healthier and more balanced behaviors and mindsets. Ideally, as you progress through therapy, a shift should occur—gradually you will begin to exhibit strength in the face of adversity and walk with greater balance and perspective throughout the stress and demands of your life.

Let Us Help You Find Balance Today

Reach out for help overcoming addiction.Don’t bury your problems any longer or self-medicate them with drug abuse. We can help you to help yourself in finding healthy ways to restore balance, mindfulness, and wellness to your life. At, we have a staff that understands the diverse needs of a person struggling with an addiction. We are here to direct you toward the best therapy and treatment for your personal needs and sober life. Contact us today and get started with therapy treatment or rehabilitation.

The Benefits Of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) For Addiction Treatment

The Benefits of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for Addiction Treatment

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 43.6 million people aged 18 and older suffered from a form of mental disorder in 2014. And in the same period, 20.2 million Americans suffered from a substance use disorder. Of these two statistics, 7.9 million people had both of these disorders. Due to the complexity of drug addiction, it can affect much more than the physical characteristics and health of a person; it can also weave its way into an individual’s emotional and mental health. As a result, many treatment centers are utilizing therapies that pay attention to both of these aspects and help heal a person suffering from addiction in the most effective way.

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)?

DBTDialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy that is used to treat borderline personality disorders. However, this therapy has been shown to be very advantageous for people suffering from addiction and substance use disorders. DBT involves various types of cognitive behavioral methods for helping those with mental disorders and addiction, including problem solving and stimulus control, cognitive restructuring and other treatments. The term dialectical relates to ideas and opinions that are opposing, and DBT focuses on the concept that a person suffering from a mental illness or addiction needs two opposing forces to heal: change and acceptance.

What Is Involved In DBT?

DBT is a comprehensive treatment plan that consists of individual therapy, group therapy and a therapist consultation team. DBT has been shown to be especially effective because it is not only one treatment; instead, it is a series of different treatments that all work together. When compared to other private and group therapies, DBT is unique and focuses on the primary areas that have been found to be the most effective at helping someone heal who is suffering from addiction and co-existing mental health issues. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the primary areas of treatment through DBT include five functions: biosocial theory, emotions, dialectical philosophy, acceptance and mindfulness.

The five functions of DBT involve enhancing the capabilities of the person suffering from mental health disorders and addiction, generalizing capabilities, improving motivation and decreasing dysfunctional behaviors, enhancing and maintaining therapist abilities and motivation, and structuring the environment to be the most conducive to healing.

Biosocial therapy focuses on the emotions of the person in treatment and takes into account that a person suffering from an emotional disorder as well as substance abuse is more vulnerable to emotional experiences and suffers from a reduced threshold for handling emotionally stimulating experiences.

Dialectical philosophy is the primary component that differentiates DBT from other cognitive therapies. This area of treatment focuses on the dialectical nature of mental disorders and addiction, which is the presence of opposing forces and emotions. Physicians combine change-oriented efforts to encourage healing with acceptance training to balance the opposing forces that have caused many patients with mental disorders to want to hurt themselves or commit suicide.

Acceptance and mindfulness help the person suffering from the disorder to accept themselves, their place in the world and others around them. Mindfulness in DBT helps patients focus on what is happening in the present moment in a calm and peaceful environment.

What is DBT Used to Treat?

When DBT is used successfully, the person suffering from a disorder is able to envision, articulate, pursue and sustain goals that are independent of their previous mental health history or use of substances. Even though this type of therapy was created by Dr. Marsha M. Linehan originally to help suicidal women, it is now used to treat a number of mental disorders for both men and women, as well as substance use disorders and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientific research has shown that addiction is a disease that affects the brain and a person’s behavior.

The Relationship Between Addiction And Behavior

RelationshipThe brain is made up of many parts that work together to create our ability to perform various functions, produce emotions and develop our unique behaviors. Our brains consist of billions of neurons that send messages back and forth to the different cerebral structures. These networks of neurons are responsible for coordinating everything we feel, think and do. When drugs are in the brain, they affect it by hijacking its communication system, which is the network of neurons, and interfering with the messages they are sending. Interestingly, marijuana and heroin actually activate neurons because their chemical makeup resembles that of a natural neurotransmitter. Cocaine, on the other hand, can cause neurons to release unusually large doses of natural neurotransmitters or can prevent the natural recycling process of neurotransmitters from occurring.

