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DBT for addiction

DBT for Addiction in California

There are many different therapies available for treating substance use disorders (SUDs), alcohol use disorders (AUDs), and other mental health issues. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a means of talking through a person’s problems. Therapy sessions involve an individual and their therapist in different settings to find the root cause of their conditions and disorders and determine healthy ways of working past them. 


Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy rooted in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with strong educational components developed to provide skills for dealing with social relationships and coping with intense emotions. 


DBT helps curb the self-destructive impulses of chronically suicidal patients, as well as treating borderline personality disorder, emotion dysregulation, and a growing collection of psychiatric conditions. It is made up of group discussions and individual therapy sessions, both conducted every week for six months to a year.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps people improve their relationships while managing intense emotions. Dialectical can be defined as “the existence of opposites.” In DBT, people are taught two opposing strategies: acceptance (i.e., that their behaviors and experiences are acceptable), and change (i.e., that they have to instill positive transitions to manage their emotions and move forward).

DBT draws techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), such as being mindful of negative thoughts and avoiding abhorrent behaviors combined with mindfulness practices, such as paying attention to the present moment and accepting reality for what it is. This type of therapy was initially developed for people with borderline personality disorder, a condition that involves difficulties with regulating emotions, impulsive actions, and volatile relationships. Over time, however, DBT has also been shown to be effective for other issues, such as mood disorders, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, substance abuse, and trauma. Dialectical behavior therapy is split into four treatment stages, which are determined by the severity of a person’s behaviors.

  • Stage 1: This stage focuses on people who are chronically unhappy and express that unhappiness through out-of-control behaviors. The goal here is to help such a person progress from being out of control to achieving behavioral control.
  • Stage 2: People in this stage often live lives of quiet desperation. This means that their life-threatening behavior is under control, but their suffering continues to march onwards. The goal here is to help such people move break away from quiet desperation and begin to fully experience emotions.
  • Stage 3: The challenge in this stage is to learn to live: to determine goals in life, build self-respect, and find joy and peace. The objective is for the person to live a life filled with ordinary happiness and unhappiness.
  • Stage 4: Some people require this advanced stage, where a deeper meaning to life and its problems is found through a spiritual existence.
People with mental health challenges and strong emotional reactions frequently turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication. This behavior constitutes substance abuse, which is risky and can result in addiction. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for addiction aims to enhance self-esteem, communication, and coping abilities, all of which are essential in the journey to recovery.
cognitive triangle

What is the Cognitive Triangle?

The cognitive triangle is a means of understanding how our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected and how they influence each other. It is based on the principle that our thoughts directly affect our feelings, and our behaviors act on both our thoughts and feelings. For example, seeing yourself as worthless or useless will make you sad and depressed, and this may make you avoid social situations or give up on your ambitions. On the contrary, believing that you hold a purpose or some sort of value will make you feel happy and confident, and you will in turn challenge yourself to grow and excel.

The cognitive triangle is typically used in a psychotherapy type known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which assists people in changing their negative or illogical thoughts and behaviors to improve their emotional well-being. Learning to identify and revise our thoughts allows us to change our feelings and actions for the better. The cognitive triangle can also help us comprehend how other people’s actions, thoughts, and feelings affect us in turn, and how we can communicate more effectively with them.

What Are the Benefits of DBT for Addiction?

DBT is beneficial for substance abuse in the following ways:
  • DBT helps people learn to manage overly intense emotions and improve their relationships, which are often triggers for substance use. DBT teaches life skills such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness, which help people with control over their feelings, stress management, and better communication skills.
  • DBT creates harmony between the goals of abstinence and reducing personal harm. DBT motivates people to commit to abstinence and completely abstain from use, but also accepts that slip-ups may happen and helps people learn from them and prevent relapses. DBT also helps people find alternative sources of pleasure and meaning in their lives, such as hunting for new hobbies, building relationships, or spirituality
  • DBT is an effective treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders requiring a dual diagnosis, such as borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and trauma, all of which are regularly associated with substance use. DBT tackles the root causes and consequences of substance use, such as self-harm, emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, suicidal thoughts, and interpersonal problems.

