Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Substance Abuse Treatment

Legacy Healing Center Blog

Cognitive behavior refers to an individual’s thinking behavior. Individuals who maintain a negative thought process, typically carry the same counterproductive patterns into their behaviors. Problematic behavior such as substance abuse can be directly correlated with patterns of poor cognitive behavior.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a short-term psychotherapy that promotes the development of new coping strategies, changing detrimental cognitive thinking, and problem-solving skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy primarily focuses on solutions rather than revisiting old problems and has also been used in treating co-occurring disorders as well. The goal of CBT is to help individuals positively change their behavioral patterns.

Cognitive Behavior

The thoughts and feelings of an individual will directly influence his/her behaviors. Therefore, cognitive behavior refers to the actions an individual takes to accomplish tasks. These behaviors are oftentimes learned and sometimes applied using logic. As an individual grows older and acquires more experience, he/she is able to identify the potential consequences of negative behavior. Awareness allows the individual to make decisions based on past experiences. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy challenges an individual’s thought patterns and encourages a positive change in behavior.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy primarily focuses on how an individual’s thoughts and/or feelings affect his/her behaviors.CBT was originally utilized in treating depression, mental health issues, and other behavioral issues. Subsequently, if left untreated, many of these underlying issues are directly correlated with substance abuse. The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to teach patients that, while they may be unable to control other people, places, or things, he/she can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment. In regards to treating addiction, CBT addresses the thoughts and feelings that ultimately lead to the individual’s substance abuse disorder. When treating addiction, the goal is to make the individual understand that he/she is solely responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and ultimately behavior.


Therapists, specializing in CBT, take a hands-on approach at helping each individual client look at their own thought processes that lead to negative thoughts, feelings, and ultimately provoke their substance abuse. Identifying cognitive distortions may help individuals recognize distorted thinking and when he/she began taking on this thought process. Through this realization, an individual is able to spot distorted thinking, before acting on it, and shift their mindset in hopes of preventing the old behavior of self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Substance Abuse

Addiction is a clear example of an unhealthy pattern of behavior that directly goes against what the individual, experiencing the addiction, wants to do. Down to the very core, the individual struggling with substance abuse may genuinely want to stop using drugs/alcohol but find it seemingly impossible to do so. The theory behind CBT assumes that the individual and the environment are of equal importance and any therapy outside of a holistic approach would be an injustice to the patient. According to the cognitive behavioral therapy approach, excessive drug use, drinking, impulsive gambling, food addiction, eating disorders, and other detrimentally impulsive behaviors, are the result of inaccurate thinking and subsequent negative feelings/behaviors.  


Cognitive behavioral therapy acknowledges the correlation between emotions and behaviors and how they interact. Psychologists have acknowledged that negative thoughts fuel negative emotions which ultimately breed mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and addiction.  By looking at patterns of thoughts and feelings, the individual can begin to change those thoughts by consciously looking at situations in a much healthier way. By rewarding the individual for the healthier behaviors he/she will replace those harmful behaviors with, over time, the healthier behaviors. Eventually, the individual will become associated with more positive emotions, and respond in a more productive manner. CBT has proven to be effective in treating depression, anxiety and other conditions, including addiction.

Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • Awareness is key. CBT will help the individual identify troubling situations in his/her life such as grief, financial insecurities, anger, fear, divorce, medical conditions, or symptoms of an underlying mental health disorder. The goal is for the individual to focus on one situation at a time with the help of his/her therapist.
  • Once the individual is aware of the situations causing stress or troubles, the therapist will encourage him/her to discuss associated thoughts and feelings.
  • Identifying distorted or negative thinking will enable the individual to recognize physical, emotional, and behavioral responses in different situations.
  • Functional analysis will help the individual identify what he/she has to lose or gain by using substances and may foster motivation for abstinence.
  • One of the main objectives of CBT is to help clients develop healthy coping skills.
  • Positive reinforcements are implemented in hopes of reducing habits associated with drug use.
  • CBT skills will teach the client to recognize and cope with urges to abuse substances and learn to tolerate strong feelings such as depression and anger.
  • CBT encourages the community mindset. CBT retrains the client inappropriate interpersonal relationship behaviors while encouraging healthy relationships.
  • Most importantly, cognitive behavioral therapy aims to restructure the thinking of the addict. Healthy thinking is encouraged and with practice, old patterns of negative behavior will begin to shift in a more positive direction.
  • CBT strategies teach the individual to control or stop unwanted thinking and makes way for more clear and rational thinking.
  • Individuals will develop greater self-confidence as he/she gains more control over his/her thinking and ultimately behaviors.


Substance abuse not only affects the individual but his/her family, friends, and community as well. Many recovering addicts have benefited from cognitive behavioral therapy in regards to their mental health as well as substance abuse disorder because this specific modality is highly focused and generally effective immediately in addressing the root of each individual’s unhealthy pattern.  At Legacy, our mission is to offer a gateway to a better life for anyone suffering from active addiction. Our holistic approach to healing is tailor-made to each individual who enters our community, offering hope, ongoing support and a new opportunity to thrive. Our vision is to help every person who enters our program to find his or her way to long-term recovery. And our promise to our clients is a safe and nurturing environment conducive to forgiveness and healing that ultimately transforms the addicted self to the authentic self, that is required to create a sober identity.