Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Substance Abuse

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy used to treat conditions like mental health and substance use disorders. Developed by psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan and her colleagues in the 1970s, DBT – which was largely based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – was used to treat various mental health disorders and high-risk behaviors like suicidal ideation. The main difference between CBT and DBT is that the latter encourages clients to validate and accept uncomfortable feelings rather than work around them. If you’re interested in learning more about this treatment method, keep reading to learn how our Clearbrook rehab in Massachusetts utilizes DBT for substance abuse and mental illness.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) For Substance Use?

Dialectical behavior therapy can help those seeking addiction treatment learn skills like mindfulness, stress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation, all of which are important for sustaining sobriety. A DBT treatment program is multidimensional and comprehensive, relying on learning skills to change unhelpful or negative thoughts and behaviors. Therapists using DBT teach critical behavioral skills to clients using various techniques like telling stories, practicing, giving feedback, and coaching clients.

Common DBT skills for addiction treatment include:

  • Mindfulness: Central to all other skills in DBT for substance use, mindfulness is the center of this treatment. Clients learn about and practice being aware of the present. By mastering the observation of what’s happening inside them at the moment – their feelings, thoughts, sensations, and impulses – and tuning into their environment, clients can effectively slow down their thoughts and focus on healthy coping skills when coping with pain, stress, or other challenges during recovery.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Since many people in DBT struggle with their relationships, interpersonal effectiveness works to repair, maintain, and establish healthy relationship behaviors, which include ending negative or toxic ones. This strategy includes assertiveness training to help clients create and enforce their boundaries with others and communicate effectively. Not only does it prepare them to remain strong in difficult situations where relapse triggers may present themselves, but it also contributes to the development of independence and self-confidence.
  • Emotional regulation: DBT emotion regulation skills focus on identifying, naming, and changing the negative effects of an emotional response. By helping the person recognize and cope with intense negative emotions and produce an opposite action, our DBT therapists can help them have more positive emotional experiences. Because addiction is largely based on emotional irregularity, emotional regulation and intelligence are important tools that clients develop at our DBT recovery center in Massachusetts.
  • Distress tolerance: The practice of DBT distress tolerance skills discusses and teaches individuals to accept discomfort and negative emotions. For individuals who experience distress or crisis, implementing learned techniques like distraction and self-soothing empowers them to cope with intense emotions with a more positive and long-term outlook.

How DBT Drug Addiction Treatment Works

Patients at our DBT center will have the opportunity to work one-on-one and in groups with our therapists. While individual sessions may discuss more personal topics, such as personal problems the individual may be facing, group sessions are designed to offer peer support and encourage community interaction.

Our therapists use four DBT components during treatment:

  • Individual therapy: Our Massachusetts inpatient drug rehab incorporates one-on-one, weekly sessions to teach clients how to apply DBT skills they’ve learned to real-life challenges. Homework encourages utilizing these newly learned skills in day-to-day real-life situations.
  • Group skills training: In group sessions, clients work on developing new, healthy coping skills by acting them out. The environment is always supportive and judgment-free in our DBT groups. Outside of the group, the individual works to structure their home environment to set them up for success.
  • Phone coaching: Because the client may not always be at our facility, we offer phone coaching for in-the-moment help when a difficult situation arises in between sessions. Clients can contact their therapist for support when they need it most.
  • Consultation for therapists: For therapists to be effective and the most helpful to an individual, they need to feel supported and validated. For this reason, a therapist consultation team meets weekly to help our team of therapists to problem-solve and implement effective treatment in challenging situations. For instance, our therapists may consult one another if they have a patient who is suicidal or who frequently misses sessions.

Benefits of DBT for Substance Abuse

Research indicates that dialectical behavior therapy is effective in treating people with mental health and co-occurring substance use disorders. DBT for substance abuse encourages clients to commit to abstinence from drugs and alcohol and works to bolster their motivation to change their behaviors through various techniques.

Some significant DBT benefits include:

  • A decrease in physical discomfort associated with withdrawal symptoms
  • A decrease in substance use
  • A drop in substance-related impulsivity, cravings, and temptations
  • Avoidance of triggers and situations that can lead to substance use
  • Creating and enforcing boundaries necessary for sustaining sobriety
  • Increasing healthy interpersonal relationships through community
  • Reducing problematic behaviors that contribute to substance use

Additionally, DBT for alcohol use disorder and drug addiction addresses relapse as a problem with a solution, allowing therapists to help the person assess contributing factors to relapse and work to repair the harm their drug use has caused in their relationships. The idea of using DBT for substance abuse is to increase the individual’s awareness surrounding the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.

Finding DBT Near Me

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine the best course of action to take. Our team of specialists is here to guide you through treatment and help you fulfill your recovery goals.

For more information about our DBT residential treatment centers or our other options for Massachusetts substance abuse treatment, contact Clearbrook Treatment Centers today.

Not all programs are available at all locations. Please contact the location for availability.


  1. National Library of Medicine – Dialectical behavior therapy as a treatment for borderline personality disorder
  2. National Library of Medicine – Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Related Reading:

How Injuries Can Lead to Addiction

Should You Drink Around an Alcoholic in Recovery?