dialectical behavioral therapy

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Addiction?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that works to assist individuals who deal with co-occurring conditions, such as addiction and a mental health disorder. 

The primary objective of dialectical behavior therapy for addiction is to teach the individual the practice of how to live in the “now” (the present). Also, the idea is to help people develop healthy coping skills that they can use during times of high stress or negative emotions (triggers). Ultimately, the goal is to help individuals to improve their personal relationships through healthy and positive communication. 

More About DBT

The origins of dialectical behavior therapy came as a treatment for those who suffered from a borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, it now helps with many other issues and conditions where an individual may struggle with regulating emotions or has a tendency to become self-destructive. This includes those who suffer from mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Many studies show that, in conjunction with other therapies, dialectical behavior therapy is especially helpful when dealing with people that face substance abuse and/or addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. 

Drug and alcohol addictions are commonly driven by dysfunctional emotions and what is widely considered to be self-destructive behaviors. The chronic abuse of drugs and alcohol causes further emotional, mental, and physical distress. This often results in severe instability in one’s life. Addiction can cause damage that could destroy an individual’s relationships with others. It can affect a person’s physical health. Substance abuse can even create financial issues by creating negative issues at work. 

When addiction counselors and behavioral therapists attempt to promote change in individuals where their negative attitudes and behaviors cause them great stress, some people choose to shut themselves off emotionally and often disconnect altogether in the therapeutic process. This becomes very frustrating both for the individual and the behavioral therapist. Dialectical behavior therapy for addiction is specifically designed to help this type of individual achieve success. 

Understanding Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Addiction

Dialectical behavior therapy for addiction includes a philosophical process known as dialectics. Dialectics is based on the inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions. In dialectical behavior therapy for addiction, the therapist and individual work together to find a solution to contradicting behavior between change and self-acceptance resulting in a positive transformation in behavior and negative thoughts in the individual.

Dialectics is based on three (3) primary beliefs:

  • Change is inevitable and a constant in life.
  • All things directly or indirectly relate to each other.
  • Opposites can be combined to form a better realization of “truth”.

Validation is also another key to the beliefs held in dialectical behavior therapy for addiction. It is believed that when you combine the progression of change with validation, individuals find change to be less stressful making it easier to achieve real change. 

How Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Addiction Work?

Dialectical behavior therapy for addiction works by allowing the individual to undergo various psychotherapy approaches in a number of different style settings. 

The three (3) typical approaches used in dialectical behavior therapy for addiction include but are not limited to: 

  • Individual Therapy – conducted one-on-one with a trained psychotherapist where learned behavioral skills are adapted to the individual’s unique needs and personal struggles.
  • Group Meetings – takes place in a group setting with a psychotherapist where individuals can learn new behavioral skills by completing exercises, role-playing new ways of healthy interactions, and/or homework assignments.
  • Virtual or Phone Sessions – occurs via video or telephone conference with a psychotherapist typically in between physical therapy sessions and meetings to give extra support when faced with a negative situation. 

In dialectical behavior therapy for addiction, the therapist will meet with a recovery team to determine the best way to deal with the individual’s emotional needs. This meeting will also help the therapist to find various methods and ways to deal with more complex issues.

The Benefits of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Each therapeutic setting in dialectical behavior therapy for addiction has its own goals and practices. When it comes to dialectical behavior therapy for addiction, there are many ways in which it helps deter substance abusers and addicts from relapsing. 

The various ways that dialectical behavior therapy for addiction assists in a recovery program include but are not limited to:

  • Decreasing abuse of drugs and/or alcohol 
  • Reinforcing healthy habits and behaviors
  • Reducing cravings, cravings and temptations to abuse
  • Alleviating physical pain that comes with withdrawal symptoms
  • Decreasing negative behaviors that led to their drug or alcohol abuse
  • Refraining from people, places, and things that were associated with their substance abuse 

Although we are discussing primarily how dialectical behavior therapy for addiction helps individuals overcome addiction problems, there are other benefits as well.  

The many characteristics of dialectical behavior therapy for addiction offers the following benefits including but not limited to:

  • Cognitive: The individual focuses on modifying negative beliefs, thoughts, and actions.
  • Behavioral: The recovering individual learns to examine their negative behavior patterns and problems and replace the negativity with more effective and healthier responses. 
  • Collaboration: The individual will focus on developing proper communication skills and work with a group or their recovery team, which may consist of counselors, psychiatrists, and even medical doctors. 
  • Support: The individual is encouraged to acknowledge their own strengths and positive attributes and will be encouraged to further develop and use them.
  • Skills: The person in recovery will learn and develop new skills to improve their newly learned behaviors and techniques. 
  • Change: The individual learns how to accept the modified behavior with a tolerance of their own emotions while encouraging them to utilize their new skill sets to assist with their positive changes in their interactions with others and their own behaviors. 

The Different Strategies Of Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Addiction

There are several different strategies offered in addiction therapy for dialectical behavior therapy including tolerance, self-expression, behavior recognition, and even coping mechanisms just to name a few.

Some strategies of dialectical behavior therapy for addiction include but are not limited to:

Regulating Emotions – This strategy provides skills that assist the individual in handling painful and often very powerful feelings and emotions, such as anger. This strategy will teach the individual to recognize, identify, and modify their feelings and emotions. By recognizing and coping with negative feelings and emotions it will decrease their feelings of vulnerability and lead to increased positive experiences emotionally.

Personal Relationships – This strategy teaches effective interpersonal skills that will assist them in becoming confident in their relationships by expressing needs or simply saying ‘no’ while simultaneously maintaining a healthy and positive relationship. In therapy, individuals can learn to communicate effectively. They can also learn to listen to people while still maintaining respect for oneself and for others. 

Trigger or Stress Tolerance – This strategy teaches the individual to accept the situations and themselves during times of high stress that often lead to an addiction trigger for those battling substance abuse.

There are four (4) techniques: self-soothing techniques, distraction techniques, positive improvement techniques and thinking rationally about the real positives and negatives of the stressful situation. This will help the individual to prepare for triggers or negative emotions. It also teaches them how to cope with positive thoughts and behaviors. 

Mindfulness – This strategy teaches the individual how to pay attention to their current situation and learning to live in the present. This enables the individual to recognize their own feelings, sensations, and thoughts in non-confrontational ways. It also helps them to relax and practice healthier coping skills whilst experiencing negative emotions and triggers rather than acting impulsively and focusing on negative thoughts. 

Would You Like to Learn More About Dialectical Therapy For Addiction? Let Us Help!

We understand that addiction recovery is a very personal journey that does not simply happen overnight. Our medical and professional staff at North Jersey Recovery Center strives to assist our clients in any way that we can as they work to achieve lasting sobriety.

If you or someone you love are seeking quality addiction and behavioral treatment, like dialectical behavior therapy, we are available around-the-clock to answer any and all of your questions. So please, contact us today and let us help you on the road to recovery!

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brian Ostertag

brian-ostertag-150x150Brian Ostertag, BA, MA, LCADC, CCS, is the Clinical Director for North Jersey Recovery Center. Brian is a compassionate leader with a desire to see others exceed, and who believes that people want to work hard at something they find meaningful and believe in. He is a strong addiction services professional with degrees in Psychology Addiction Studies, and Pastoral Counseling.