Behavioral therapies for addiction treatment


Behavioural therapies are a must for beating addiction. They come in diverse forms – from the classic cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to the modern mindfulness-based therapies. In this article, we’ll explore the various kinds of behavioural therapies and look at the evidence for their effectiveness in treating addiction.

Definition of addiction

Addiction is a complex condition. It’s a brain disorder caused by changes to brain functionality and chemistry. People keep taking substances, even when it causes harm. Addiction can involve different kinds of drugs, like legal, prescription and illegal drugs, or even gambling. Addiction isn’t only about being dependent on a substance. It’s also about having strong urges to use it, being emotionally attached to it, and not being able to control cravings for it. There are two types of addiction:
  • Physiological addiction is when the body adapts to a certain substance or activity. To experience its desired effects, it needs more of that particular thing.
  • Behavioral addictions are compulsive habits. They don’t have the same physical effects, but they produce similar behavioral effects like pleasure and reduced anxiety.

Overview of behavioral therapies

Behavioral therapies are a great way to treat addiction. They focus on helping people recognize how their addictions are bad, and changing their actions to healthy behavior. Also, they help people learn how to handle stress and other life problems, so they don’t relapse. Evidence shows these therapies work. Goals of behavioral therapy include:
  • Motivating the patient to change their substance-related behaviors
  • Understanding addiction and managing it
  • Recognizing triggers that lead to cravings
  • Learning alternative strategies to cope with cravings.
Common types of behavioral therapy are:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Contingency Management
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Family Systems Therapy.
Which one is used depends on the patient’s needs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular form of therapy for addiction. It is based on evidence and is goal-oriented. It helps people understand how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors keep them in a cycle of addiction. The sessions are usually short-term. CBT changes thinking and behavior patterns that contribute to addiction.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy. It’s used to help people with mental health and addictive habits. CBT is based on the idea that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are related. It focuses on how they combine and trigger us. We can use CBT to identify our triggers and build healthier behaviors. We use CBT to help us switch from negative thinking or behaviors to positive changes. It combines two therapies; Cognitive therapy helps us recognize faulty beliefs and distorted thinking patterns. Behavioral therapy helps us change our habits relating to thoughts and emotions. CBT has been proven to help with depression, anxiety and addiction. We learn better ways to manage our thoughts, feelings and situations. This leads to better psychological well-being.

How it works

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy. It takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its aim is to change thinking and behavior patterns that are the root of people’s struggles. CBT helps people to spot unhelpful and unlikely thoughts which cause them distress. It then gives them the skills to challenge and switch these thoughts with healthier ones. Plus, it helps modify behaviors. When used in addiction treatment, CBT can help individuals understand how particular thoughts or beliefs affect their behaviors related to substance use. It teaches them to recognize distorted perceptions and dysfunctional attitudes related to alcohol or drug treatment. Plus, it gives them coping behaviors to fight cravings for drugs or alcohol. CBT for addiction also focuses on developing problem solving skills and communication strategies. This better equips individuals for relapse prevention planning after they complete substance use treatment services. Depending on the individual’s needs, addiction therapists often use techniques such as:
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Conflict resolution techniques
  • Contingency management
as part of a therapeutic program for chemical dependency recovery.


CBT is a kind of psychotherapy that works to change thought and behaviour patterns which lead to negative outcomes. It teaches people how to comprehend information, recall past experiences, and make decisions. It also helps people find better ways to cope with life’s situations. Research has revealed that CBT can reduce addiction cravings, reduce anxiety, and enhance decision-making. The main advantages of CBT include:
  • More hopeful outlook – It enables people to break away from self-limiting beliefs. This can improve mental health and contentment.
  • Closer relationships – CBT can help people be more honest with each other, understanding boundaries better.
  • More control – People become better at controlling their impulses, which helps them avoid risky activities like substance abuse.
  • Managing emotions – People learn to manage their emotions without drugs or alcohol, leading to better social situations and improved life quality.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy for addiction. It helps individuals learn mindfulness, regulate emotions, and strengthen relationships. It’s most effective when used with additional addiction treatment like individual or group therapy and medication management. Here’s a closer look at the techniques and steps of DBT:


