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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) For Addiction Treatment

Dr. Alan Weiner MD

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Alan Weiner, MD

February 25, 2019

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT, is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals change the way they think about addiction and other negative behaviors. This type of therapy is designed to teach individuals to think in ways that positively influence their lives and health.

Substance abuse and drug addiction claims many people each year. It is characterized by an urgent need to continually seek substances, even when a person knows such a pattern is harmful. This need is driven by changes in the brain caused by harmful substances.

When a person is afflicted with addiction, his brain composition is actually altered. It is this change which makes a person seek use of drugs again and again. This change is also responsible for what causes relapse in a person, or the pattern which makes affected individuals go back to substance abuse even after they have sought treatment. Treatment, then, must be comprehensive and must address all needs of a person’s health, any other issues, or disorders.

Many types of treatments are available, and a full treatment plan often includes a number of these methods. Some of these include medication-assisted therapy (MAT), different types of cognitive behavioral therapy, and counseling (individual, family, or group). One type of therapy which has recently gained following for its success in treating substance abuse is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

What Is REBT?

The REBT Network defines REBT as a form of psychotherapy which essentially trains people to change thinking in a way that will promote healthy behaviors and practices. Engaging in REBT helps a person to rid himself of negative behaviors, eliminate addictive tendencies, and thereby seek a life of fulfillment and happiness. This therapy also encourages positive values in its participants, such as strong self-esteem and unwavering acceptance of self and of others.

REBT proposes that it is our thinking, especially in regard to things happening in our lives, which causes negative outcomes. Because of this, people who undergo REBT are taught to look carefully at their negative thinking and to question it. Rational thinking becomes a practice. Once a person can rationalize his negative thoughts, he can begin to overcome the behaviors which inhibit life fulfillment.

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How Does REBT Work?

The REBT Network lists three basic, irrational thought processes held by most people. These are called the Three Basic Musts, and they each hold a demand about ourselves or others, and each is responsible for the events or things which upset us:

  1. I must perform well and gain approval and acceptance from other people or I am not worthy in life.
  2. I deserve to be treated fairly and kindly at all times. If other people do not treat me this way at all times, they are not worthy in life and they deserve to be penalized for their actions.
  3. I have to have what I desire, and I have to have it immediately. If I don’t get what I want, I won’t be able to bear it.

These beliefs, REBT suggests, often are what lead to unwelcome thoughts and behaviors. These may include feelings of anger, depression, guilt, shame, self-pity, and acts of passive-aggression. It is such irrational patterns of thinking which prompted the founding of REBT by Albert Ellis.

In recent years, it has been shown to be effective in treating addiction. As Psychology Today explains, “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) posits addictions are caused by the interplay of cognition, behavior, and images.” In other words, individuals become addicted because their thoughts are irrational, they behave in a way that is detrimental to self, and they do not visualize a positive image of themselves. REBT aims to teach its participants to reverse these habits. The following are examples of how to utilize REBT to help change addictive tendencies:

  • Cognition (thoughts): someone who is addicted thinks in absolutes, such as feeling that he absolutely must seek a substance immediately or he will not be able to go on. REBT teaches a person to work through this thinking, question it, and counter it through rationale and reasoning.
  • Behavior: an addicted individual’s behavior reflects only the urgent need to seek substance use. This need is fostered by his irrational thoughts. Once he can learn to approach his thinking in a positive, rational way, he can begin to implement this thinking to all behaviors and change them for the better.
  • Images: a person afflicted with addiction may have a low amount of self-esteem; he may not visualize himself in a positive way. REBT teaches a person to see the positive self-image he wants and deserves.

REBT Methods

REBT employs three main methods to rationalize a person’s thinking. A therapist helping a person through REBT would ask the person to dispute, value insights, and practice acceptance.

To dispute negative thoughts, a person would be asked to challenge irrational beliefs. For example, a person having trouble with the first Basic Must listed above would be prompted to question: “Why do I feel that I must attain everyone’s approval?” He would be asked to question things like why gaining approval is important to him, and what he could gain from that approval. Further, a participant would be asked to contemplate why he adheres to absolutes. Are your urges actually necessary, or do you just feel very strongly that they are necessary?

Valuing insights involves training a person to hold fast to certain uplifting beliefs. Positive beliefs remind REBT participants that negative thoughts and behaviors do not merely happen, but are a direct result of giving in to them. Though REBT allows that everyone occasionally has irrational thoughts, it holds that people can get rid of or learn to control these thoughts most of the time. This process requires diligence and, especially, practice.

Acceptance helps a person to understand that he can deal with the confines of his reality, even if they are not desirable. For the addicted individual, this means that a person learns to accept himself as worthy, with or without others’ consent. An addicted individual also learns to accept others and their love and support in his life. Finally, he learns to accept the world as a place which can be full of love and opportunity if he practices seeing it that way.

Substance Abuse Treatment and REBT

Many factors contribute to a person’s choice to begin abusing substances. Risk factors affect a person’s likelihood of substance abuse, while protective factors help prevent it. If protective factors are not effectively implemented, and even sometimes when they are implemented, people can fall victim to addiction. However, people affected by addiction have many options to help them recover.

REBT could be useful for an addicted individual in changing thinking and, as a result, changing addictive behaviors. For many people, preventing relapse requires more than just a few rounds of medication and family support. Resisting further substance abuse may require the individual to revolutionize his thinking and inhabit a new way of life—one free from the constraints of substance abuse.

In any case, treatment is a part of life which should not be lightly considered. Many things can affect treatment, including a person’s willingness to commit to it, a family’s support, what resources are available to an individual, and funding. Before making any decisions, a person should seek as many resources as possible to aid in getting treatment that best fits his needs.

Getting Connected To REBT And Other Treatment Resources

Substance abuse is an issue which affects so many individuals and families everywhere. With new drugs entering the scene all the time, it is imperative to have a myriad of ongoing treatment options available. REBT works to help people affected by addiction adopt positive thinking and practice new ways of fulfillment.

If you or someone close to you is suffering from substance abuse, and you would like to be connected with resources, we can help. Contact us today at to hear more about treatment methods, find a plan that is right for you, and to have your needs met.

National Institute On Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches For Drug Addiction

Smart Recovery - Introduction To REBT

The Albert Ellis Institute - Rational Emotive And Cognitive Behavior Therapy

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