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How Our Thinking Can Sabotage Recovery from Addiction

We all know that recovery from addiction is incredibly difficult. Depending on the drug and length of usage, recovery may require multiple rehab stays, quite a bit of money, and a whole lot of heartache. Addicts themselves can want more than anything to get sober, but that desire may not be enough. Even in an age with technological advancements and a greater understanding of psychological ailments, we still do not know exactly how to treat addiction. It’s an ongoing process that requires trial and error, medications, therapy, rehabilitation centers, and support groups such as AA.

While everyone may want to help the addict, the addict must resolve to help himself. That can be challenging, as addicts struggle with years of failure, trauma, and underlying anxiety and depression. More than anything else, negative self-talk and a low self-esteem can do the greatest amount of harm to the recovery process. Addicts have a hard time learning to love themselves, especially when they are full of shame and loneliness. Yet self-love and positive self-dialogue are perhaps the two most critical things an addict must harness to recover. Here’s what we know.

The Psychology of Negative Thinking

Everyone has an occasional negative thought. The average person may not notice the way a negative thought impacts him or her. On the other hand, an addict’s negative thought can be severely detrimental to his or her recovery. Here are some typical negative thoughts an addict may have:

  • Thinking there is something inherently wrong or flawed with oneself

  • Reducing situations to black and white, all or nothing scenarios

  • Extreme pessimism about the future

  • Regret, shame, and self-hate about the past

  • Rage and bitterness towards a person, place, or entity

  • Judging oneself and others harshly for every mistake

  • Catastrophic, anxious thinking about everyday situations

It’s no wonder why being sober is so miserable to an addict at first – they are filled with self-loathing, negative, angry dialogue. It’s important to note that it is entirely normal to feel anxious or depressed once the drugs or alcohol are out of the system. But allowing negative thoughts to ruin your days by thinking “I deserve it” will not benefit you or those around you.

The Benefit of Positive Dialogue

Addicts talk to themselves negatively because they are used to doing so. When one experiences the darkness that is addiction, there is little room for healthy self-dialogue or a strong self-esteem. The addict begins to think he or she is not worthy of love. They think that their actions in addiction define them indefinitely, and that they don’t deserve to feel joy or love again. This could not be further from the truth.

It is only in learning to love and forgive oneself that the addict can fully recover or bounce back quickly from a relapse. Believing that one is worthy of getting better will help empower the addict to overcome difficult situations and say no to temptation. It will also make sobriety much more enjoyable. Life cannot be lived to the fullest unless one fully embraces oneself as he or she is - including the good and the bad.

Perhaps there has been an overwhelming amount of heartache or self-inflicted pain in addiction. It can feel nearly impossible to talk positively to oneself when one is living with this type of baggage. In this case, therapy can be a beneficial tool. Learning to let go of past mistakes and embrace one’s humanity is a critical part of cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapists can also help the addict learn specific techniques for positive self-dialogue and various ways to eliminate black and white, catastrophic thinking. With the right tools and attitude, the addict will then be armed for success and resilience.

Do you struggle with an addiction, anxiety, or depression? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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