FREE Help & Advice - 0808 163 9632 | Intl: +44(0) 203 1313 416  


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is part of many 12-step alcohol and drug recovery programmes in the UK. It is a therapy that attempts to get to the root of the mental and emotional issues associated with addiction. However, it is not a cure for addiction in and of itself. It is most effective when included as part of a comprehensive rehab programme.

Many of the clinics and charities we work with include CBT as part of an overall rehab philosophy. Even those that don’t specifically address mental and emotional issues with CBT and find other ways to address them. One way is not necessarily better than another.

History of CBT

The history of cognitive behavioural therapy goes back to the 1970s and scientific research looking to come up with more effective treatments for certain mental disorders. It wasn’t long before researchers discovered the same principles of CBT might also be effective in treating people dealing with drug and alcohol addictions.

CBT became a recognised part of addiction recovery by the turn-of-the-century. As a matter fact, the National Health Service committed in 2008 to provide more CBT training in order to increase the number of qualified therapists available in the UK.

How It Works

The underlying principles of CBT rest in the belief that behaviours are primarily influenced by thoughts rather than external stimuli. In other words, an individual may experience something that challenges him or her to respond a certain way. However, that response is based more on his/her thoughts regarding the challenge than the stimuli of the challenge itself.

In the area of drug and alcohol rehab, CBT asserts that a person’s thought processes regarding alcohol or drugs is a greater influence than any outside pressures the addict may be experiencing are. CBT aims to change the way the addict thinks about drugs and alcohol so that he or she is less likely to respond to external pressures by continuing addictive behaviour.

CBT Components

Experts in cognitive behavioural therapy generally agree on two basic components: functional analysis and skills training. Both components are necessary in order to provide successful treatment. Here is a brief explanation of both:

  • Functional Analysis – The process of functional analysis is one that seeks to identify the thoughts and emotions the addict experiences before, during, and after using alcohol or drugs. The therapist uses this analysis to cause the addict to identify what triggers might lead to relapse in the future. In simple terms, the therapist is helping the addict learn to think rationally about substance abuse in relation to the circumstances inviting the temptation.

  • Skills Training – The concept of skills training is one of teaching the addict how to avoid temptation once functional analysis recognises it. In other words, when the temptation to drink or take drugs presents itself, what can be done to avoid relapse? Skills training is all about teaching the addict strategies that will enable him or her to change their habitual behaviour by responding differently.

CBT Is Short-Term

When an alcoholic or drug addict enters a residential treatment programme, he or she may be residing at the facility for 6 to 12 weeks. However, CBT is only a small portion of the overall treatment. In fact, CBT is a very short-term therapy that can be completed in as few as 12 or 14 sessions. If an addict receives one CBT session per day, it could be completed in a couple of weeks.

The reason CBT is short-term rests in the fact that it is a goal-oriented therapy. In other words, other types of mental and emotional therapies can be open-ended because they are designed to be continued until the patient is comfortable with the results. CBT does not work that way.

The CBT therapist establishes a specific set of goals at the beginning of therapy; goals that are reached as therapy progresses. As soon as all of the goals have been achieved, the therapy is complete. Counselling then moves on to address other types of issues.

CBT Effectiveness

The question of whether or not CBT is effective for drug and alcohol recovery is not known for certain. More than two dozen tests have been conducted with mixed results. However, the current body of research generally agrees on at least two conclusions:

  • CBT is more effective than no therapy at all

  • CBT is most effective when combined with other therapies, including group support and other forms of counselling.

Even when a rehab clinic does not specifically employ CBT with a trained therapist, counselling will include similar strategies. Successful recovery over the long term requires identifying those things that trigger the desire to use drugs or alcohol, as well as effective strategies to combat those temptations. Whether this type of counselling is labelled CBT or not does not change the fact that the principles are nearly universal in all successful rehab programmes.

Patient Attitude

Researchers also tend to agree that patient attitude plays a big role in whether CBT is effective or not. Patients who participate with an attitude of resentment and scepticism tend to be rather uncooperative during therapy. This attitude makes it more difficult to achieve therapeutic goals in a timely manner. It also suggests the addict will not put learned skills to use after leaving a rehab programme.

For any therapy to be as successful as possible, the addict must participate willingly. General enthusiasm is also a big help. The more positive the attitude of the addict, the more likely rehab is to achieve long-term sobriety. In short, attitude is everything

Seeking the Right Treatment

You may be visiting our website because you recognise you have an alcohol problem. Now you need to seek the right treatment; treatment that will not only help you break your physical addiction, but also help you get control over your own thoughts and emotions. The latter is often more difficult than the former.

We want to offer our assistance in helping you locate and enrol in an effective treatment programme. We can advise you regarding private rehab clinics, alcohol and drug recovery charities, support groups, and free services offered by the NHS. We will do whatever it takes to help you; even if that means helping you arrange for admission and transportation.

Get Into
24 Hours

We'll Call You

close help
Who am I contacting?

Calls and contact requests are answered by admissions at

UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step.

0808 163 9632