Beginning in the late 1980s, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has been used to treat individuals with mental illness and substance abuse problems. DBT helps those struggling with these afflictions learn to cope with negative emotions and communicate effectively. Many treatment centers around the United States have used DBT since then because it is proved to be a powerful tool for someone trying to succeed in recovery. 

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

DBT is a type of psychotherapy that uses four key areas of therapeutic skills to help patients manage distressing emotions and learn to communicate effectively. The four areas DBT focuses on are mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. The therapy was first developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Marsha M. Linehan to treat borderline personality disorder and suicidal thoughts. 

Mindfulness in DBT

This first area that DBT focuses on involves helping a person become more present and self-aware. It allows the person to live in the moment rather than focusing on the past. This is an especially valuable tactic if trauma is related to past events. Sometimes people with addictions have no idea how intensely their past trauma holds them back.

Distress Tolerance in DBT 

Distress tolerance helps individuals learn to cope with and manage distressing emotions. They learn how to face these emotions directly rather than hiding from them. The more that a person tries to run from their painful thoughts and feelings, the harder it can be to stay sober.

Emotion Regulation in DBT

Regulating emotions builds upon the tools learned in the section above. Emotion regulation teaches individuals to manage negative emotions and change them if needed. This is helpful if intense emotions are causing issues and concerns in a person’s life. By learning to regulate their emotions, the individual can identify the feeling, why they are feeling it and learn to take a different perspective. 

Interpersonal Effectiveness in DBT

This area is all about teaching individuals how to communicate effectively, especially regarding their feelings and emotions. DBT teaches ways to be assertive while maintaining self-respect. In turn, these skills help strengthen relationships between the individual and others as they learn to communicate their emotions and maintain a sense of self-respect while they do so. 


DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a more general term for various psychotherapies and talk-therapies. CBT is meant to be a limited number of sessions that help patients become more aware of negative emotions and learn healthy ways to respond. DBT is a more specific type of CBT that helps patients identify and cope with negative emotions. Likewise, DBT teaches patients to handle triggers and spot them before they crop up. 

DBT Benefits for Addiction 

There are numerous benefits of dialectical behavior therapy for those in recovery from addiction or substance abuse. Guilt and shame are common emotions for many addicted to drugs or alcohol. They often feel that they don’t deserve to be happy but DBT helps eliminate this negativity by teaching self-awareness, self-acceptance and emotion regulation. Proper coping mechanisms are introduced once triggers are identified and may include switching up a person’s surroundings and everyday behaviors. Individuals can gain confidence and improved self-esteem through their DBT sessions, which can motivate them to stick to recovery and implement coping skills in their lives. 

Is DBT Right for You?

DBT was explicitly created for patients who have a hard time discussing their emotions, especially negative ones. DBT can help patients because it brings together the discomfort of discussing difficult subjects and therapy. More specifically, it is excellent for those that are impulsive or engaging in reckless behavior, have had unstable relationships, and have difficulty regulating their emotions. Many people find traditional therapy uncomfortable. They become unable to discuss negative emotions and fail to make any progress. DBT can help people identify what they are feeling, why they are feeling a certain way and how to cope. 


At Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford, we believe DBT is an excellent treatment for addiction and substance use disorders. This is why we incorporate it into the treatment plans of our patients when we see fit. Through the four key focuses of DBT, success in recovery is possible. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and looking for help, contact us at (877) 557-5372. We would be happy to help you get started on the path to recovery and maintain sobriety for the long term.