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CBT is not at odds with faith-based drug rehabilitation

Dillon McClernon

Authored by Dillon McClernon

Addiction is a complex disease that requires a holistic approach to achieving long-term sobriety. That’s why treatment programs today simultaneously address addiction’s physical, psychological, and emotional elements. 

Faith-based drug recovery programs are no different. 

Christian drug rehabs follow many of the same treatment protocols as any other addiction treatment. This means that while their treatment is rooted in faith, the healing that one gets is based on evidence-based therapeutic methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a type of therapy addiction centers will use for helping people change their thinking and behavior patterns to improve their mental health. CBT can be used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But it has also been shown to be valuable in treating drug and alcohol addiction. In substance abuse disorder, CBT can help a person:

  • Understand how their thoughts and beliefs affect their behaviors
  • Identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones
  • Improve self-control
  • Recognize and avoid high-risk situations in which they’re likely to use
  • Cope with cravings and deal with triggers in a healthy way
  • Cope with other behaviors or issues that may fuel their substance abuse

As a result, people who receive CBT for addiction learn how to control their urges, manage their emotions, and make better decisions. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Addiction Treatment

Addiction and mental health issues can often be linked to negative thinking patterns. When someone experiences negative thoughts repeatedly, they can start to believe that these thoughts are true. This can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and eventually substance abuse. 

Dual diagnosis is common, as mental health disorders and substance use disorders often co-occur. In fact, multiple national population surveys indicate that approximately 50% of those who experience a mental health disorder will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.

CBT can help people break the cycle of negative thinking. The therapy is based on the idea that thoughts affect emotions and behaviors. Learning to identify and challenge negative thoughts can change how one feels and behaves. As a result, CBT can be an effective tool in treating addiction and mental health issues.

CBT therapists use specific techniques to help addiction recovery. These Include: 

Thought Records

The thought record technique involves examining the automatic negative thoughts and finding evidence to support or disprove the thoughts. It helps patients evaluate their thoughts critically and develop more realistic perspectives.

For example: 

  • “I’ll never be able to stick to my sobriety goals. I should just give up now,” becomes, “I’m willing to give this my best shot. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m hopeful that I can stick to my goals.”

Behavioral Experiments

The behavioral experiment may involve testing the effects of self-criticism versus self-kindness.

For example:

  • With self-criticism, one might think, “I’m such a screw-up,” after a negative behavior. Instead, with self-kindness, one might think, “I simply made a mistake,” about an identical behavior. Based on the results, a recovering addict can see the difference between the two approaches. Self-criticism tends to make a person feel worse about who they are. Self-kindness tends to make a person feel better enough to keep trying to improve. 
  • Another example of a behavioral experiment will be to see if self-criticism vs. self-kindness makes it easier to stick to one’s goals. 

Imagery-Based Exposure

In imagery-based exposure, the patient thinks about memories that trigger strong negative feelings. They pay attention to every sound, thought, sight, impulse, and emotion at that moment. This can help to reduce the anxiety caused by the memories.

For example:

  • A person thinks about a traumatic experience that causes them to feel a lot of fear or anxiety. They would then pay close attention to all of the details of that experience, from the sounds they hear to the feelings they experience. With this repeated exposure, one can minimize the anxiety caused by the memory and, consequently, the need to self-medicate as a coping mechanism.

Pleasant Activity Schedule

A pleasant activity schedule is a way to help people resist the urge to use drugs or alcohol. In this technique, one chooses several activities they enjoy and do them daily. The goal is to help them feel good and keep their mind busy.

For example:

  • A stressed worker can choose to go for a walk during their lunch break rather than drink alcohol or use drugs as a way to relax.

Faith-Based Rehabs and How They Work

Faith-based rehabs offer a drug and alcohol treatment model that integrates religious faith into the rehab process. The idea is that by helping patients to reconnect with their faith, they will be better equipped to deal with the challenges of sobriety. Faith-based rehabs can take many forms, but all typically include some combination of prayer, Bible study, and worship. Some programs also include community service or outreach to help patients give back to their church or community.

Beyond spiritual healing, faith-based treatment facilities follow the same treatment protocols as science-based rehabs. Their treatment process relies on advanced addiction science to guide everything from detox to finding the best support groups and 12-step programs for patients and their loved ones.

In between, they offer different types of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, to help patients heal from addiction. CBT provides a practical and evidence-based approach to recovery that is compatible with many different belief systems.

Faith-based rehabs offer a range of benefits, including:

  • A focus on the whole person, not just their addiction
  • An emphasis on spirituality and faith as a source of strength
  • A supportive community of fellow believers
  • A sense of purpose and meaning beyond sobriety
  • Access to a 12-step support program – most of these programs base their treatment efforts on a belief in a higher power. Recovering patients with the same belief system can find strength in each other and work together to stay sober.

Is The CBT Approach At Odds With Faith-Based Programs?

Medical reviewers have found CBT is not at odds with faith-based drug rehabilitation, though some people in the religious community may view it as such. Both approaches are useful to improve hehavioral health and when used together, they can be complementary to one another. CBT helps people deal with the negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to addiction, while faith communities provide support and strength.

If you are struggling with addiction, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. A faith-based rehab like RCA can help you on your journey to sobriety.

Authored by

Dillon McClernon

Dillon McClernon

Dillon currently serves as the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at RCA. After his tenure as Chief Communications Officer and senior advisor to RCA, he opted for a full-time position at RCA where he could build a new team linking sales and marketing to directly impact RCA’s mission of saving 1 million lives.


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