Let’s say you’ve been sober for three years. You’ve got the rhythm down. You’re no longer drinking; you’re attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and you’re surrounded by people who don’t drink. But somewhere inside you feel like you’re still vulnerable. If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could relapse.
If this is true for you, perhaps it’s your thinking. One drug addiction therapist recommends to recovering addicts that they replace the word “thinking” for the word “drinking” in The Big Book. The Big Book is actually titled Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. It is a 1939 basic text, describing how to recover from alcoholism. In it, the well known twelve-step method is clearly described, which today is widely used to attempt to treat many addictions, from alcoholism and heroin addiction to marijuana addiction, as well as overeating, sex addiction, gambling addiction, with a strong spiritual and social emphasis.
The Problem is the Thinking
Although it wouldn’t always make sense to replace drinking with thinking in all places in The Big Book, the therapist makes a point. He’s suggesting that it’s not so much the drinking any more that’s the problem (it was at one point). Now the problem is the thinking.
If you’re still feeling vulnerable to relapse, or if you’re feeling like a “dry drunk”, as they say in the 12-step communities, then perhaps changing the following thinking patterns can help change one’s life:
- Failure to put oneself first before others
- Dishonesty about life problems and dysfunctional relationships
- Unrealistic expectations of others and of themselves
- Tendency to blame others or external circumstances when they are accountable
- Easily triggered by others’ comments and the tendency to take things personally
- A failure to live up to one’s promises and commitments
- The inability to deal constructively with challenges
- Lacking maturity
- The inability to fulfill obligations
- Negatively labeling yourself
- Negatively labeling others
- Negatively predicting the future
- Thinking the worst
- Discounting the positive
Other Thinking Patterns
Other types of distorted thinking include exaggeration, over-generalizing, creating “shoulds” and “musts”, and underestimating your ability to adapt, change, or bear with discomfort. These types of dysfunctional thinking are more common than one would think. Although they can indeed lead to addictive patterns, many of those who are not addicted to substances also experience these unhealthy thinking patterns.
A necessary part of drug addiction therapy is exploring the quality of one’s thoughts. Experts in the drug counseling field and those within the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) community know the term stinking thinking. It’s a phrase that refers to the destructive and dysfunctional patterns of thinking that alcoholics tend to experience, even after they get sober.
Of course, all recovering addicts do not share these thought patterns to the same degree. And depending on the stage of recovery they are in, some of these patterns may no longer be an issue. However, the destruction that is inherent in the addiction cycle is often a result of these thinking patterns. For this reason, they need to be addressed and healed. It should be noted that the only time to accurately address them is when a person is in recovery. During and after drug addiction treatment is a good time to explore one’s thinking and begin to replace unhealthy thoughts with new ones.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Because addiction experts recognize the need for recovering addicts to change thinking patterns, drug addiction therapy often includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It is an effective form of treatment to address these thinking patterns. CBT essentially aims to change behavior by identifying negative and distorted thinking patterns. It is a form of psychotherapy that addresses unhealthy patterns of thought, which can lead to making poor choices. CBT also provides healthier coping mechanisms to help manage challenging emotions, triggering life circumstances, and stress, replacing any old methods of coping that may have furthered dysfunction and stress. CBT can also enhance the effectiveness of any treatment medication that an addict might be taking.
If you’re still feeling vulnerable to relapse even after years of sobriety, take a look at your thinking and get sober from dysfunctional thought. If you can, go through bad thinking detox and recover from the unhealthy thoughts in your mind.