Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Useful in Substance Abuse Recovery

New research shows the importance of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the recovery of those with drug and alcohol use problems and depression. The researchers, from the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, note that many people with substance abuse issues have depressive symptoms, however very often they are only treated for the abuse or the depression, not both. The author’s wrote, “The consequences of this unmet need are great. The interactive nature of the two disorders leads to poorer depression and substance abuse treatment outcomes compared with the outcomes when only one disorder is treated.”

Lead author, Katherine E. Watkins, M.D., M.S.H.S, worked with people from four different Behavioral Health Service institutions in Los Angeles. The researchers used a treatment method that varied between traditional substance abuse treatment alone and also combined with CBT as derived from the Building Recovery by Improving Goals, Habits and Thoughts (BRIGHT) study. The treatment was conducted in two-hour sessions, 16 times over a two-month period. The researchers found that three months after undergoing the treatment, the participants on the combination treatment showed fewer symptoms than the group on traditional treatment alone. At the six-month mark, nearly 70 percent in the combination group reported significantly lower symptoms than the control group.

The researchers also discovered that the combination subjects who no longer resided in a treatment facility encountered fewer days of relapse compared to the control group as well. The researchers say, “The study demonstrates that it is possible to develop the capacity of substance abuse programs to deliver evidence-based mental health care by enhancing the skills and expanding the clinical roles of substance abuse counselors.” The researchers believe that this is a key point and go on to add that, “Lack of access to efficacious depression treatment for substance abusers is an important public health problem.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jenny Ledd

    Jenny Ledd

    June 10th, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    CBT is a therapy which aims to identify negative thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs and highlight how they are related to negative emotions and ultimately actions and behaviours which only serve to worsen a person’s mood and/or medical condition. Once this has been accomplished CBT aims through various methods to replace these with more, realistic, positive and beneficial thoughts and behaviours.

    Techniques employed in CBT include keeping a diary of significant events and associated thoughts, feelings and behaviours; questioning those which may be unhelpful and unrealistic; trying out new ways of reacting to these situations; and gradually facing situations and activities that may have been avoided in the past.

  • chillin


    June 11th, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    I have always saw such a connection between having abuse issues and having depression issues too. Which one causes the other I am not sure but you have to find a good treatment balance which addresses both.

  • Margie R

    Margie R

    June 12th, 2011 at 4:48 AM

    It takes more than some stupid 12 step program to stop drinking and abusing drugs. There has to be a way to get to the bottom of the problems, to find out the real reason that you use and abuse. The programs are good support and teach you the ways to avoid drinking, but what about the real reasons at the bottom of it all? Why do you drink? Why do you abuse drugs? What led you to start with this behavior in the first place? This is the part where therapy can intervene and help you get to a better place. Get to know who you are and WHY you are who you are.

  • Joan M

    Joan M

    June 12th, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    Drugs give you a temporary high-Yes.But thy make you an addict and lead to this entire TRAIN of problems to deal with-Personal,social,spiritual,physical,mental…It’s just not worth it!Take a stand,quit!

    On topic:It’s really encouraging to see treatment techniques that are giving suh great results.

  • Te-D


    June 13th, 2011 at 6:29 AM

    People often abuse drugs to get over things that have broken them or depress them.But drugs ultimately amplify those very things.Also,drugs and depression are interconnected as can be seen.And it is good to hear that there is CBT to help both the things.

  • James


    June 13th, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    From my experience working with dual diagnosis clients, this isn’t a real revelation in the field; that said it is good for the general public to hear. 12 step programs actually integrate very basic techniques of CBT,which can be identified through close examination of the step work involved for someone who is genuinely “working the program.” I think that in some cases, the support alone does help some to abstain; in these instances, I would not typically put these people into the category of “late stage alcoholics or addicts,” as it is sometimes referred. Individual therapy is extremely important to a strong recovery, and it is often rationalized away depending on the setting. I think CBT combined with Motivational Interviewing and Solution-Focused techniques is probably the most solid approach, though I’m sure I have less experience in the field than other readers. Take it for what it’s worth.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on