There are several key benefits to using the cognitive-behavioral approach as a central strategy in the treatment of substance abuse and addiction. Of course, one of the most important (and obvious) benefits is that this particular form of psychotherapeutic intervention is very patient-centered; rather than the therapist essentially leading the sessions by guiding the patient through a series of seemingly arbitrary and preselected topics, the sessions are completely dependent on the patient’s place in the overall addiction recovery process as well as his or her background, anything that might be on the individual’s mind on a given day, and the specific, underlying factors that are likely to have contributed to the individual’s alcohol or drug problem. In fact, even the skills that the therapist teaches a patient — which are typically intended to help the patient mitigate the causes of substance abuse so as to minimize the chance of relapse in the future — are extremely personalized and dependent on the patient’s specific needs and unique background.
When it comes to the actual cause of a substance abuse problem, research has shown that many people turn to alcohol and drugs due to their having never learned the types of coping skills necessary to deal with stress, anxiety, anger, adversity, and other intense or negative emotional situations. For these individuals with poor coping skills, cognitive behavioral therapy offers an opportunity to learn those essential coping skills as well as a multitude of other strategies, which will allow them to live healthy, productive lives and be part of their communities. Moreover, many individuals who suffer from substance abuse disorders also suffer from co-occurring, or comorbid, mental health problems, which often go unidentified until the patient receives cognitive-behavioral forms of psychotherapy.
It’s important to remember, too, that when a comorbid mental illness is present, it’s quite likely that the comorbid illness was a contributing factor in the development of the addiction; therefore, ensuring that the mental illness is addressed will minimize the likelihood that the mental illness would perpetuate a substance abuse problem.