Dialectical behavior therapy helps recovering addicts learn skills such as mindfulness and distress tolerance. These skills help patients stop using drugs and alcohol by focusing on changing the behavior and surroundings to make sobriety easier. DBT combines standard cognitive techniques for emotion regulation with these concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance and awareness.
Exploring Mindfulness and Distress Tolerance to Overcome Addiction
Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on their emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. Mindfulness helps individuals identify what they are experiencing at the moment they are experiencing it. It means helping one stay in the here and now.
The definitions described below serve as tools to help individuals accept and tolerate the powerful emotions they may feel when stopping the use of chemicals and more effectively manage situations that may trigger them to return to use.
Mindfulness – Simply stated, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment without judgement. This practice is intended to foster increased awareness of urges, triggers, destructive habitual patterns and “automatic” reactions that seem to decrease the ability to remain abstinent. In our group, patients will learn mindfulness practices to help them pause, observe present experiences and bring awareness to the range of choices before them in their daily activities. We want them to learn to respond in ways that foster their growth, rather than react in ways that are detrimental to their health and well-being. Ultimately, we want them to work towards freedom from deeply ingrained habitual patterns of behavior that have caused them to seek a substance or chemical to alter their mood and/or meet their psychological and/or physiological needs.
Distress Tolerance – Distress tolerance skills are used when one is unable or unwilling to change or it would be inappropriate to change a situation. Distress tolerance skills are used to help us cope and survive during a crisis and help us tolerate short-term and long-term pain, both physical and emotional. Ways of tolerating distress include mindful breathing, various means of self-soothing and radical acceptance. Radical acceptance involves being willing to experience a situation as it is, rather than how we want it to be. Not to be willing means trying to impose our will on a situation. Radical acceptance is a willingness to accept things as they are, not as we think they should be.
How DBT Helps
Modern scientific research has repeatedly proven that DBT is an effective therapy in psychiatric and addiction treatment. Our patients are taught the skills needed to calm themselves in otherwise stressful circumstances. Once learned, this skill better equips individuals to think more clearly and reduce or eliminate impulsive, often exaggerated reactions such as numbing with alcohol or drugs.
The core belief of DBT is that of practicing mindfulness, which is used to tolerate and accept emotionally charged and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This contemplative though non-religious technique teaches an individual not to judge the circumstances, thoughts and feelings they are experiencing and instead gain a new perspective through re-contextualization.