Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Addiction Treatment


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be helpful for alcohol and substance abuse addiction treatment. We use CBT techniques at Oregon Trail Recovery to help support your recovery. Learn why it’s an effective therapy for addiction.


What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a therapy technique that was pioneered by Dr. Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s. It is a type of psychotherapy that aims to improve mental health by confronting and changing unhelpful thought or behavior patterns. CBT helps you better cope with your current problems and regulate emotions.

It aims to target spontaneous thoughts that can have a detrimental effect on mood and can contribute to and worsen emotional difficulties like depression and anxiety.

CBT is widely used in addiction treatment these days around the world because of its successes in teaching people suffering from addiction and mental illness to find those connections between their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and increase awareness of how these things impact their recovery.

If you have engaged in any form of treatment, you have likely been presented with CBT therapy.


Addiction Cognitive Distortion Examples

Here are some examples of spontaneous thoughts, also called cognitive distortions that people try to identify using CBT techniques.

  • Filtering: Focusing on the negative and not paying attention to the positive. “I keep relapsing, I’m just no good!”
  • Polarized Thinking: All or nothing thinking. “If I can’t go out with my friends drinking, I just won’t ever go out at all!”
  • Catastrophizing: Expecting the worst-case scenario and minimizing the positive. “My dad is having surgery and I just know he’s gonna die, and if he dies that’ll kill my mom, and then I’ll kill myself if I lose them!”
  • Always being right: Being wrong is unacceptable, being right is the most important thing. “I’m not wrong! And even if I was, which I’m not, you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing anyway!”
  • Fallacy of Fairness: Assuming life should be fair. “Why can’t I just have one drink like normal people? Life isn’t fair!”
  • Personalization: Always assuming self-responsibility. “Everything that is wrong with my family is my fault! I always mess everything up!”
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Makes assumptions based on little evidence. “Why are you calling to check up on me? Obviously, someone told you I’ve relapsed and it’s not true!”
  • Blaming: Assumes everyone else is at fault. “The reason I keep relapsing is because of my stress at work and the trouble I have at home. If it wasn’t for that I’d be fine!”
  • Fallacy of change: Expects others to change. “If you would just stop nagging me and be nicer to me, we would have no problems!”
  • “Shoulds”: Holds tight to personal rules of behavior, and judges self and others when rules are broken. “I would never come home late for dinner without calling you to let you know! How could you!”

The above examples of inaccurate thoughts reinforce negative thought patterns and can plague even the most balanced thinkers.

Woman using CBT techniques for addiction recovery


How CBT Works for Addiction

CBT therapy uses a hands-on approach with a therapist and a person as a team to identify the problems the person is facing and comes up with strategies for addressing them, and creative positive solutions.


Techniques Used in CBT Therapy for Addiction


Journaling: Self-reflection and identifying thought patterns.

Many people who have engaged in substance abuse have experienced large amounts of chaos, trauma, and grief. Journaling is a way for them to get their experiences, feelings, and thoughts out, while slowing down and getting a clearer understanding of those situations.

Relaxed Breathing: Supports a range of issues and calms and helps a person focus.

People in recovery have a habit of building up anxiety and don’t know how to be present in the moment and release that stress. Practicing relaxed breathing and mindfulness is an effective skill to learn and get some relief during our recovery process.

Playing the tape to the end: Used to treat fear and anxiety, reflects on the worst-case scenario, and improves feelings of coping.

When faced with tough decisions while in recovery, people can examine the different ways that making decisions will affect the outcomes, helping to relieve feelings of being out of control and giving hope and confidence to the decisions being made.

Interoceptive exposure: Treats panic and anxiety, purposeful exposure to sensations of panic, and instills understanding that sensations are not dangerous.

This technique attempts to activate any unhelpful beliefs associated with sensations, maintains the sensations without distraction or avoidance, and allows new learning about the sensations to take place, replacing a negative with a positive.



Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was developed in the late 1970s by Marsha Linehan, an American psychologist and author. It has been extremely effective at treating people with Bi-polar Disorder or other mood disorders, people with histories of chronic suicide attempts, suicidal ideation, urges to self-harm, and self-mutilation.

While CBT seeks to give people the ability to recognize and redirect distorted thoughts and behaviors, DBT focuses on helping people to first accept themselves, feel safe, and manage their emotions.

If a person is in need of DBT skills training it is a good idea to wait until they have learned how to grasp regulating their emotions before transitioning into the more standard CBT groups to address the negative thought patterns.


Get CBT Therapy for Addiction

If you are thinking of getting support for your recovery with CBT therapy or DBT, please give us a call at Oregon Trail Recovery.

We would be happy to discuss options to best help you or a loved one start your journey to recovery. We are available to you 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Give yourself tools for a successful recovery— call today!