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How Thought Distortions Keep People Trapped in Addiction

The process of being caught up in addiction leads to distorted thinking. This can be due to the impact that alcohol or drugs has on the brain, as well as the lifestyle involved in this type of behaviour. As long as your thoughts continue to support the substance abuse, it can be difficult for you to build a solid sobriety. This is why it is so important that distorted thinking be dealt with from the start.

Common Types of Distorted Thinking Caused by Addiction
  • Alcohol or drugs makes me more creative
  • I'm no fun when I don't drink
  • life would be dull without alcohol or drugs
  • I don't trust sober people
  • people can't really change
  • it is just the way I am - it's just my genetics/personality
  • I need drugs to be able to cope with the pain in my life
  • I need it to unwind at the end of the day
  • life without alcohol or drugs would feel meaningless
  • I'll stop drinking if things get bad enough
  • I'm too young to have a problem
  • if you had my problems, you would get high all the time too
  • I drink because of him/her
  • I'm different - I will not suffer the same consequences of substance abuse as other people.
What Causes Distorted Thinking

There is a part of your thinking that knows that abusing alcohol or drugs is causing you harm. There is also a part of your thinking that feels the need to engage in this behaviour. Once addiction takes hold of the brain, it is able to distort your thoughts to make substance abuse seem reasonable. It leads to denial of the problem and can mean that you are able to ignore the obvious dangers - this is possible due to a psychological process known as cognitive dissonance.

The fact that there are likely to be thoughts for and against the substance abuse leads to a state of disharmony in your brain called cognitive thinking. All humans like to think that they are being rational, so it causes mental discomfort to know that what you are doing is wrong; yet you still have the need to engage in the behaviour. The way the brain deals with this cognitive dissonance is by usually making sense of things with new thoughts. One way to resolve this dissonance would be to decide that life in recovery would be boring - another way would be to start believing that the normal rules do not apply to you (for example, you may decide that there is something about your genes that makes you immune to substance abuse).

How to Overcome Distorted Thinking and Break Free of Addiction

Overcoming distorted thinking can be difficult because people do not realise that they are actually engaging in it - everything seems perfectly rational to them. It may be clear to others that alcohol is ruining your life, but you may be convinced that you have to drink to cope with your life falling apart.

Here are some of the things you can do to begin overcoming the distorted thinking that is supporting the addictive behaviour:

  • be willing to at least consider that some of your beliefs/ideas/thoughts about addiction and recovery are dangerously wrong
  • start challenging your thoughts - for example, if you believe life in recovery would be boring, check out the evidence to see if this is likely to be true (there is plenty of information about this in books and online, but it is more helpful to actually speak to people who have been sober a long time)
  • spend  time with those who doing well in recovery
  • an addiction therapist or addiction counsellor can be effective at helping you identify and replace distorted thinking patterns
  • one of the goals of a rehab programme will be to help you get beyond the distorted thinking supporting the addictive behaviour.
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