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a practice based on evidence. It combines elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help individuals battling addictions. It focuses on helping people build confidence and reduce fear. This can lead to long-term sobriety. Dr. Marsha Linehan developed this therapy in the late 1980’s. It can be used to treat addiction, depression, PTSD and eating disorders. DBT is usually used alongside other treatments like pharmacology and lifestyle changes. This psycho-social therapy uses acceptance and change strategies. It teaches patients how to manage their emotions. This helps them become mindful of their behaviors and reactions when it comes to addiction recovery. DBT’s goal is to help individuals learn behavioral changes. Problem-solving skills related to drug use, communication, distress tolerance and emotion regulation are explored through cognitive restructuring. This can be done through individual or group counseling sessions. In these sessions, individuals learn to identify triggers for their addictive behavior. They learn mindfulness techniques, exposure therapy or desensitization. Additionally, DBT teaches coping skills for managing cravings when dealing with stressful situations:
  • Identifying triggers
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Exposure therapy or desensitization
  • Coping skills for managing cravings

How it works

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based approach to reduce problematic behaviors and improve emotion regulation. It is used to treat individuals with substance abuse and mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. DBT helps individuals to understand their emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. It starts with identifying the cause of problem behaviors. Then, individuals learn to respond to challenges without unhelpful behaviors like substance use or self-harm. They are encouraged to build a positive life with habits like setting goals and finding meaningful relationships. The goal of DBT is not only to reduce problem behaviors, but to motivate positive behavior change that leads to recovery from addiction and improved wellbeing. Sessions are usually done one-on-one, but can be done in groups if needed. The therapist guides the individual through activities to increase mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, self-acceptance, and other skills tailored to the individual’s needs.


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy which helps to manage extreme emotions. It was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan for persons with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Now, it is used to treat various mental health issues, like mood disorders, anxiety, self-harm behaviors, and addiction. The main goal of DBT is to enable individuals to manage their emotional and behavioral disturbances while achieving life objectives, including sobriety maintenance. This therapy strives for balance. It helps people accept themselves and move towards positive change. Hence the name, Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Benefits of DBT for addiction include:
  • Providing clients with skills for long-term management when dealing with hard emotions and behaviors.
  • Assisting people in understanding how their thoughts and feelings create their environment.
  • Encouraging individuals to be aware of how behavior affects relationships. This helps to establish healthy sober lifestyle habits and relationships.
  • Focusing on improving skills such as stress management, tolerating distress without reverting to substance use or other destructive behaviors, recognizing personal responsibilities within conflicts, and challenging existing beliefs which don’t promote a healthy lifestyle.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a type of psychotherapy. It helps people decide if they want to make changes in their lives. MI is used to help people with addictions, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling and eating disorders. Let’s look further into the details of MI and how it can help people with addictions.


Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a type of conversation which encourages people to feel committed to change. It allows individuals to make their own decisions and is based on evidence. The aim of MI is to modify behaviour, by helping people understand and deal with any conflicts they have about making a big change, like beating addiction. To do this, practitioners use:
  • Questions
  • Discovering the motivation for change
  • Recognising any resistance
  • Arranging achievable goals
  • Guiding people through the process
Studies show that MI helps people decrease their substance use, enter treatment and remain in it longer. It also helps people learn problem-solving and create positive relationships.

How it works

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a therapy that helps people find the motivation to change their behavior. It was created by psychologist William Miller. MI focuses on personal goals, not the consequences of addiction. The therapist uses an empathetic approach to gain understanding and build trust with the patient. This helps the patient recognize their ability to find their own solutions. The therapist and patient talk openly about issues and potential solutions, inspiring hope for meaningful change. Clinical trials have proven MI to be effective in addiction treatment programs across many populations. It produces positive results when combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It also works better than traditional therapies alone.


Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a widely used evidence-based practice in the treatment of substance abuse issues. It has been shown to help clients reduce their use, and become a helpful tool in treating addiction. The benefits of using MI in addiction treatment are:
  • Increase motivation for lifestyle changes
  • Reduce ambivalence towards change
  • Develop better relationships
  • More self-efficacy and autonomy
  • Make client believe they can reach their goals.
Evidence also suggests MI may have positive effects on mental health, such as depression and anxiety. It’s not a cure, but it is believed to be an effective intervention for behaviour change. It can reduce feelings of guilt and shame, build trust between therapist and client, and provide a safe space to address underlying substance use issues.

