Treating Trauma and Alcoholism with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

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DBT for Trauma and Alcohol AbuseDialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was originally designed as a method of treating people with borderline personality disorder who had suicidal tendencies and had difficulty sticking with other methods of treatment. DBT has since been found to be effective in treating several other challenges including trauma and alcoholism as well as other forms of substance use disorder.

DBT uses a combination of approaches, which includes individual therapy, group skills training and phone coaching between sessions if needed. Therapists are involved in consultation groups in order to discuss care of patients, as well as their own struggles and needs. Patients do homework between sessions to identify feelings and practice skills.
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What Makes DBT Unique?

DBT has some unique characteristics that give this approach the ability to reach patients who may have been difficult to treat with other methods. The term “dialectical” refers to bringing together two opposing ideas at the same time. These opposing ideas are acceptance and change.

Skills in the following four areas are taught to help improve life skills:

  • Emotional regulation – the ability to manage and change intense emotions
  • Distress tolerance – increasing tolerance of painful emotions rather than trying to escape from them
  • Mindfulness – the ability to accept and be present in the current moment
  • Interpersonal effectiveness – improving skills in communicating with others

DBT is considered a form of cognitive behavioral therapy.  It’s focused on changing thoughts and behaviors in order to reduce symptoms such as self-harm, difficulty managing emotions, impulsive or risky behavior and interpersonal problems. Working on these skills can help to build a life worth living.

DBT and Trauma

Trauma can lead to all-consuming negative emotions that can be difficult to overcome.  If you’ve experienced a trauma, it can be very difficult to accept what happened or to deal with overpowering emotions that may continue to resurface long after the trauma occurred. Many people who have experienced trauma suffer severe emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues, and possibly suicidal thoughts.

DBT can be very effective in treating trauma because it offers the skills necessary to accept upsetting experiences and to manage the painful emotions triggered by the memory of a stressful event. With an improved ability to tolerate emotional distress, individuals are able to deal with the memory of trauma without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

DBT and Alcoholism

When an individual struggles with alcoholism, part of the underlying cause is often related to difficulty dealing with volatile emotions. Mind-altering chemicals make it possible to escape from painful emotions rather than dealing with them.  Alcoholism frequently coexists with undiagnosed mental illness, and drinking can be a way of trying to self-soothe uncomfortable symptoms of mental health challenges.

DBT can help offer skills necessary to regulate painful emotions and deal with everyday challenges without turning to substances. Using the skills taught in DBT, stormy emotions can be brought under control and addictive behavior can be replaced with healthy coping skills. By practicing the skills learned in DBT, a person who has previously turned to substances can reduce cravings and recognize the triggers that can lead to addictive behavior.

Why DBT Can Help in Treating Trauma and Alcoholism

DBT uses positive reinforcement, helping individuals stay motivated to change. Strengths are emphasized and new coping skills are continually practiced, helping to reduce self-destructive or risky behaviors. It’s a non-judgmental approach that can help individuals feel validated as they navigate difficult or complex issues.

Treatment of trauma or substance use disorder with DBT can help you work toward new and better ways of thinking and coping. It’s possible to achieve significant and long-lasting improvement in dealing with challenges that may have seemed insurmountable by using this approach to therapy.

If you or a loved one are struggling with trauma and alcoholism, please call us at (310) 455-5258 or submit the form below to learn more about our treatment programs in Los Angeles.

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