top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Toller

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Better Recovery Outcomes

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

In a past article, we discussed the difference between dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which both focus on changing unhelpful or harmful behaviors and thought patterns.

DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy developed initially to treat borderline personality disorder. DBT has since been found to be highly effective in treating other mental health conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders.

Research has shown that DBT can be a highly effective treatment for addiction, especially co-occurrent disorders such as Borderline and substance use disorder. Long-term recovery outcomes also increase when DBT is used along with other forms of treatment like 12-step programs or medication-assisted therapy.

Addiction is a complex disease that affects both the mind and the body. People with addiction often have difficulty regulating their emotions, which can lead to impulsive behaviours like substance abuse. DBT is designed to help people learn skills to cope with difficult emotions and manage problematic situations or behaviours.

As reported by the National Library of Medicine, the goals of DBT when used to support addiction recovery are to:

  • decreasing abuse of substances

  • alleviating physical discomfort associated with abstinence and/or withdrawal;

  • diminishing urges and cravings

  • avoiding opportunities and cues to abuse, for example, people, places, and things related to drug abuse

  • increasing community reinforcement of healthy behaviours, such as fostering the development of new friends, vocations, activities, and environments that support abstinence

In addition, DBT helps reduce impulse control problems, decreases suicidal and self-harming behaviours, and helps manage emotions better.

DBT can be an effective treatment for addiction because it helps people develop skills to deal with the underlying issues that contribute to addictive behaviours. Substance abuse is often a way of self-medicating for people who struggle with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. DBT can help address these underlying issues and provide tools for healthily managing them, which can reduce the temptation to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

In addition, many of the core principles of DBT (mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness) can be helpful in early recovery by learning how to cope with triggers and cravings without turning to substances.

  1. Mindfulness can help people stay focused on the present moment and make wise choices in the moment rather than succumbing to impulsivity.

  2. Distress tolerance skills help people deal with difficult situations constructively instead of engaging in destructive behaviours like substance abuse.

  3. Emotion regulation skills help people healthily manage their emotions.

  4. Interpersonal effectiveness skills can help people build a support network and communicate effectively about their recovery goals.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, dialectical behavior therapy may be an effective treatment option.

DBT can help you learn to be present, cope with difficult situations, regulate emotions, and improve relationships. If you're interested in learning more about DBT and our Core Recovery Program, please visit our website or call us today.

How DBT can support addiction recovery
DBT for better recovery outcomes



bottom of page