Contingency Management

Contingency Management is a type of behavioral therapy to treat addiction – it’s based on reward and punishment. Positive behaviors are encouraged, with rewards given when successful. This method has gained popularity due to its positive results and effectiveness. Let’s delve into what Contingency Management is and how it works.


Contingency management, sometimes called motivational incentives, is a type of behavior therapy used for substance use disorders and other mental health issues. It focuses on reinforcement and punishment to change behaviors. Rewards or consequences are given based on certain behaviors. Positive reinforcements are given for desired behaviors and negative reinforcements for undesired ones. The goal is to help patients self-control and recognize appropriate behaviors. It includes:
  • Clinical assessment
  • Setting goals
  • Providing feedback
  • Rewards/punishments
  • Monitoring progress
  • Review sessions
It can be done individually or in a group.

How it works

Contingency Management (CM) is a type of behavioral therapy used to strengthen behaviors. It’s based on the principles of operant conditioning, which suggest that behavior is affected by its consequences. CM creates a set of reinforcement contingencies. Incentives are given when the target behavior is shown, and punishments or costs are associated with undesired behaviors. Through these contingencies, people can learn to replace bad behaviors with healthier ones. CM has been used for years to treat substance abuse and addictive behaviors. It’s been used with alcohol, opioids, stimulants, cannabis, cocaine, and nicotine in multiple research studies over the last three decades. Results show CM is very effective in helping people reduce drug use and reach sobriety goals. The aim of CM is to make reinforcement structures that modify group or individual behaviors related to substance use disorder treatment programs. A therapist works with each client on an individual level, considering any external factors that may affect their progress. Rewards and costs are given to motivate successful sobriety goals. CM provides structure and accountability. It also rewards progress at longer intervals, like 30 days, 6 months, or 1 year of sobriety. Clients can see proof that progress is being made towards long-term recovery goals, increasing motivation during sessions and reducing substance cravings.


Contingency Management (CM) is a form of behavioral therapy. It promotes good behavior, by rewarding those who stay away from bad habits. It helps those with substance use disorders, medication non-adherence, and treatment non-compliance. It also assists with aggression and sexual offending. The benefits of CM in addiction treatment are:
  • It shapes behavior, by focusing on positive outcomes, and reducing problem behaviors.
  • It provides rewards for good behavior, making it more attractive than traditional therapies.
  • It teaches the client how their behavior affects outcomes, which can motivate them to change.
  • It increases self-esteem, by providing rewards for not using drugs or alcohol.
  • It provides structure and consistency for those in recovery.
  • It improves communication, assertiveness, and decision making skills.
  • It reduces relapse rates among those with substance use disorders.


To sum up, behavioral therapies can be beneficial for addiction treatment and recovery. They can help individuals understand the underlying issues of their addiction and how to cope with triggers. Moreover, they can help in making necessary lifestyle changes to stay sober and avoid relapse. Plus, these therapies can be used together with medication-assisted treatments like naltrexone or buprenorphine to increase the chance of successful treatment. In the end, with medical care, individualized plans, and continual support, individuals with addiction can learn to manage cravings and have a life of recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Behavioral therapies for addiction treatment are treatment strategies that focus on changing a person's patterns of behavior, thoughts and emotions to promote abstinence and prevent relapse.

Behavioral therapies are very effective in treating addiction. They have been shown to significantly reduce drug and alcohol use and help people maintain abstinence over time.

Some of the most commonly used behavioral therapies to treat addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, contingency management, and 12-step facilitation therapy.

Anyone struggling with addiction can benefit from behavioral therapies. However, these therapies may be most effective when used in combination with medication-assisted treatment.

Many insurance plans cover behavioral therapies for addiction treatment. However, coverage may vary depending on the specific plan and the type of therapy being used. It's important to check with your insurance provider to determine your coverage.

The duration of treatment varies depending on the individual and the severity of their addiction. Some people may participate in behavioral therapies for a few weeks or months, while others may participate in therapy for a year or more.

Get A Consultation

Call us Now For Free Consultancy Today