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What is DBT, and is it an Effective Treatment for Addiction?

Written on June 24, 2021
What is DBT, and is it an Effective Treatment for Addiction?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a highly-effective an evidence-based treatment modality that is used to help treat a wide range of mental health and substance abuse disorders. Developed in the 1980s by Dr. Marsha M. Linehan, DBT was originally used to treat Borderline Personality Disorder and suicidal ideation. Since then, it has been adapted to help with a broader range of issues, such as managing symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol addiction. In the addiction realm, DBT has proven especially effective in relapse prevention by helping to build mindfulness and distress tolerance skills—which are useful in managing cravings and other triggers to use drugs or alcohol—among other things.

Because addiction commonly forms as a way to self-medicate overwhelming emotions and experiences such as trauma, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help aid in recovery by giving a person healthier coping strategies to manage distress. Drug and alcohol addiction are most often maladaptive ways of coping with an underlying mental health issue, and DBT does an excellent job of addressing both the addiction and the components of the underlying issue co-currently.

Many addiction treatment centers and rehab facilities that utilize mindfulness practices, such as Flatirons Recovery, incorporate DBT into their substance abuse treatment curricula. Here are some of the ways DBT can help with drug or alcohol addiction:

  • Building positive self-image and confidence in one’s own strength and abilities, which is essential in maintaining sobriety in recovery
  • Developing mindfulness skills and practices, which helps with being at peace with the present moment, whatever it may be
  • Building “distress tolerance” skills: these are skills that give you a greater capacity to manage intense emotional experiences and stressors, thereby lessening the need to mange or escape them with drugs or alcohol
  • Improving interpersonal and communication skills so that a person can more effectively communicate their experiences, needs, and boundaries, among other things
  • Helping to change the behaviors and environments that may put a person at risk for addiction relapse
  • Encouraging those in addiction recovery to remove triggers for relapse, such as unhealthy relationships, drug paraphernalia, or places where drug abuse is common
  • Identifying, challenging, and addressing black and white thinking and catastrophizing, creating room for more nuanced thinking during stressful situations
  • Motivating clients to identify and take action on what they can change in their lives

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) at Flatirons Recovery

At Flatirons Recovery, we utilize DBT in the ways listed above, in both group and individual therapy to help with the addiction recovery journey. Our relapse prevention groups focus on building the skills necessary to maintain sobriety by using DBT, CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), and other treatment modalities. Those who attend our highest level of addiction treatment at our center in Boulder, Colorado that includes housing, continuous supervision, and additional programming such as building community and life skills, are given the opportunity receive support in using their DBT skills in real life situations outside of the clinical day, such as in interactions with peers, completing daily tasks, and building a self-care routine.

DBT is a component of our holistic addiction treatment curriculum that also includes many other therapeutic modalities effective in addressing substance abuse and mental health disorders, such as mindfulness, experiential therapies (art therapy, equine therapy, nature/adventure therapy), yoga, biofeedback, nutritional counseling, trauma therapy (EMDR), motivational interviewing, life skills coaching, and medication management. Those who chose to remain in the Boulder area after treatment have an excellent place to establish a thriving life in recovery, with access to our aftercare programming as well as stunning natural settings, world-class fitness and wellness programming, and a strong Colorado recovery community.