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November 7, 2022

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help the Partner of an Addict?

If you have a spouse, partner, or loved one who is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse or a substance use disorder in Massachusetts, you might have begun seeking help for them. However, the addict isn’t the only person affected by substance use. You know firsthand that an addict’s partner also suffers grief, frustration, pain, and other physical, mental, and emotional struggles because of the addiction. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common choice for addiction treatment in Massachusetts. However, some people might wonder if this treatment modality is also beneficial for the partner of an addict. Let’s explore. 

Understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Addiction Treatment in Massachusetts

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is used on its own and in conjunction with other treatments to help people recover from alcohol and drug addiction. CBT itself, though, is a mix of several types of interventions that work to target specific triggers, such as motivational interventions, contingency management, and relapse prevention. 

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help the Partner of an Addict in MA? Motivational intervention therapy pays attention to the barriers and reinforcements that hinder a person from staying sober or that motivate them to continue their journey. Motivational interviewing falls under this scope—it is a process that involves speaking with the patients about what causes them to want to use in the first place and what motivates them to stay sober. 

Contingency management is based on operant learning theory. It involves providing the patient with material rewards for staying sober. Many studies show that this is effective for a variety of substance use disorders. 

Relapse prevention in the short and long term is also important. Here, a person’s case manager and health professional team help the patient to identify triggering situations and high-risk people and places. They challenge the patient’s expectation of the situation to help them make a more positive choice. 

Successful CBT programs combine a variety of these methods, with some concentrating on one therapy and adding in smaller amounts of the other. People’s success rates vary based on the type of substance use disorder, their lifestyles, and their history. However, CBT overall has proved successful. 


Using CBT to Help the Partner of an Addict

Oftentimes, even though an addict is an individual, their drug or alcohol use is closely related to their relationships and social environment. CBT researchers have developed many treatments that show potential to help the addict and their family by involving the family or partner in CBT. For example, the partner could be encouraged to include the patient in non-alcohol or drug-related activities that are still enjoyable, which encourages them to take part in more rewarding sober behavior. 

Another form is specifically for couples—Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT). Proponents of this treatment modality believe that there is a give-and-take relationship between how both partners function and the substance use itself. In layman’s terms, the addiction hurts the relationship, and a relationship in distress is a trigger for use. Thus, BCT helps both partners develop strong, healthy communication skills that involve both the partner’s coping mechanisms and the relationship as a whole. This program involves education, training in relationship withdrawal during use, scheduling mutually enjoyable sober activities, and positive reinforcement. Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help the Partner of an Addict in MA?

This strategy is particularly helpful for the partner of an addict because they are being led by someone outside the relationship who can take an objective approach. It can be quite difficult to see a relationship for what it truly is when you’re inside of it. Having an outsider’s non-emotional perspective can help a partner see things more clearly and learn the skills that will help them develop a healthy relationship with a recovering addict. 

If it’s accepted and understood that an addict needs substantial treatment and help to get sober, then it should also be accepted and understood that an addict’s partner might not have the adequate skills and education needed to support them in the best way while they are recovering from their drug or alcohol addiction. Therefore, BCT—as one component of an entire CBT program—is an effective way to give the partner skills, resources, and education to help their partner stay clean. Furthermore, you as the partner might understand even better their reasons for using, their triggers, and what motivates them to stay sober



To be clear, a person’s sobriety is their responsibility. No one can choose to stay healthy for another person. However, it’s also true that a person’s environment and relationships affect their desire to use or stay sober. Making sure that a romantic relationship is as healthy as possible makes it more likely that the patient and their partner can move forward together. Of course, you as the partner have plenty of healing to do, too, so make sure that you are also seeking out counseling and addiction treatment in MA for whatever grief, pain, or issues you have that you might be dealing with. 




[author] [author_image timthumb='on']/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/img-ed-480x572.jpg[/author_image]  [author_info]Reviewed by Ed Lepage, Executive Director

Ed Lepage completed the drug and alcohol certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston and has been working in the substance abuse dependency field for the past seven years. He has also worked extensively in peer recovery-based programs offering “real-world experience” to those that suffer from substance use dependency. Full Bio [/author_info] [/author]