Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders - Mental Health
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Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders

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Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders (CBT-SUD)

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders (CBT-SUD) is a psychotherapy (or a talk therapy) for treating alcohol or drug problems. CBT-SUD helps people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and develop skills to reach their goals. For example, a therapist might ask a Veteran to write down the thoughts he or she had right before deciding to use a substance. Or the therapist might ask a Veteran to try new activities such as a self-help group or doing something enjoyable. Then the therapist and Veteran can discuss whether those activities helped reduce substance misuse and why they might be helpful.

A Veteran in CBT-SUD usually comes once a week, for 12 weeks and sessions are about an hour long. In general, each session includes: a review of any substance use since the last session; a summary of the last session; a review of any completed homework; and agreement on homework for the next week. The therapist and Veteran create an agenda each session to focus on the most important issues. Once the Veteran and therapist have agreed on treatment goals, the therapist can roughly estimate of the time needed to reach those goals. In the beginning of treatment, the Veteran and therapist try to understand what problem the Veteran is trying to solve by using substances. That understanding is used to guide the work between the therapist and Veteran. CBT-SUD therapists use a warm and understanding approach when working with their Veteran patients.

In CBT-SUD, Veterans become more aware of their thoughts and learn new ways of thinking about their life situations. These new ways of thinking can help a Veteran cope with problems that arise, even after therapy has ended. These new skills can help to reduce substance use and improve one’s quality of life. CBT-SUD helps Veterans move forward so they can achieve their personal goals.

Veterans who participate in CBT-SUD will be asked to:

  • Attend sessions regularly
  • Set treatment goals with the therapist
  • Address the most important issues during each session
  • Practice the new skills outside of session

Veterans benefit most when they apply the information learned in therapy to their everyday lives.

Veterans who complete CBT-SUD often find they are better at:

  • managing cravings and urges to use;
  • feel more skilled at solving problems; and
  • feel more committed to making and maintaining changes in substance use.

Veterans may find that activities are more enjoyable and that they have met the goals they set at the start of therapy.

*This treatment may not be available at every VHA point of care. Please check with your VA provider.


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