Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) For Addiction Treatment

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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based treatment that is often used in addiction therapy. It helps clients manage strong emotions and develop practical coping skills.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) For Addiction Treatment

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a mental health treatment designed for people who experience very strong emotions.

Developed by Marsha M. Linehan, DBT has been studied extensively, and evidence shows that it often works effectively as a therapy for substance use disorders (SUDs).

DBT is a highly structured form of therapy that includes both groups and individual sessions. For this reason, it meshes well with the kind of schedule used in addiction treatment programs.

Emotional Validation In DBT Programs

DBT was created, in part, to address some of the shortcomings of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

DBT treatment does share some similarities with CBT, such as its focus on emotions and behaviors. However, DBT therapy sessions have a heavier focus on emotional validation.

Early sessions emphasize that the provider is an ally who is partnering with the client to improve the client’s quality of life.

People with drug or alcohol addiction may benefit from this approach.

Addiction carries a heavier stigma than some other mental health disorders, and it’s easy to feel a sense of shame and judgment in the early stages of addiction recovery.

By focusing on empathy and validation, DBT therapists can establish a sense of trust with their clients.

DBT Skills In Substance Abuse Treatment

Dialectical behavior therapy uses four modules, taking a skills training approach to behavioral health.

People who experience drug abuse can use these skills to manage cravings, emotional triggers, and other recovery challenges.


In DBT, mindfulness is one of the most important aspects of a treatment plan, as it can be used in all other DBT skills.

Mindfulness is the awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, senses, environment, and circumstances.

For people with strong emotional triggers, mindfulness can help them name and understand their feelings before reacting to them.

Acceptance And Change

Next, DBT teaches the client acceptance and change. Acceptance comes from observing one’s emotions and circumstances without judgment.

For example, a person with a history of drug use may begin saying “I am experiencing a craving” rather than “I shouldn’t still be experiencing cravings.”

Once the person has learned acceptance, they can begin working toward change.

Distress Tolerance

People with mental illnesses, including addiction, often deal with lower distress tolerance than people without mental illnesses.

Painful circumstances can feel magnified and unbearable. Someone with a substance use disorder (SUD) may then use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

DBT teaches healthy skills that people can use to soothe or manage their distress. Some DBT distress tolerance skills include distractions, exercise, and problem solving.

Emotional Regulation

When people experience strong emotions, they may react to small stressors in disproportionate ways.

To those with heightened emotions, these reactions may not feel disproportionate in the moment. Rather, they are responding intensely to a situation that seems intense.

However, these profound emotional responses can increase negative feelings, impact relationships, and sometimes lead to self harm.

DBT teaches clients how to regulate their emotions using specific skills and actions.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Finally, DBT teaches interpersonal effectiveness, which are social skills that allow people to find balance in their relationships.

These skills can include respecting the self, respecting others, and honoring and setting boundaries.

Components Of A DBT Treatment Plan

DBT treatment includes several specific components.

A few of the most important components include:

  • individual therapy: The client meets with the therapist for one-on-one sessions.
  • group therapy: The therapist meets with multiple clients once a week for psychoeducational skills training.
  • intersession contact: The client and therapist may contact one another outside of regular sessions. Phone coaching is a common form of intersession contact.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy And Dual Diagnosis

Although DBT demonstrates effectiveness as an addiction therapy, it was originally intended to treat certain personality disorders and help people manage conflicts.

It has been studied extensively as a treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD), for example.

DBT also shows favorable results for other mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Therefore, DBT may prove especially effective for people experiencing substance abuse alongside a co-occurring condition.

How To Find A DBT Therapist For Drug And Alcohol Abuse

DBT therapists can be found in many addiction treatment centers, including both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Many providers use DBT alongside other techniques, such as motivational interviewing (MI) or trauma-focused therapy.

You may also find individual therapists in your area that specialize in addiction or DBT practices. Therapists often list their modalities and specialties on their websites.

Discover Addiction Treatment Options Today

Addiction is a difficult disorder, especially when combined with intense emotions. However, treatment is available.

If you or a loved one are dealing with substance abuse, contact Detox Rehabs today to find addiction care options.

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:
(888) 859-4403

Detox Rehabs