What Works in Recovery? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What Works in Recovery? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This January, L.A. CADA is taking a look at what is proven to work to promote recovery from substance use and/or co-occurring mental health disorders.

Only a few decades ago, we didn’t really know what worked. Treatment programs simply used what they thought had worked in the past for people who were able to develop long-term sobriety. In 2022, science has caught up. Through extensive research studies and neuroscience imaging technology, the treatment field has proof of what works for recovery. One of these practices is cognitive behavioral therapy.

Addiction changes our brain (or cognitive) function, and those changes can be seen during brain imaging. Drugs cause the release of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure center. In fact, they cause much more dopamine release than natural, non-drug rewards for example, eating dessert. Over time, we adapt to the high volume of drug chemicals flooding or brains – our brains become re-wired. That’s why thoughts like “I’m a loser” or “there’s no hope for me” become a permanent way of thinking. As we think, so we do.

The good news is behavioral health treatment can actually undo this damage. It’s possible to re-train our brains through the practice of cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is based on connections between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For example, we drink because it makes us feel good, but it can also make us have depressing thoughts. When we have depressing thoughts, our behavior changes, such as withdrawing from activities that can make us happy. These elements reinforce each other, creating a downward spiral that’s hard to escape.

Through the use of CBT, we can change our thoughts and behaviors to break out of the spiral. It starts with taking a good look at our lives – relationships, work, education, hobbies, exercise, spirituality – to determine what’s going well and what is not. Based on this assessment we can formulate goals that provide a clear and empowering vision of where we want to go.

Next, we can identify our negative thought patterns. Most people don’t even realize what we’re telling ourselves. For example, if we make a mistake we fatalistically say, “I can’t do anything right.” By working with a therapist, it’s possible to examine these thought patterns and replace negative and unhelpful thoughts with more accurate and friendly ones like, “Sometimes I get it wrong, but I can correct it.” Through continuous practice and repetitive positive self-talk, people in recovery can develop habits of thought that serve us well. We can re-wire our brains.

If you need help with recovery, call L.A. CADA at (562) 906-2676.

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