Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Addiction Treatment
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Updated: June 3, 2022

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Anyone who struggles with addiction can get better, but one person’s road to recovery might look different from someone else’s path. Treatment approaches can be personalized to meet the client’s emotional needs.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy commonly used to treat Substance Use Disorder (SUD), but CBT principles can be limiting for some clients.

Many treatment facilities, such as Present Moments Recovery, offer Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help individuals who have had trouble with other treatment forms. DBT takes the principles of CBT and adds specific components that concentrate on emotional regulation, self-destructive behaviors, stress tolerance, and mindfulness.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

DBT is a form of psychotherapy established with an overarching goal to help clients shape a life worth living.

The core concept of DBT derives from the word dialectical, which has two meanings. First, it relates to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions. In DBT, counselors engage in open and honest conversations with clients.

Second, it means being concerned with or acting through opposing forces. DBT counselors assist individuals in recovery to acknowledge and understand that two opposing ideas can coexist.

For addiction treatment, the primary principle of DBT is to produce a dynamic that supports two contrasting objectives for clients, including change and acceptance. An individual in addiction recovery must accept the realization that they have SUD while simultaneously recognizing they have the power to change that reality by taking steps to manage their disease.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Addiction

When applying DBT in addiction treatment, the therapist assists the client in finding balance while integrating the ideas of change and acceptance in their transformation. The therapist is the primary provider in DBT, taking responsibility for creating and continuing the client's treatment plan goals.

The four main goals of DBT include:

#1. Transitioning from out of control to in control.

This stage concentrates on decreasing irresponsible and hazardous behaviors, such as drinking or using drugs, while constructing skills that consist of increasing attention, enhancing relationships, acknowledging emotions, and managing suffering.

#2. Evolving from emotional absence to emotional engagement.

Individuals who struggle with addiction will shut off emotions that are overwhelming. The objective in this stage is to accurately experience strong feelings without avoidance or relying on the use of substances.

#3. Building an ordinary life and solving typical problems.

In this stage, the client concentrates on common and expected issues in life. Instead of focusing on extreme symptoms of suicidal behaviors, the focus will be on relationship conflicts, problems at work, life goals, and minor mental health issues that many individuals experience.

#4. Transitioning from feeling inadequate to feeling united.

The final stage is to allow the client to move forward to happiness. DBT implies that finding a sense of connection to the world enables this objective.

DBT is effective when the client learns to “envision, articulate, pursue, and sustain goals.” The client becomes sovereign of the unruly behaviors of addiction and is well prepared to face the challenges of everyday obstacles.

Benefits of Dialectical Behavior Therapy

The benefits of DBT can be defined by understanding the core skills DBT counselors teach individuals in recovery.

Emotion Regulation

Individuals with SUD often display extreme behavior and unpredictable mood swings. Teaching mindfulness helps those in recovery recognize their emotional states without being judged. When clients can acknowledge their inner reality, they can learn how to process unruly emotions in ways that help them instead of hurt them.

Distress Tolerance

Past trauma or present problems can create painful emotions that play a critical role in addiction. The substance becomes a coping mechanism. DBT teaches the client skills required to manage stressful situations without relying on drinking or using drugs.

Enhanced Relationships

Addiction can damage friendships, romantic relationships, workplace interactions, and family relationships. The person struggling with addiction may be unable to communicate effectively in difficult circumstances or lose the ability to support their emotional and psychological needs.

DBT skills provide people in recovery with the tools required to cultivate positive boundaries, discover emotional and psychological well-being, and discuss their emotions without triggering a catastrophe.

Improved Self-Esteem

DBT teaches skills that individuals in recovery can apply to enhance their feelings of self-worth. The learned skills of emotional regulation and distress tolerance become new coping abilities.

Those in recovery know they have the power to live without turning to alcohol or other substances. This ultimately improves their self-image and self-esteem.

Setting and Succeeding Goals

Active addiction can cause a person to give up on momentary and lasting goals. Improved emotional regulation, united with increased distress tolerance and higher self-esteem, can guide an individual in recovery back to dreams they may have forgotten about or lead them to where they can create new plans. The skills of DBT can be practiced daily to achieve each goal.

Seeking Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Addiction

It can feel overwhelming when seeking help for substance use disorders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers the behavioral health treatment services locator to help find mental health services by area. In addition, helpful information about treatment facilities that provide specialty care can be found by using SAMHSA’s substance use treatment locator.

Each recovery journey is unique, and there isn't one path that will guide everyone to the same long-term solution. There are many different options for addiction treatment; finding the right treatment program encourages a better chance of successful addiction recovery. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, we are here to help. Present Moments Recovery in San Diego, California, offers individualized and inclusive addiction recovery programs, with many care options to work towards a positive recovery. Our family-run treatment center provides a comfortable and home-like setting where healing can happen. At Present Moments Recovery, you can connect with the same therapist throughout each level of care, highlighting our individualized treatment approach. Present Moments Recovery believes that healing can only happen in the present moment. Call us today and learn more about our services at (619) 363-4767.


If you or a loved one is looking for an effective drug rehab in San Diego, call 619-363-4767. One of our caring members is ready to answer all of your questions.

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Your first call will be greeted by one of our intake counselors who will be able to provide information on what program would be appropriate for your situation, as well as information about the process of getting treatment at our facility, if appropriate.

If Present Moments is the right fit for your current situation you will be speaking to Admissions Director Mark Gladden, who will be your guide throughout the process of arranging travel and undergoing an initial detox (if necessary). Mark has been the guide for dozens of men and women who have gotten their lives back by entering treatment at Present Moments. He has earned his reputation as being truly dedicated to the recovery of others. Mark will be the one to ‘show you the ropes’ when it comes to admitting to our facility for treatment

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