DBT for Substance Abuse

After many unsuccessful attempts to rewrite your life from addiction, you’ve finally embraced the opportunities of dialectical behavior therapy. Addiction is a complex yet relentless disease. Evidence-based therapies such as DBT for substance abuse have increased the value of addiction treatment, among other conditions. 

Addiction recovery demands the most comprehensive form of care to channel your growth through measured steps. The continuum of care is a set of protocols and practices to ensure an efficient path for recovery. The services vary from drug and alcohol detox to outpatient care, sober living housing, and community outreach. Developing a healthy support system is crucial to any form of treatment. Your experiences matter.

The dialectical behavior therapy process is a well-rounded approach that combines cognitive behavioral strategies with acceptance-based strategies. DBT for addiction targets the behavior patterns leading up to addiction, reducing the likelihood of relapse. These techniques can be implemented within a stage-based framework. 

DBT for substance abuse grants specific skills designed to help individuals manage emotional regulation and problem-solving abilities. In combination with standard substance abuse treatment approaches, dialectical behavior therapy has been shown to decrease substance use and have other positive outcomes.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

The term ‘dialectic’ can be defined as the synthesis of two opposite views. Dialectical behavior therapy is a practice used to treat individuals with a behavioral health disorder. Intitally used to treat borderline personality disorder or smoking, DBT for substance abuse has become an invaluable tool.  Dialectical behavior therapy can be covered by insurance.

DBT has been used to treat the following conditions:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Cluster B personality disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts & self-harm

There is no cure for addiction, however, it is treatable. DBT is one of the most successful modalities to aid in recovery. DBT utilizes a multidisciplinary approach that includes therapy, coaching, and education.

How Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Work?

Dialectical behavior therapy takes a holistic approach by looking at all parts of an individual’s life—not just his or her substance use. Holistic can be defined as “whole person.” Holistic techniques work because they address the underlying reasons that individuals start using drugs or alcohol in the first place. 

With time and practice, these reasons become less compelling, and gripping urges eventually fade away. Dialectical behavior therapy is based on the idea that life has good and bad experiences. 

Why Use DBT for Substance Abuse?

The cognitive-behavioral practice of dialectical behavior therapy is designed to prevent suicide and self-harm, as well as improve daily living. Those with substance abuse problems often suffer from co-occurring disorders such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. 

Co-occurring disorders can be classified as a combination of mental health and substance use disorders. Co-occurring disorders impact a large portion of those with behavioral health disorders. DBT for substance abuse helps those who use substances learn healthy coping skills to deal with their emotional challenges. It also teaches individuals how to regulate their emotions and tolerate distress without resorting to drugs or alcohol as distractions.

How DBT Works With Addiction Treatment

DBT for addiction employs four components which include mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance. DBT for addiction is geared to provide individuals with all the tools necessary to lead healthy and substance-free lives. 

While many people may believe there is no such thing as an addiction gene, there is a genetic component involved in the development of substance addictions. However, when you consider the impact that environment has on people’s behaviors, genetics often take a back seat. 

The reason why behavioral or environmental factors play such a large role in people’s desire to use substances is because these factors can help shape their nervous systems’ responses over time. 

Receiving treatment for a substance use disorder can be very valuable when it leads to positive behavioral change. This is because changing negative behaviors, such as using substances to cope with life, can lead to happiness and wellness. 

Just because a person is receiving treatment for a substance addiction, doesn’t mean that that person is immoral or defective. In actuality, receiving such treatment is an essential part of having a normal human experience — one in which we all make mistakes and recover.

What Are The Principles and Components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy emphasizes the motivation of the patient through addiction recovery. Substance abuse can challenge a recovering person’s motivation to remain sober. The psychological and physical toll of addiction can even leave a person hopeless. Thus, it’s vital for patients to embrace change to see that their hard work is moving towards something positive. 

DBT for substance abuse works well by providing addiction treatment patients with the tools necessary to find their inner strengths. An individual suffering from addiction could be combatting doubts, fears, and anxieties related to sobriety. With the help of psychotherapy in the form of DBT along with possible medications though, that person can revitalize his or her path in life.

What Are Key Dialectical Behavior Therapy Techniques?

DBT is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the need for acceptance and change. By learning how to accept one’s negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and then change them into positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors through DBT, it becomes easier for patients to achieve sobriety and maintain it.

DBT for substance abuse aims to empower people by helping them deal with their emotional cravings, fears, and other issues that may form during recovery. For example, the DBT treatment plan usually includes:

Dialectic Techniques

These are techniques that include validation and dialectic disputation to help reduce noradrenaline levels in the body so feelings of anxiety/anger/frustration among others can be better controlled. 


This is a mental tool used to help people develop self-awareness and compassion for their thoughts.

DBT Group Skills Sessions

DBT group skills sessions include therapeutic sessions that are facilitated by therapists and/or peers, to strengthen addiction treatment patients’ problem resolution skills, coping techniques, emotion regulation skills, distress tolerance skills, etc. Dialectical behavior therapy can be adapted to help patients with different conditions related to substance use disorder.

Skills Training

People develop coping skills early in life to deal with the stresses and obstacles that come their way. Many people with behavioral health disorders rely on destructive habits to manage their symptoms. 

