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What’s The Link Between Negative Thinking, Distorted Thoughts, And Addiction?

The Link Between Negative Thinking and Addiction: Understanding Distorted Thoughts


There is an undeniable link between negative thinking and addictive behavior. Negative thoughts may affect some people more severely than others. And individuals struggling with substance abuse are particularly vulnerable to turning negative thinking into distorted thoughts.

These distorted thought processes often lead to intense emotions. Ranging from excessive hyperactivity and happiness, to inappropriate outbursts of anger, the intense emotions are generally deemed “unreliable.” When this happens, the individual can unknowingly isolate themselves from society that views them as unstable.

How Distorted Thoughts Can Lead To Addiction

What happens next isn’t a surprise. For several reasons—whether self-medication, stress or impulsivity—many people start abusing drugs and alcohol as a coping method. Although drugs and alcohol might seem like only a temporary solution, they quickly become a primary source of relief.

A recent study in the journal of Behavioural Brain Research has shown that distorted thoughts often lead to “impaired control” or “unreliable control.” These states of unreliability make the person highly susceptible to evaluation errors. In other words, the danger of being in an unreliable or impaired state of control are the bad decisions you might make. And such decisions may lead to long-term patterns of addiction and substance abuse.

Most Common Types Of Thinking Errors

  1. Rationalization: A common thinking error is a mindset of rationalization. Maybe you’ve been a victim of childhood abuse, a cheating spouse, or another kind of negativity. You might rationalize that you “deserve the right to have a few (insert drug of choice here) every night to unwind.”

  2. Polarization: Black and white thinking, or polarized thinking, is another type of the most common thinking errors. People with black and white thinking have an all-or-nothing perspective. For example, black and white thinkers might believe that they’ll “never get sober” or that they’ll always relapse.

  3. Personalization: People who fall into personalized thinking believe that other peoples’ actions, whether intentional or not, are aimed at them. They tend to take everything personally, even when a statement or action has nothing to do with them.

  4. Perfectionism: Those who struggle with the perfectionist thinking error believe that they are totally competent in all they do. Therefore, if they don’t succeed, it’s never their fault or responsibility.

  5. Histrionic Thinking: The person who struggles with this type of thought distortion focuses on a negative or distressing event in their past. They then project it into their expectations of the future. For example, if they were fired from a job in the past, they may think that they are unemployable, defective, or worthless.

  6. Emotional Reasoning: The person who struggles with this thinking error allows their emotions to overrule their logic. They don’t use logical reasoning to explain why they are feeling down or feel badly about themselves. Instead, they validate the negative feelings as accurate. This reinforces the thoughts instead of attempting to overcome them.

4 Tips To Overcoming Thought Distortions In Addiction Patterns

So, how can these harmful thinking errors resolved? How do individuals in addiction recovery reshape their thoughts from irrational distortions to positive, self-affirming thoughts? Here are four tips that can help to expose the thought errors, and help you start overcoming them.

#1: Keep a Daily Journal

You can write down a daily summary and describe the events and emotions experienced. Or you can use an app when negative self-talk threatens to ruin your day. The goal is to record how your thoughts and emotions impact your actions. The idea is to look for patterns of negative thoughts and the resulting actions. This will increase your awareness of the connection between distorted thinking and connections to substance use.

#2: Say Goodbye to Black and White Thinking

Being stuck in the polarizing black and white thought patterns keep you in an exaggerated reality. But there is often a middle ground, a more balanced view of a situation or event. Train yourself to think about events with less polarity and more logic.

#3: Challenge the Negative Self-Labels

Thinking errors can lead to irrationally negative definitions of yourself. If you call yourself “stupid,” “lazy,” “a loser,” or other derogatory labels, you reinforce the need to use a substance in order to numb these negative feelings. Try to isolate one of the negative labels you have assigned yourself and question how valid it is.

#4: Affirming Self-Talk

After practicing tip #3, replace the negative label with three or four positive affirmations. Begin to talk to yourself in the same encouraging way you would to a friend. Positive self-talk is powerful, and if you practice it enough, it can stop you from the downward spiral that may lead to substance abuse.

How Therapy Treatments Can Help Heal Thought Distortions

Oftentimes those who struggle with thought distortions need to seek outside help to get their healing process started. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are two of the most effective therapies to start with.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a short-term therapy that focuses on both the cognitive (thoughts) and behavioral (actions) aspects of the individual by helping them modify thought-behavior patterns that are keeping them trapped in substance abuse.

Practicing the new healthy thought patterns learned through CBT can lead to improved actions. By replacing distorted thoughts with rational thinking, you are empowered with the ability to separate your thoughts from reflexive substance abuse. It takes time for the new thought patterns to become new habits, but when it happens, it can be an important coping skill used in addiction recovery.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is another behavior-focused psychotherapy that is highly effective in treating people with substance use disorders. DBT focuses on the psycho-social aspects of treatment and recovery.

By shifting negative self-messaging and self-criticism, DBT can help you change common cognitive distortions that lead to self-medicating with a substance. DBT helps the individual shift negative self-messaging while encouraging improvement in four main areas: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance.

DBT can be especially helpful for people with a dual diagnosis, such as alcoholism and depression or anxiety, as it helps them learn to regulate emotions and mood swings more effectively.

To learn more about how to start your healing journey at Impact Recovery, get in touch with a member of our team here.