Moorpark Drug & Alcohol Rehab, Scotland

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Addiction

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy & Addiction (DBT)

Are you wondering if dialectical behaviour therapy can help beat addiction? Perhaps you’ve been offered the therapy as part of your recovery programme and would like to know more about it.  In this article, we’ll explore what dialectical behaviour therapy involves, and what makes it effective for treating addiction. We’ll also take a look at what techniques the therapy covers, so you’ll know what to expect from the sessions.

What is dialectical behaviour therapy?

Dialectical behaviour therapy (or ‘DBT’) has been proven to help resolve many conditions, including borderline personality disorder and PTSD. More recently, it’s been found to be very effective for helping people affected by addiction.  Developed by psychologist Dr Marsha Linehan in the 1980s, DBT works similarly to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Both therapies focus on changing negative and unhealthy thoughts into positive ones.  But unlike cognitive behavioural therapy, DBT also gives you the skills to accept difficult thoughts and feelings. Developing these two opposite techniques of change and acceptance is the key feature of DBT. By gaining skills to accept difficulties you can’t change, and to change those you can, you build the mental resilience needed to overcome your illness.

How does Dialectical behaviour therapy help you overcome addiction?

Because DBT gives you coping strategies to deal with intense feelings, it can help you cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings. DBT can empower you to deal with unhealthy thoughts and behaviours that could cause relapses, too.  The therapy focuses on 4 distinct skills. 2 of these skills help you learn to accept yourself as a person and cope with challenging thoughts; 2 help you change intense feelings and unhealthy behaviours into positive, helpful ones.

Acceptance skills


Mindfulness teaches you to live in the present moment, without being drawn into past regrets or future worries. Being fully engaged in the present allows you to recognise those thoughts and feelings you might otherwise try to avoid, and to accept these without judging them or becoming self-critical.

Distress tolerance

Distress tolerance helps you cope with intense or painful feelings without reacting to them in a destructive way. Drawing on your own natural strengths, you learn techniques such as self-soothing strategies which stop intense feelings from becoming overwhelming.

Change skills

Emotion regulation

Emotion regulation enables you to have more control over your emotions. It involves recognising those intense and painful emotions as they arise, and then reframing them to be less intense, or even replacing them with positive ones.

Interpersonal effectiveness

This final skill is about developing strategies for effective relationships with others. This can include asking for help if you need it, setting clear boundaries and saying ‘no’ to people in a clear and positive way. Interpersonal effectiveness can help you deal with conflicts, too.

What do DBT sessions look like in practice?

DBT usually includes both group and one-to-one sessions led by a trained therapist. During group sessions, you’ll work as a team to learn the 4 skills outlined above. One-to-one sessions are tailored to you, focussing on your personal difficulties and building on your unique strengths.  Often there are exercises to complete outside the sessions, such as keeping a diary. You’re likely to be offered telephone counselling too, in case you’re having a difficult day and need extra support.

We hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you are suffering from addiction or someone you love is, contact us to find out how Moorpark Clinic can help. 

Further info:

The mental health charity Mind has a useful webpage dedicated to dialectical behaviour therapy.

We Are With You is a charity which supports anyone affected by drug, alcohol or mental health issues.

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