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CBT for Opioid Addiction: 4 Vital Facts

By Michael Howard
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be combined with medication to treat opioid use disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a method of psychological treatment that helps patients recognize and correct negative thought patterns and behaviors. Mental health professionals utilize CBT to address a wide range of issues including depression, anxiety disorders, severe mental illness, and substance use problems. In the context of opioid addiction, CBT is often incorporated into medication-assisted treatment programs. Here are four facts you need to know about CBT and opioid addiction.

1. CBT helps sustain medication-assisted treatment.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) employs a combination of medication and therapy to help people recover from drug addiction. The FDA-approved medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder are buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.

“CBT has been shown to improve retention in medication assisted treatment,” Lori Ryland, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, tells WebMD Connect to care. “Patients are less likely to drop out of treatment if they are receiving CBT in addition to MAT services.”

2. CBT improves the likelihood of long-term recovery.

In addition to boosting the treatment retention of medication-assisted programs, CBT has several other effects that support long-term recovery from opioid addiction. These, according to Ryland, include:

  • Reducing symptoms
  • Improving social determinants of health
  • Reducing the risk of overdose and death

“Most studies find the most effective treatment for OUD to include a combination of medication assisted treatment to reduce cravings, and cognitive behavior therapy to improve emotions/mood, thoughts, and behaviors,” says Ryland. “The basic premise of CBT is that these three are connected and influence each other.”

3. CBT can help treat chronic pain.

Opioids prescribed for chronic or severe pain can lead to addiction. Between 1999 and 2019, around 247,000 Americans died from overdosing on prescription opioids, according to the CDC.

CBT is proven to be effective in treating various types of chronic pain. It may therefore be incorporated into a chronic pain management regimen and help reduce the use of opioids for pain. 

“Since CBT has been shown to treat chronic pain, it can be a helpful intervention for those who became addicted to opiates as a result of pain medication,” Ryland says. Learning how to cope with pain in healthly ways can be integral to opioid addiction recovery. 

4. CBT comes in many forms.

CBT is a broad term comprising numerous techniques, strategies, and interventions. Its application should be tailored in collaboration with a therapist to suit each patient’s needs.

“CBT encompasses multiple evidence-based practices including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness-based CBT,” Ryland says. “It is best to consider CBT as a ‘toolbox’ of many strategies that can be used. Some are more effective for some than others--and if one doesn’t seem to be working, there are others that can be utilized.”

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.