As the definition of addiction evolves with science and the understanding of what contributes to addiction expands, it is becoming more evident that our addictive thinking patterns keep us tied to substance use and are often signs of pending relapse. Changing our thought patterns is important if we want to achieve long-term recovery because we cannot live an effective new life with our old thinking. In order to change our thought patterns, it requires replacing distorted (inaccurate) thoughts with more rational (accurate) thinking. Distorted thoughts do not follow logic and ignore evidence of facts. Rational thoughts, based on reality, help support our decision to stay sober. This is great to know as we begin to reflect on how our thinking led us astray. Lead on to learn more about changing addicting thinking.
Most of our thoughts and beliefs are based on prior experiences and our conclusions about what has happened. Thought patterns start early in life. Many of our beliefs reflect messages from parents, siblings, coaches, friends, and other important people in our lives. Distorted thoughts may be misconceptions that arise from a lack of adequate information or from other people’s opinions and beliefs. The addictive process reinforces distorted thought patterns. Your thoughts can harm your emotional life and become a reason to use and continue the addiction. Distorted thoughts can also trigger a relapse. Even if we remain abstinent, these thoughts can make sober living so unpleasant that you want to return to the addiction. Our thought patterns, good and bad, contribute to our beliefs and behaviors. Thus, if we keep the same old thinking, we will likely continue to have the same old actions. As stated eloquently in 12-step meetings, “we only have to change one thing, everything.” This change includes our
thinking. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help us change our old addictive thought patterns. It is a process in which we become aware of our thoughts and feelings, interrupt them, and change them into more realistic patterns. Cognitive therapy can help to prevent relapse and improve our quality of life.
Goal of CBT: Changing How We Think
The goal of cognitive therapy is to change how one thinks about yourself, others, and situations. It helps us find more realistic approaches to life so that we can cope with problems more effectively. Effective cognitive therapy also changes the way we react emotionally, which in turn changes the way we behave. Cognitive therapy gives us the tools to control our behavior. The more we are aware of our thoughts and feelings, the more options we have. The more options we can identify, the greater our sense of competency and control over our lives. This builds self-esteem and confidence. When we experience triggers for possible relapse, cognitive therapy can help us see our options, gain control, and prevent a return to substance use. Once we have been able to get away from alcohol and or drugs, we are able to enter a place where we have options again. When using, the only option is to use. CBT is much less effective while drinking and using drugs because we do not follow through with implementation. At River Rock Treatment, the focus of CBT is implementation. We build awareness through therapy, groups, discussion, and reflection, but the process only begins there. We cannot change our thinking by
thinking, that only happens by taking action. We change our actions, and the thinking follows. If we could change our thinking, drinking, or using by thinking about them, then we would have
done so long before all the issues piled up.
The truth is our thoughts are not always correct, accurate, or helpful. Although some automatic thoughts are true, many are either untrue or have just a grain of truth. The final step in changing your thinking patterns is to replace distorted thoughts with rational thoughts and beliefs. By changing your view of a situation and your view of yourself, you will find more constructive ways to cope. Changing your thought patterns is difficult. Maybe some of the most difficult work a person can do. Why? Thoughts often occur spontaneously or automatically with no effort on your part. Controlling or turning off your thoughts is difficult, so we combine mindfulness into treatment to learn how to detach from these thoughts. The thoughts will come that is inevitable. So, how can we build a new relationship with them and use them to grow or change? That is where the work lies within the mental realm of addiction recovery. Thoughts can be very powerful, and they are not always logical. It takes time and effort to learn how to replace distorted thoughts with rational ones. With a therapist, we can recognize and challenge distorted thinking with more realistic thinking. They may also help you identify which behaviors
to change and help you practice new ways to deal with situations that trigger distorted thoughts. On our own, we cannot overcome these mental struggles. If we could, we would have already.
Typical cognitive therapy steps are:
- Identifying troubling conditions or situations.
- Realizing your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about those conditions or situations.
- Recognizing and challenging distorted thoughts and beliefs.
- Discovering more rational ways to think about yourself and your life.
- This four-step process can help you assess your addictive thinking and learn how to create a new recovery belief system.
1. Listen to your thoughts. What are you saying to yourself?
2. Identify the addictive thought
3. Challenge the addictive thought
4. Replace the addictive thought with a recovery belief — a more realistic and accurate self-talk statement. For example, consider the self-talk statement, “I can have just one.” Ask yourself:
- What am I thinking?
- Is this a distortion? Yes, it’s an addictive belief.
- Is it true? No, it’s not.
- A new recovery belief: I can’t have just one. If I have one, I’ll keep drinking, so I won’t have
one. I can cope without drinking.
Changing your thought patterns through cognitive therapy can help you cope with the challenges of addiction. Changing deep-rooted thought patterns will not happen overnight, however. Give yourself time to learn how to recognize addictive thoughts and replace them with accurate, realistic ones. Most importantly, we must take action to change our thinking. We cannot heal our own thinking by thinking, so engaging in cognitive therapy and implementing the skills and practice will help create change. Changing your view of a situation, of others and you are essential to recovery and continuing a sober lifestyle. Changing addicting thinking takes some work, but the reward is worth it!
If you are interested in learning more about our therapeutic services, please contact us today.