There are many variables that can take place when talking about substance abuse and addiction. For alcoholism, there is the physical dependence that happens on a biological level within the body, as well as the mental and emotional dependence that can make the addiction feel overwhelming and impossible to overcome.
Over the past few decades, many new addiction therapies have been introduced by various psychotherapists, pharmacological companies, and doctors to assist in combating different types of addiction at different levels. One psychotherapy technique that has proven to be quite effective across a variety of addiction and personality types is dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT.
DBT is a therapy technique centered around the mental and emotional dependence of alcoholism that can be tailored to a variety of clients with different environments, stressors, and personalities. Because it is built around the client’s’ own emotions, actions, and mindfulness, it can be exceptionally effective in treating their own specific case of alcohol addiction.
What Is DBT?
Originally intended for therapy on individuals suffering from borderline personality disorders, DBT is a branch of psychotherapy that that focuses on understanding why a client thinks or feels the way they do. DBT proved so successful in providing therapy for borderline personality disorder patients that many therapists introduced it to clients suffering from related disorders as well as addiction.
Therapists who specialize in providing DBT for their clients are centered around the concept of treating the individual as an equal. This means DBT therapists strive to put themselves in their clients’ shoes to understand more about how and why they are suffering. DBT therapists will sympathize with their clients for what they are going through, while at the same time pushing them to reach their goals.
DBT therapists operate under several assumptions when treating clients. These assumptions include:
- Clients want to get better
- Clients are doing their best
- Clients need motivation and hard work to make the changes they want
- A client may not have caused a problem in their life, but they still need to solve it
- The pain a client expresses to us is real
- Clients cannot fail in psychotherapy
- Skillfulness in many aspects of a client’s life will make controlling emotions easier
Through these assumptions, DBT therapists are better equipped to provide fair, understanding, and achievable guidance to help clients reach their goals. These assumptions also reinforce the concept of treating clients as equals to themselves, allowing them to provide counsel from an empathetic yet stern direction.
DBT And Alcoholism
For clients suffering from substance abuse disorders, such as alcoholism, their goals will likely be centered around a sober or more balanced life. For many individuals suffering from alcoholism, they have found that they have little control over the frequency or amount of alcohol that they consume.
It is the job of your DBT therapist to dig deeper into the how and why of your substance abuse disorder. Why was alcohol introduced into your life in the first place? How did your consumption habits turn into an addiction? How does this dependence affect your mental health? Has your environment played a role in this addiction? Why are you seeking out treatment now?
Your DBT therapist would begin by first speaking with you to ensure you truly want therapy, are willing to actively participate in reaching your goals, and are ready to work hard. From there, your therapist will work with you to set agreeable and achievable goals.
Once goals are set, your therapist will talk more about why you are willing to work hard and make the changes necessary to reach their goals. This conversation can help both you and your therapist understand more about your mindset surrounding the topic of addiction and alcoholism. Focusing on this mindset, and how to change the way you think about alcohol or react to stressors in your environment, can be the key to overcoming your addiction.
Why Is Mindfulness So Important In DBT?
This concept of understanding and connecting your state of mind with mindfulness is very important in the practice of DBT. In fact, it is said to be the core of the four units that DBT is taught through:
- Distress tolerance
- Emotional regulation
- Interpersonal effectiveness
As cliche as it may sound, mindfulness revolves around the concept of ‘living in the moment.’ Don’t be too quick to judge the effectiveness of this concept, there are many facets involved in mindfulness.
Mindfulness goes deeper than just ‘taking it one day at a time.’ Instead, it is the practice of having active thought and focus on completing only the task in front of you. In focusing on only the task in front of you, mindfulness also calls for the task to be completed with acceptance and without judgement. For many, this is the tricky part.
Take the simple example of running: your task is to run 1 mile. While you are running this mile, it is important to only focus on completing your run. You may feel pain and exhaustion, which is OK! In practicing mindfulness, you have to accept that you are feeling sore and tired because of your run. While you are accepting this pain you are feeling, you may not make judgement on it. In other words, you are not allowed to make the determination that you are ‘never running again.’
So what is the goal of mindfulness? Within the realm of DBT, mindfulness is meant to help us become more aware of what’s happening to our emotions when certain events happen. No matter how significant these events may be, such as a fight with a friend, or insignificant, such as running a mile, it is important we stay in tune with the emotions, thoughts, and feelings we had associated with that event. This can help us to be more effective in controlling our thoughts and actions to invite more positive emotions into our everyday lives.
Mindfulness And Alcoholism
Mindfulness can play a key role in understanding more about your addiction as well. When you practice mindfulness on a daily basis, trends and relationships surrounding alcohol consumption may become more apparent to you. If you practice mindfulness at home or at work you may find yourself more aware of actions or thoughts that invoke negative emotions.
One example could be practicing mindfulness while interacting with a significant other. While you have a typical interaction, such as eating dinner, are you aware of what types of feelings or emotions this interaction stirs up? While you listen to him/her talk about their day, does it invoke feelings of stress or anxiety? What about it makes you feel this sense of stress or anxiety?
Perhaps it is the topic of conversation, or why your significant other is saying it, or you may even find that is has nothing to do with the other person and is simply stemming from a long list of chores you still have to do. It is important to have the ability to see why or how behind the feelings and emotions you have because this can provide you with the insight on how to avoid this stressor in the future.
For many individuals suffering from alcoholism, they may find that there are stressors or triggers that can push them to drink even on a day they promised themselves that they wouldn’t. The inability to control your emotions, or the susceptibility to these stressors or triggers, can hurt your ability to control how often or how much you drink. Mindfulness is meant to help combat this feeling of powerlessness over alcohol that so many alcoholics share.
Is DBT Right For You?
DBT has grown in popularity immensely over the past few decades, and its effectiveness and uses continue to grow today. DBT is considered a customizable therapy for many clients because it truly takes into account the individual variables, environments, stressors, emotions, and events that can affect a client suffering from alcoholism. Because of this, each and every client will have their own set of goals and personalized guidance on how to reach those goals.
If dialectical behavior therapy sounds like an addiction treatment option that could be right for you or a loved one, then we want to hear from you. Our addiction treatment specialists are standing by to take your call and answer any questions you may have regarding our rehab centers and their practice of DBT. Your call is completely confidential and risk-free, give us a call today and start your journey to recovery.
- DFW Behavioral Health Symposium — Using Dialectal Behavior Therapy With Substance Abuse Disorders
- National Health Institutes — Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Substance Abusers
- Positive Psychology Program — The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook
- University of Virginia — Connecting Mindset and Mindfulness
- Sheri Van Dijk, MSW — DBT Made Simple