Drugs cause addiction because they directly affect the reward system of the brain which regulates dopamine, the “happy” neurotransmitter. Drugs stimulate the release of dopamine and create a feeling of euphoria. Our brains are wired to tell us to keep doing things that are associated with reward and pleasure. So when drugs activate this part of the brain, our brain teaches us to keep doing what we’re doing.

When the surge occurs in dopamine levels due to repeated drug use, our brains learn to compensate by reducing the production of dopamine or by decreasing the amount of receptors that receive dopamine signals. This is the reason why many people who are suffering from addiction eventually lose the pleasurable sensation and end up feeling lifeless and depressed. The sufferer then needs to take the drugs again to regain the pleasurable sensations, creating a vicious cycle that leads to addiction and emotional issues.

The Comorbidity Of Addiction And Mental Illness

The term comorbidity refers to two or more disorders occurring in the same person. They can occur one after the other or at the same time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that many people who are suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol are about twice as likely to develop a mood or anxiety disorder. Although addiction and mental disorders can occur at the same time, it doesn’t mean one caused the other. Drug addiction may cause symptoms of another mental illness, suggests a study that revealed the relationship between marijuana use and an increased risk of psychosis. On the other hand, mental illness can lead to drug abuse, most likely as a method of self-medication. For example, people suffering from depression or anxiety may turn to alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs to relieve their symptoms. However, both addiction and mental disorders are most often caused by overlapping factors which include brain deficits, genetic predispositions and early exposure to trauma or stress. In conclusion, a mental disorder may trigger someone to fall prey to substance abuse and vice versa. Often, medication people take for mental illness shares the same circuitry in the brain as illicit drugs, and the use of either one can exacerbate the effects of the other.

How Can DBT Help A Person Suffering From Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, behavioral treatments including DBT are some of the most successful for comorbidity of addiction and mental illnesses. DBT was first developed to help correct self-harming behavior in suicidal people and those suffering from borderline personality disorders. Addiction is also a self-harming behavior because sufferers may continue to take drugs despite failing health, loss of job and deteriorating relationships, in order to sustain the positive sensations.

The use of DBT eventually culminated into a comprehensive treatment that looked at not only mental disorders but also substance abuse problems because it was found that often these two illnesses occur simultaneously. The co-occurrence of addiction and a mental disorder can lead to serious emotional dysfunction and increases the risk of suicide. DBT uses therapies that help the patient to overcome some of the primary problems that complicate treatment of both of the disorders.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information describes the five core functions of DBT in the treatment of addiction:

  • Improving the patient’s motivation to change
  • Enhancing the patient’s capabilities
  • Generalizing new behavior in the patient
  • Enhancing the therapist’s capabilities and motivation

DBT works in a hierarchy format, starting with the most dangerous behaviors. Addiction is considered to be the highest order in DBT. Treatment targets these components to help heal the patient:

  • Decreasing use of substances, including illegal drugs and abused prescription medication
  • Alleviating physical discomfort brought on by abstinence or withdrawal
  • Reducing urges, cravings and temptations to use drugs
  • Avoiding opportunities to use drugs and cutting out contacts of past drug partners
  • Reducing drug abuse behaviors
  • Increasing community support of healthy behavior by developing new friends, rekindling old friendships, pursuing social activities, experimenting with hobbies and seeking positive environments

Promoting Change And Acceptance

ChangeAs mentioned previously in this article, DBT focuses on two areas when working with patients suffering from addiction and mental health issues: change and acceptance. DBT pushes for the immediate and permanent cease of drug use and promotes acceptance by encouraging a non-judgmental environment. If the patient should relapse and take a drug, they are taught not to judge themselves and that a relapse does not mean they cannot achieve their desired goal of quitting drugs.

