How Cognitive Distortions Play A Role in Substance Use

Cognitive Distortions | LakehouseRecoveryCenter.comWe all have thinking patterns that get in the way of our ability to see clearly. Perhaps those patterns began in childhood or maybe they were passed down to you from the ways your parents tended to think. No matter how you got them, becoming aware of them can help you stay sober.

For instance, one type of cognitive distortion is the mental filter. This dysfunctional thinking pattern might cause you to pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, and when this happens, you might feel drawn to drink or use drugs.

Becoming Aware of Your Thoughts

However, the point of becoming aware of cognitive distortions is that you can stop them from controlling your life. When you’re aware of a thought that you have, such as, “that woman hates me,” you can either unconsciously let that thought get bigger and bigger and lead to all sorts of different heavy feelings. Or you can stop the thought in its tracks. You prevent your thoughts from getting the best of you by becoming aware of them.

In order to do that, here are more examples of cognitive distortions:

  • Overgeneralization: This is the tendency to draw broad conclusions based on very limited data. For example, someone might say to him or herself, “I’m worthless because I did poorly on the job today,” even though that person has received nothing but praises from co-workers and superiors.
  • Selective Abstraction: This is a thinking pattern in which someone attaches a negative bias to one piece of information and excluding other pieces of information that indicate the opposite. For instance, a person might think that he is a horrible husband because his wife is rarely home this week. He is not taking into account that his wife isn’t home because of extra responsibilities at work. He is excluding other pieces of information while focusing on one detail, which he is assigning a negative conclusion.
  • Arbitrary Inference: This is another form of reaching a conclusion without sufficient evidence. A depressed person might think to herself that she is pathetic, that none of her co-workers like her, and she is performing poorly in her classes, even though there is no evidence for this. Her teachers appreciate her and she is in fact doing well in school.
  • Magnification/Minimization: This is the tendency to exaggerate the negative and minimize the positive. For instance, a depressed person might think to himself that he is a burden to others because of his health problems and that his presence isn’t worth anything. Although he might have an occasional health concern, he is magnifying it while also minimizing time spent volunteering in the community.
  • Disqualifying the Positive: This is the pattern of rejecting positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t matter.” You continue to believe in your negative thoughts and disregard what’s positive in your life.
  • Mind Reading: This pattern of thought is the tendency to conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward you without bothering to determine if your assumption is correct.
  • Fortune Telling: This is the tendency to believe that things are not going to turn out well and continue to feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  • Emotional Reasoning: This is the tendency to assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things are. For instance, if you feel it, then it must be true.
  • Should Statements: This is the pattern to continue to place should’s and shouln’t’s on yourself before expecting anything different. The emotional consequence, however, of not meeting your own demands is guilt.
  • Personalization: You tend to see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for you are not responsible in the least.

The point of learning about these patterns of thought is to acknowledge them, change them, and prevent them from controlling our lives. If these patterns continue without consciously noticing and stopping them, then they can continue to contribute to alcohol or drug use.

Yet, when we notice what the mind is doing, we can aim to put those debilitating thinking patterns to rest.


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