If you are suffering from an addiction to opioids, psychotherapy is often one option for treatment. There are many different kinds of psychotherapy. One of them is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. It is a popular kind of therapy used for different mental health issues, including substance use disorders.
Addiction to opioids is one kind of substance use disorder, so CBT is an appropriate therapy for it.
How does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy help with my opioid addiction?
One basic principle behind cognitive behavioral therapy is this: Negative thinking is an obstacle to self-change. CBT aims to reverse those negative thought patterns. In turn, you will learn to counter those thoughts with productive, positive ones.
In substance use disorders, like opioid addiction, one common thought pattern is all-or-nothing thinking. For example, “I have to do my work perfectly, otherwise I’m a failure.” In the context of addiction, all-or-nothing thoughts could be connected to a desire to quit. It could be something like, “I will stop using opioids tomorrow. If I can’t stop, I will continue anyway.”
In overcoming opioid addiction, this perfectionist mindset will not work. It will hamper the recovery process. Worse is, when you find out you can’t quit on your own, this mentality can spiral you further into addiction. It reinforces feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, and lack of control over opioids.
During CBT, your therapist will teach you to recognize these kinds of thoughts and what triggers them. You could be instructed to write down those thoughts as they come to you. Later on, as you keep writing them down, you will find patterns, which will help you catch those negative thoughts before they take over your mind.
Then, your therapist will walk you through developing alternative modes of thinking. In other words, this part is about getting rid of negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. That way, whenever you experience distressing thoughts and emotions, you can control them. Then you won’t have to turn to opioids to feel better.
Curious about the specifics? Here are some of the strategies employed in CBT to help you overcome opioid addiction.
- Educating you about the effects of opioids on your brain and body and how they lead to substance abuse
- Identifying and avoiding situations that put you at high risk for opioid use
- Identifying triggers of drug cravings
- Teaching you skills to manage those triggers
- Developing healthy alternatives to opioid use
- Giving you rewards for abstaining from opioids
- Developing a structure for your daily activities
- Providing you tools for better thinking patterns when experiencing drug cravings
- Training you in good coping strategies for stressful situations
Generally, most people who suffer from opioid addiction have huge problems with chronic pain. With that, CBT also helps you manage pain appropriately. CBT can help you deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression as well, which are also common in those with opioid addiction.
CBT would also include your family in the process. That way, they can help you out in your journey to recovery. They will be taught techniques that prevent you from using opioids at home, as well as ways to encourage you to stay abstinent.
What are the goals of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Patients’ goals are unique to their situations. That’s why you will set those goals together with your therapist.
In general, though, CBT aims to give you three things:
- New ways of acting (like playing sports instead of taking opioids excessively)
- New ways of feeling (like helping you feel less hopeless, sad, or angry)
- New ways of thinking (like eliminating self-defeating thoughts or teaching you problem solving)
The idea is to replace lifestyles that don’t work (and lead to addiction) with those that work. Also, CBT focuses on your present circumstances, not your past. It also does not deal a lot with your personality traits; instead, it concentrates on your beliefs about life that contribute to negative thoughts and behaviors.
What makes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy unique from other psychotherapies?
Unlike other modes of treatment, in CBT, you work actively with your therapist to get your desired outcomes. It’s not just the therapist telling you to do things. Rather, it’s you and him working together so you can develop healthier thinking habits.
Along with your therapist, you will identify specific problems that you have, and you will set goals that you want to achieve at the end of the therapy.
To reinforce the principles you learned in each session, you will also be assigned “homework.” These are for you to practice at home, letting you ease in more quickly to the new thought patterns.
The best part about CBT is you can integrate everything you’ve learned into your daily life. Even after therapy, you bring along those new patterns of thinking. With them, you can cope better with stressful situations in your life.
Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy a standalone therapy for opioid addiction?
Typically, CBT is included in an opioid rehab program. That means it is just one of the many treatment methods used in rehab. While CBT is useful and effective by itself, opioid addiction often needs other treatments as well to facilitate a fuller recovery.
If your case needs medications, like naltrexone, methadone, or buprenorphine, you would still need to go to a rehab facility or consult a psychiatrist. CBT does not dispense medications of any kind.
In case you have a dual diagnosis (substance abuse coupled with a mental health issue), CBT would benefit you a lot. It would help you deal with both conditions at the same time.
CBT is useful for aftercare, too. The new ways of thinking and coping with stress you’ll create are helpful in preventing relapse.
How do I find a reputable Cognitive Behavioral Therapist?
You may have seen lots of advertisements online of various CBT practitioners offering their services. Be careful when approaching those ads, because not all of them are reliable CBT providers. It’s best to check their credentials first before contacting them.
Alternatively, you can go to sites of organizations like the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. There, you would find legitimate CBT providers who are licensed to practice in your area.