When the patient first starts seeing their DBT therapist, they will be asked to commit to stopping using drugs immediately. Although a lifetime of abstinence is not expected, the therapist asks the patient to commit to a reasonable length of abstinence, such as a day, a week or just five minutes. Once the patient accomplishes this time of abstinence, they are encouraged to start the interval over again. Over time, the patient achieves a long-term abstinence by piecing together the individual drug-free time periods. Patients are also taught to prepare for high-risk times where they may be tempted to take drugs. The patient learns to anticipate these risky periods and prepares for them. Sufferers of addiction are also asked to cut ties with their drug-abusing past, which may include cutting ties with old friends, getting a new telephone number and tossing out drug paraphernalia.

To teach the patient acceptance, DBT treats a relapse of drug use as a problem to solve, not a sign that the patient has a problem or is incapable of stopping drugs. When the patient does relapse, the therapist shifts their tactics to helping them “fail well,” which entails guiding the sufferer of addiction to identify the circumstances that led to the relapse and apply it to future situations. The therapist also discourages the patient from feeling negative emotions regarding the relapse, helping them instead to recover quickly and feel motivated to try again at abstinence.

The Benefits Of DBT For Addiction Treatment

BenefitsDBT is a lot different from other addiction and behavioral treatments. It looks at the person suffering from addiction holistically but does not use a one-size-fits-all approach. DBT looks at how someone’s mental health is affecting their addiction and vice versa.

The main benefits of DBT are:

  • DBT does not punish the patient for the problems that brought them to the treatment, taking drugs; it assumes sufferers are doing the best they can and that healing takes time to achieve.
  • DBT allows the therapist to determine the level of abstinence that is appropriate for each patient. Other treatments require cessation of all illicit drugs, alcohol, and prescribed medication.
  • DBT targets the most dangerous and prominent issues first before moving onto less serious problems. DBT may not target a patient’s drinking, even if it exceeds the recommended guidelines. Unless the use of alcohol is something the patient brought up as a concern, DBT does not expect the patient to heal all of their individual issues at once.
  • DBT encourages the development of the “clear mind,” which is effective at accomplishing long-term abstinence. When patients first enter into treatment, they are in the “addict mind.” From there, they eventually develop the “clear mind” which occurs after they have successfully achieved a period of abstinence. DBT acknowledges that someone in a clean mind state will most likely relapse in the future, and encourages patients to learn from this occurrence. The alternation between the addict mind and the clean mind go on to form what is known as the “clear mind.” This is the state in which the person dealing with addiction can enjoy their abstinence while remaining aware of the actions associated with the addict mind.
  • DBT uses various methods for attaining “butterfly” patients, the people who fly in and out of the therapist’s office, do not return phone calls, miss appointments and may terminate treatment early. These methods include increasing the positive reinforcement of therapy and the therapist, re-engaging patients who feel lost and preventing the consequential actions that can occur when a patient loses contact with their therapist.
  • DBT utilizes mindfulness, interpersonal relations, emotion regulation and distress tolerance to help patients accept themselves, accept what is and accept the need to change. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that originates from Buddhism. It teaches the person practicing to focus on their breathing in that very moment; to accept what is happening inside and outside without making judgments. Interpersonal relation teaches patients to set limits and safeguard oneself and their relationships. Emotion regulation guides the patient to identify, regulate and experience their emotions without being overwhelmed and acting on impulse. Distress tolerance focuses on the development of skills needed for patients to cope with stress and emotions without feeling that they are unable to solve problems or personal crises.

DBT treatment teaches, encourages and guides the person suffering from addiction to accept themselves, their situation, and to become motivated for lasting change. It looks at everything from emotions, to stress tolerance, to substance abuse habits to guide the patient in developing the desire to change themselves.

Find The Support You Need To Overcome Addiction

Reach out for help overcoming addiction.If you are dealing with addiction, or you know someone who is, it is normal for addiction to affect your mental health and emotions. It happens to many people suffering from addiction, and there are effective treatments like DBT that can help you overcome your substance abuse and regain the person you were before addiction. Contact us today at to speak to an addiction specialist, learn more about this type of treatment and see if it is right for you or a loved one who is suffering from addiction.



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