Skills training is offered in weekly sessions during dialectical behavioral therapy. The behaviors that people learn in DBT skills training can help them manage their addiction triggers long-term. Mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation are key parts of skills training during dialectical behavior therapy.

Individual Therapy

Psychotherapy is a fundamental part of mental health and substance abuse treatment. Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” can be performed in an individual or group setting. Individual therapy may be more comforting for those who are not at ease sharing their experiences in a group. 

One counselor or one therapist conducts individual therapy for substance abuse. This form of therapy for DBT uses therapeutic techniques such as enhancement motivational therapy and case management to help treat addiction treatment patients. 

Enhancement Motivational Therapy

Enhancement motivation therapy aims to provide people with the motivation that they need to utilize the coping skills that they learn to help them manage addiction triggers. A therapist conducts this form of therapy once a week as long as the patient is going to therapy. Enhancement motivation can be paired with skills training.

Case Management

Case management is more streamlined by helping patients manage their lives in social and physical situations. This form of addiction treatment utilizes the same dialectical techniques, with the goal of teaching individuals how to become their own case managers. 

Such assistance gives people the responsibility to take their own lives in new directions with guided support. A case management therapist consults with a patient on how to proceed, with therapist intervention on a need basis. 

Phone Coaching

Telemedicine has grown in popularity in recent years. Dialectical behavior therapy empowers people with in-the-moment- coaching. Phone coaching aims to prepare people to use their newly minted DBT skills to effectively cope with the stress that comes their way. The key benefit of phone coaching is that you have the ability to phone your therapist between sessions for additional coaching. 

Team Consultation

The work of a therapist can be challenging. Carrying the weight of multiple patients’ experiences can be haunting. DBT for substance abuse can support therapists through a consultation team to ensure their commitment to the practices. This can help certain people improve their skills and sustain motivation to treat high-risk patients. Team consultation serves as additional support for the clinical staff and the immense hard work they endure.

Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Work?

Dialectical behavior therapy works because it allows people to learn how to live their lives without being dependent on substances or alcohol. A qualified, trained medical professional must provide DBT for substance abuse. DBT techniques and practices trains such healthcare professionals.

Honing the strength to make effective changes can be challenging. People in addiction recovery tend to withdraw when it comes to the time to really do the work. It is important though to understand that relapse and setbacks should be viewed as temporary despite the fact that relapse affects approximately 40-60% of recovering individuals.

The DBT process takes several weeks and begins with a basic introduction of the program followed by individual therapy. DBT individual therapy focuses on stabilization through mindfulness techniques to reduce self-destructive behaviors.

DBT therapists help patients recognize cravings early on. That way such cravings don’t escalate into full-blown urges or compulsions. 

Group therapy sessions dedicated to DBT skills training teach individuals how to regulate their emotions and tolerate distress without reaching for substances. Moreover, it also provides education about recognizing urges early on so that one can intervene before acting on them.

What Are The Effects of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Addiction?

Research and studies conducted on DBT for addiction treatment have yielded positive results. It has even been documented that DBT is effective in reducing suicidal behaviors and self-harming episodes among people who suffer from borderline personality disorders (BPDs).

Furthermore, dialectical behavioral therapy helps people avoid serious drug relapses, control their emotions during cravings, and prevent themselves from engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as unprotected sex, binge drinking, and use of drugs like cocaine or amphetamines.

What Are The Benefits Of DBT?

Dialectical behavior therapy boasts a number of benefits over other addiction treatment modalities. Such benefits include:

  • Suicidal and Self-Harm Episodes Reduction
  • Relapse prevention
  • Reduction or stabilization of drug and/or alcohol use
  • Improvement in psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and impulsivity
  • Improved quality of life and increase self-care skills
  • Development of useful coping strategies to help the sufferer avoid future relapses

One other benefit of dialectical behavior therapy is that it does not require a lifelong commitment. Yes, patients must be willing to make strides towards positive progress, however, it’s possible to use DBT to determine your individualized goals. By learning an array of specific coping skills that you can apply towards life’s challenges, dialectical behavior therapy offers numerous opportunities for growth. 

People who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse tend to have problems tolerating their feelings. Such people also likely feel overwhelmed by stressful situations. The goal of dialectical behavioral therapy is for people to gain the coping skills to be able to tolerate stress in healthy ways. Dialectical behavior therapy also aims to help people accept their negative thoughts and feelings so that they no longer have the power to make people exhibit negative behaviors such as abusing substances. 

The goal of DBT for substance abuse is not only sobriety, but also personal growth. DBT for substance abuse provides people with growth in their addiction recovery journeys by encouraging them to utilize mindfulness techniques, distress tolerance skills, emotion regulation skills, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.

Witness Your Rebirth at Owl’s Nest Recovery

Substance abuse can drain the best parts of people. As a result, people may question whether or not they have what it takes to become healthy and sober. With the help of determination and a strong support system though, people can make the most out of dialectical behavior therapy and reach those goals. Addiction recovery is a not straight path, but there are plentiful options for those willing to change. 

Owl’s Nest Recovery aims to help individuals overcome their substance addictions. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Owl’s Nest Recovery could guide you. Contact us today.