What Are the Main Goals of DBT for Addiction?

There are four main goals or objectives of DBT, namely:
  • To help you “live in the now” and be conscious of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. This will help you concentrate on the important things and help you avoid getting stuck in a quagmire of negative or irrational patterns.
  • To help you better cope with stress and emotional pain without resorting to dangerous or impulsive actions. This will teach you how to accept your circumstances and reality and teach you healthier means of dealing with life’s stressful situations.
  • To help you enhance your relationships with others and learn more effective methods of communication. This will help you better express your needs and wants, set boundaries, resolve conflicts, and build trust and respect in others around you.
  • To help you identify your triggers and teach you methods of controlling your emotions before they overwhelm you and make you act out. This will help you increase your direct control over your emotions and help you prevent yourself from “yo-yo-ing” through drastic mood shifts.

How Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Work?

DBT techniques for substance use disorders teach four skills to cope with emotional distress productively and positively. These four skills are also called the active ingredients. A standard DBT program can be broken down into five components, each serving a specific function:

  • Mindfulness

  • Distress Tolerance

  • Interpersonal Effectiveness

  • Emotional Regulation


1. DBT skills training: This practice is typically intended for people with Borderline Personality Disorder who have counseling sessions at least bi-weekly with a therapist in their community. People in this program will attend a weekly DBT Skills Training group that is encouraged by a skills therapist within a group resembling a class, and exercises are assigned that enable people to practice skills between sessions. 

2. Mindfulness: This is the practice of being aware of and accepting of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment, without classifying them as good or bad.

3. Distress tolerance: This is the ability to manage negative emotions or situations without inherently worsening them or resorting to unhealthy coping strategies.

4. Interpersonal effectiveness: Interpersonal effectiveness is the ability to healthily relate with others in a way that is respectful, assertive, and beneficial for both parties. This is the ability to manage and control your emotions so that they do not dictate your thoughts and actions. Individual psychotherapy is one-on-one sessions between a therapist and a patient that help the patient apply learned DBT skills to daily problems and situations. These sessions provide ample opportunities for the team to set individual goals and are normally held every week for 60 to 90 minutes.

In-the-moment counseling through telephone sessions, online chats, and other real-life counseling to provide in-the-moment support. The focus here is on generalizing skills and making sure they’re applied to their patient’s daily life.  Case management techniques authorize the person to take control of their care and lives. The therapist applies the skills learned to teach their patient how to be their case manager and how to be autonomous.

The DBT consultation team’s primary task is supporting the people who provide DBT, including skills therapists, therapists, case managers, and others. This consultation team helps therapists and counselors stay motivated and competent, enabling them to provide the best possible treatment. 

How to Find the Right Facility Specializing in DBT for Addiction

dbt for addiction in California

If you’re dealing with substance abuse, DBT could be an effective therapy choice for you. But how can you access it? The most effective method is to reach out to an addiction counselor or a treatment facility. DBT is offered at the majority of addiction treatment centers, such as Immersive Recovery Center. If you’re unable to visit a treatment center at the moment, they can often assist you in locating DBT therapists in your vicinity.

Is DBT for Addiction Covered By Insurance?

Your insurance may include coverage for DBT as part of your treatment plan, but this will vary depending on your particular plan. You can reach out to the treatment center or your insurance provider for assistance with any inquiries regarding treatment expenses.

Learn More About DBT for Addiction at Immersive Recovery

DBT is a potent tool in treating various disorders and mental health conditions. In cases of dual diagnosis, DBT, combined with other treatment methods, can help prevent relapses and self-harming behaviors as well as help you curb your cravings.  DBT typically takes place in a clinical outpatient setting, but can also be incorporated into more intensive methods of treatment, such as residential or partial hospitalization day programs.


If you feel like you or a loved one would benefit from DBT, or you would like to find out more about DBT at Immersive Recovery and see how we can help you, contact us today to get the process rolling. You have the right to a healthy, meaningful, and happy life.