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The Role of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in Addiction Recovery

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. The Mayo Clinic explains addiction as a disease “that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication.” Data from 2022 presented by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, indicate that addiction affects over 20 million Americans aged 12 and over. The recovery process from substance use disorder is entirely personal, and it will be directly informed by one’s personality, mental health, and emotional needs. Further, every person is unique and will respond distinctly to the array of treatment methods available. For this reason, developing a customized treatment plan is common practice as it provides everyone with the highest potential for a successful recovery.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapeutic modality that emphasizes the psychosocial aspect of treatment. Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan developed DBT in the late 1980s as a means to more effectively treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” DBT combines standard cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques for emotional regulation and reality testing with psycho-educational modules and concepts derived from Buddhist meditative practice such as awareness, mindfulness, and attentiveness to current situations and emotional experiences. 

Dialectical behavior therapy is a comprehensive, multifaceted, rigidly structured therapeutic approach that is carried out in three different therapeutic settings: weekly individual psychotherapy (one-on-one therapy) sessions; weekly DBT skills training group sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. Participants engage in individualized and collective treatment by focusing on the four modules of DBT, which are: core mindfulness (focusing skills), distress tolerance (crisis survival skills), emotion regulation (de-escalation skills), and interpersonal effectiveness (social/ relationship skills). Through DBT negative and erroneous thoughts or beliefs that are often the source of emotional turmoil are gradually challenged and subsequently shifted to foster the systematic learning of new emotional coping skills.

Since its inception, dialectical behavior therapy has been and remains the gold standard method of treatment for individuals diagnosed with BPD and has also proven effective in treating individuals with other mental health conditions, including addiction. Studies have found that DBT can improve quality of life and self-control as well as reduce hopelessness. DBT aims to help individuals cultivate healthy coping mechanisms and useful techniques for managing stress, regulating emotions, and improving relationships with others, all of which can promote long-term recovery.

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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