Addiction Relapse: What Were They Thinking?

It is not easy to battle an addiction and achieve abstinence. It may be even harder to maintain it. Drug and alcohol addiction is considered to be a chronic disease and recovery is a process. Therefore, relapsing is not only possible, but likely. Relapses to substances don’t come out of the blue. Relapses are the consequences of faulty thinking.

Cognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns and emotional distress. This was developed by Aaron Beck in the 1960’s with a premise that thoughts, feelings and behavior are all connected and that individuals can overcome difficulties by identifying and changing unhelpful or inaccurate thinking.

So let’s take a look at faulty thinking that can lead to relapse. A group of people in a recovery support group identified the thoughts they had prior to relapsing and considered what a more reasonable thought would be.
● Some have thought ‘I don’t care anymore’. A more reasonable thought would be ‘I’m feeling apathetic right now but I do care about some things.’
● Many think ‘I can get away with it’ but a reasonable person might think ‘I might get caught and it’s not worth the risk.’
● An unproductive thought is ‘I want to reward myself’ whereas a more realistic thought is that a short term reward can lead to long term negative consequences. Therefore, it’s not really a reward.
● ‘I want to get high to escape reality’ is more likely to create a new harsh reality.
● ‘I’m off probation now, and I can make my own decisions.’ A reasonable person might realize that their best thinking got them into trouble in the first place.
● ‘I can’t withstand cravings.’ The truth is that they don’t give in to every craving and they have a history of withstanding many cravings.
● ‘I miss the thrill of getting high.’ Others would seek thrills in a more reasonable way.
● ‘I can’t stop my thoughts.’ Although there is some truth to this, you are in control of whether you allow yourself to dwell on your thoughts. You are responsible for the outcome of your thoughts.

If you are struggling with an addiction, apply three steps to correct yourself. First, reflect on your automatic thoughts. Second, assess if your thought is reasonable. Third, if your thought is unproductive or unreasonable, replace it with a more reasonable thought. This group of former addicts now stops to consider the consequences of their thoughts. Many of them have been drug free for years. Addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed.


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