Treating Addiction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Addiction is a complex problem that can be difficult to overcome. Treatment for addiction often involves therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment for substance use disorder. This type of therapy helps people address the thoughts and feelings that contribute to their addictive behavior. In this blog post, we will discuss how cognitive behavioral therapy works and how it can help people overcome addiction.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was developed by psychologist Aaron Beck in the 1960s. Since then, it’s been heavily researched and proven effective at treating several different psychiatric disorders. These disorders include:

  • depression,
  • anxiety disorders,
  • eating disorders,
  • personality disorders,
  • and substance abuse, which we’re diving into here


CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns to change behaviors while developing coping skills. To help us understand this better, we can break down the “cognitive” and “behavioral” parts of cognitive behavioral therapy.


“Cognitive” or “cognition” refers to thinking. This means that CBT will address the way patients think.


“Behavioral” or “behaviors” refer to actions. This means that addressing the way patients think should change their actions.


The underlying premise of CBT is that changing the way you think ultimately allows you to change the way you act.

Goals of CBT

The goals of cognitive behavioral therapy include:

  • Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • The development of self-control
  • The reduction of symptoms of psychiatric disorders
  • Understanding of distorted perceptions
  • Prevention of future episodes of emotional distress

How CBT works

Cognitive behavioral therapy works by helping people recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to experience symptoms.


According to the American Psychological Association, CBT is based on several core principles which include:

  • Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
  • Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
  • People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.


CBT is typically conducted in a therapist’s office. However, it can also be done in group settings or even over the phone. The number of sessions required varies depending on the severity of the disorder being treated. For example, someone with a mild case of depression may only need 10 sessions while someone with a severe case of depression may need 20 or more sessions.


During CBT sessions, therapists will help patients identify negative thought patterns and behaviors. Once these have been identified, patients will learn how to reframe their thoughts in a more positive light and develop coping mechanisms for dealing with their emotions.

Supplemental therapies

At Isaiah House, we believe in a holistic approach to addiction treatment that addresses every aspect of our clients’ lives. Similarly, we believe in, and research supports, a holistic approach to therapy.


Clients being treated with CBT can benefit from supplemental therapies that support their recovery journey in other ways.


  • 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), can supplement cognitive behavioral therapy by providing social support and accountability. The twelve steps are designed to help people admit that they are powerless over their addiction and that their lives have become unmanageable. They also help people to recognize that addiction is a disease and that they need help to overcome it. Working through the twelve steps can be a long and difficult process, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
  • Motivational interviewing is another cognitive behavioral therapy supplement that can be helpful in early recovery. Motivational interviewing is a client-centered, directive counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence.

Effectiveness of CBT

Since some of the primary goals of CBT are to help bring awareness to and correct bad behavioral patterns, and develop healthy coping skills. Developing and using healthy coping strategies is vital to recovery from addiction and CBT addresses these in multiple different ways. Because of this, CBT is incredibly beneficial for patients in substance abuse treatment. Patients who received CBT are less likely to relapse than those who do not receive CBT.


In one study involving cocaine-dependent individuals, 60% of patients who received CBT provided a clean toxicology screen in a follow-up that happened one year later. This wasn’t an isolated incident. CBT has been shown to be effective across dozens of studies.

CBT at Isaiah House

At Isaiah House, we use CBT as part of our addiction counseling. While it addresses the mental aspect of our clients’ lives, other parts of our program address the spiritual, physical, financial, legal, and educational aspects of our clients’ lives.


Through this approach to addiction treatment, we’ve seen thousands of men and women achieve recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, reach out to us today. We would love to walk with you through the recovery journey.


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