DBT for Addiction

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for addiction, is a type of psychotherapy. Based on the same principles as cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT for addiction.

The main focuses of DBT include emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and relationship building. DBT can be extremely helpful if you are struggling with addiction.

Ambrosia Treatment Center in South Florida provides multiple types of therapies to learn how to manage and cope with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Psychologist Marsha M Lineman developed dialectical behavior therapy in the 1980s. At first, DBT was used in treating borderline personality disorder and suicidal thoughts. DBT aims to help people build confidence and the coping skills to manage stress.

The four parts of DBT include:

  • Mindfulness – examining your thoughts and feelings without judgment while feeling present and aware of your environment
  • Interpersonal effectiveness – learning to interact with others in all situations, including being assertive when necessary and staying focused on the problem
  • Distress tolerance – coping with emotions and stress while accepting reality
  • Emotional regulation – managing emotions by identifying your feelings and obstacles and creating positive thoughts and emotions

Individuals with mental health issues and intense emotional outbursts often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This is a form of substance abuse that is dangerous and can lead to addiction. DBT for addiction helps improve self-image, communication, and coping skills, which are all crucial in recovery.

group of people on a dbt for addiction in florida

What is the Cognitive Triangle?

The cognitive triangle represents the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The triangle shows how our thoughts change our feelings and influence our behaviors, which impacts our thoughts and so on.  This vicious cycle doesn’t stop until a person seeks help.

The cognitive triangle is a popular way for therapists to explain and treat the cycle of addiction and co-occurring mental health issues. When people understand the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, real change can begin.

Goals of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

An individual struggling with addiction may react strongly to outsider stimuli. Their reactions may be stronger than normal or “over the top” and can cause issues. One goal of DBT for addiction is minimizing these intense reactions and learning to manage emotions.

In DBT, people learn the difference between intense emotions and valid emotions. For example, it can be very stressful when you are late to work. In reality, it’s not worth all the worry. Learning when intense emotions are valid and when they’re not can improve your relationships and your life.

One main goal of DBT for addiction is stopping the desire to use drugs or alcohol. Since almost half of people who abuse drugs or alcohol have a co-occurring mental health disorder, DBT helps address both disorders simultaneously. This further reduces the risk of relapse.

DBT can be used in a variety of settings. The structure and goals can vary depending on the setting, but the characteristics never change. They include:

  • Acceptance and change – Learning to accept and tolerate life’s circumstances, emotions, and yourself. Developing these skills helps make behavior changes and improves interactions with others.
  • Behavioral – Learning to analyze unhealthy behavior patterns and replace them with healthy ones.
  • Cognitive – Recognizing and changing unhealthy thoughts and beliefs and changing them to positive ones
  • Collaboration – DBT for addiction helps people build communication skills and work with others as a team.
  • Coping skills – DBT for addiction helps build healthy coping and stress management skills.

Above all else, DBT encourages people to recognize their strengths and attributes and teaches them how to use them.

Benefits of DBT for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can take over your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is a chronic disorder that, without treatment, can ruin your life. By the time most people seek treatment, they are wondering if their thoughts and feelings are real or if the addiction is talking.

DBT for substance abuse helps people recognize what is real and what is false. They learn to read the situation for what it is and not through their jaded perspective.

DBT also helps people recognize their role and responsibility for their actions while abusing drugs and alcohol. Once they accept responsibility, they can start repairing the damage done to relationships.

The benefits of DBT for addiction include:

  • Understanding behaviors and consequences
  • Learning to interact with others
  • Taking accountability for mistakes
  • Building a strong support system to prevent relapse
  • Discovering you’re not alone in recovery or life

DBT helps people who abuse substances see all sides of the situation and not in black and white. DBT for substance abuse is tailored to individual needs and is used in both individual and group therapy.

How Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Work?

In DBT, the therapist starts by ensuring the individual is emotionally stable. They encourage people to be honest and open about their issues to uncover any past issues still affecting them today.

Once emotions from these past experiences start to surface, the therapist will teach different ways to cope with emotions without drugs or alcohol. Most people struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders perceive things negatively. With help from a therapist, DBT helps people see things clearly and choose healthier behaviors and reactions.

There are four stages to DBT. During the first session, individuals and therapists establish goals for each stage. The four stages include:

  • Stage One – acknowledge the chaos of substance abuse
  • Stage Two – learning to regulate emotions
  • Stage Three – focuses on self-confidence, improving relationships, and setting life goals
  • Stage Four – Accepting yourself as a complete and whole person and building a positive mindset

Many people struggling with addiction have trouble being happy unless they are using drugs or alcohol. DBT for addiction helps them recognize the behavior patterns that hold them back.

DBT for addiction gives hope to many people struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Addiction eats away at self-confidence and self-worth, leaving people feeling helpless and hopeless.

Although not every person who enters treatment needs DBT for addiction, It is helpful for those who do because:

  • Certain co-occurring mental health disorders, such as borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia, cause people to be distrustful, and they won’t admit they need help.
  • There is a stigma around addiction, which can make admitting they need help harder. DBT for addiction uses an approach that helps them recognize they need help.
  • Recovery brings up a ton of emotions like anger and being defensive. The cognitive triangle is an excellent tool in helping them understand how thoughts affect feelings and behaviors.
  • Some people struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders struggle with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. It can be hard for them to use the logic and reasoning needed for CBT. But, DBT for addiction helps reframe their unhealthy and harmful thoughts.

Individuals who have multiple relapses during their recovery journey may be successful in DBT for addiction.

DBT Techniques for Substance Use Disorders

DBT techniques for substance use disorders teach four skills to cope with emotional distress productively and positively. These four skills are also called the “active ingredients” of BDT for addiction and include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Distress Tolerance
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness
  • Emotional Regulation

In DBT for addiction, mindfulness is broken down into “what” skills and “how” skills. “What” skills teach people to focus on:

  • The present
  • Emotions, thoughts, and sensations
  • Separating thoughts from emotions and sensations

“How” skills teach how to be mindful by:

  • Balancing healthy emotions and thoughts
  • Using radical acceptance to tolerate the harmless things about yourself
  • Taking positive action
  • Being mindful
  • Overcome the issues that interfere with being mindful, such as sleep issues and doubt

Learning distress tolerance skills can help:

  • Cause distractions to help be calm
  • Self-soothe and use your senses to calm down
  • Weigh the pros and cons of the coping mechanism

Interpersonal effectiveness uses listening skills, social skills, and assertiveness training. This teaches skills including:

  • Learning to ask for what you want and how to achieve it
  • Learning to work relationship conflicts
  • Building self-respect

How to Find the Right Facility or Therapist Specializing in DBT

dbt for substance abuse

If you are struggling with substance abuse, DBT may be a great therapy option for you. But how do you find it? The best way is by contacting an addiction counselor or a treatment center. DBT is available at most addiction treatment centers, including Ambrosia Treatment Center.

If you can’t attend a treatment center right now, they can usually help you find DBT therapists in your area.

Is DBT for Substance Abuse Covered By Insurance?

Your insurance plan might cover DBT as part of your treatment plan. However, this depends on your specific plan. Contacting the treatment center or your insurance company can help you with any questions about the cost of treatment.

DBT at Ambrosia Treatment Center Can Help You or a Loved One Break the Cycle

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and the treatments aren’t working, DBT at Ambrosia Treatment Center can help. Contact us today to learn how we can help you achieve lasting recovery.
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