Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often effective in the treatment and recovery of substance users. But what is it? What is entailed in this type of therapy? How does it work?

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT is an evidence-based therapy that relates to how our thoughts affect our beliefs, which affect our behaviors. It is usually a short-term, structured, solution-oriented form of therapy that is effective for substance users. Simply put, we may not be able to change our circumstances, but we can change how we think about them.

For recovering substance users, CBT is particularly helpful as it teaches them how to recognize situations in which they are most likely to drink or use drugs, how to avoid those situations if and when possible, and how to cope and manage the problems and behaviors that lead to substance abuse.

How Does CBT Help Substance Users?

By understanding how our thoughts influence our beliefs which influence our behavior, we can see the beginning of the path to substance abuse. CBT is structured to assist the user in recovery to “see the light” and learn how to change their thoughts and perceptions. The two main elements of CBT are:


The therapist and the patient determine why the user is abusing a substance. This involves identifying the thoughts, feelings, and actions to substance abuse and how to change them. This step explores the risks and provides insight into the user’s mind.

Skills Work

People tend to use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with life’s challenges. This step involves actively finding new ways to cope with what life can throw at us. It involves unlearning old coping habits and learning new ones. It entails steps the user can take that leads to a healthier, sober life.

Who Can Benefit From CBT?

 CBT benefits a diverse range of disorders because it is rooted in a person’s thoughts and perceptions of the circumstances in their life.

Substance users in recovery can learn how to recognize the thoughts that lead them to use. 

People who are diagnosed with a dual diagnosis can benefit from CBT. Clients participate in their therapy both in session and out of the session with homework to do.   

Therapist calming down a distressed client

CBT is beneficial for many people coping with various mental health and substance abuse issues

It is useful for:

CBT Can Help With:

  •  People coping with depression
  •  People coping with anxiety
  •  People struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  •  People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  •  People who use drugs and alcohol to cope with all of the above and/or other circumstances
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