Addicted Thinking–The Impact of Addiction on Thoughts and Beliefs

Withdrawal SymptomsAddicted thinking involves the thought patterns and thought habits that are common during an addictive process. Often these are present before addiction begins, and are part of what makes a person vulnerable to abuse substances, but many develop them within the course of addiction. They also linger into recovery from substance use and must be resolved to maintain a good sobriety.

Yourself, Others, and the World

Our thought patterns include how we typically approach situations and interactions. They also include our beliefs gathering into 3 sets of patterns–our thoughts/beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. Self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth are tied to our thinking about ourselves as well. How we view ourselves and how those views make us feel about ourselves are significant. These are a separate category of thought patterns from how we think about others and the world, but all of these thought categories interact and influence one another. For example, if I think I am unworthy of love, that is my thought and belief in myself. However, it will influence how I think of others, and how I view the world as well. I may think, for instance, others are worthier of love than I am. Consequently, I may think the world does not hold the promise of happiness for me as it does for others.

Distorted Thoughts and Beliefs and Their Origins

Addicted thinking can also be called thinking distortions or thinking errors. These thinking patterns are self-sabotaging and so correcting them is in everyone’s best interest. They occur in people who don’t have substance problems, too, but everyone benefits from changing these types of patterns.

The origins of thinking distortions are varied. Many of us learned dysfunctional and self-sabotaging patterns as children in our families. Abuse, neglect, and abandonment are common origins. However, less severe family environments also establish dysfunctional thought patterns and beliefs. We are socialized by others who may have had their own patterns instilled in them by painful experiences. In many families, there is a significant legacy of problematic thoughts and beliefs that carry the issues and problems forward to other generations.

Other sources of problematic thoughts and beliefs are traumatic experiences that aren’t fully healed. For example, after a significant trauma, people can feel the world isn’t a safe place anymore, or that others can’t be trusted. It’s common too for victims of crimes, accidents or disasters to begin to think of themselves differently.

Substance use and an addictive illness are in themselves a traumatic experience. They are life-altering and can cause many intense reactions and changes. As a result, thinking patterns and beliefs about self, others, and the world can be altered dramatically because of a substance problem.

Addicted Thinking Patterns and Beliefs

Along with the traumatic consequences of an addiction is the toxicity that the brain is exposed to through repeated intoxication experiences. Hand in hand, these things alter one’s thinking and perception. And, as addiction progresses, the alterations can become more embedded and severe until treatment and recovery begin to reverse those.

Addicted Thinking about the Self

An addictive process steadily changes how we think of ourselves and there is evidence of faulty logic all along the way. For example, early in a substance problem, our thoughts and beliefs can err on the side of the glamorous and the grandiose. We can feel so emboldened by intoxication that we think of ourselves as more confident and capable than we are, for instance. And, we can even puff ourselves up into thinking we are glamorous and our substance abuse is glamorous, too. These are examples of faulty logic and thinking errors because our authentic selves have not changed. It is our intoxicated selves that feel differently. The truly self-sabotaging element here is that we are identifying with an intoxicated version of ourselves and buying into its illusion.

Further into an addictive illness, some may hang onto the false sense of self-illusions of grandeur and glamor create. However, other types of thinking distortions about the self also can emerge. One of these is the belief that you can’t cope with life without your addiction. Another common thinking distortion about one’s self is involved in self-loathing. One can easily believe he or she is inherently less than others, undeserving, unlovable, damaged and deficient, for example. Other common addicted thinking patterns involve thinking one is a victim of others or the world in general and is helpless and powerless to change one’s own lot in life.

Addicted Thinking about Others

It is well-known that someone with an active addiction cannot maintain healthy relationships, but the problems substance use creates with others can be perceived and internalized in distorted ways. For example, if others discuss your substance problems with you and you are in denial, you may decide they are lying, can’t be trusted and are trying to hurt you. These are common beliefs that the addictive illness itself helps you form about others.

Also, as addiction take center stage in your life, others necessarily recede into the background of your life. You are apt to think who needs them anyway? Or, that others are not important. Substance use also disinhibits behavior and so you may treat others disrespectfully or have chaotic dealings with them that disregard their feelings or needs. These sorts of experiences begin to reinforce that your needs, wants and impulses are more important than anyone else’s.

Addiction also boxes us into a corner where we cling to our addiction and struggle against anyone who may threaten it somehow. Consequently, thinking patterns and beliefs form that hold others at more than arm’s length, obstructing intimacy and authenticity. Some patterns and beliefs that form around this dynamic are thinking others intend harm, don’t care about you, and/or can’t be trusted.

Addicted Thinking about the World

In our active addictions, our distorted views do not stop with ourselves or others. We also can go on to form philosophies about life that are global, and we can have some black and white thinking in absolutes with no shades of gray. For example, we might surmise there are lucky people and unlucky people, forgetting that in many ways we can make our own ‘luck’, or sabotage ourselves into having bad luck.

Another example of distorted thinking about the world is a pessimistic, defeatist belief: it’s a dog eat dog world, or life is hard and then you die, or there’s nothing good to come in my life. Beliefs such as these often justify and rationalize one’s own behavior, such as there’s no point in trying so I don’t; it doesn’t matter what I do, nothing come will come out of it. In many ways, this justifies continuing to use substances and not attempting to better one’s life.

Specific Types of Thinking Errors in Addicted Thinking

The most well-known thinking error in addiction is probably denial. Denial is a hole in perception. One simply doesn’t see there is a problem with using substances. Life problems may be acknowledged, but denial brings into play other thinking distortions to explain them. For instance, problems may be thought of as caused by other people, not the addiction, and so a pattern of blaming develops in one’s thinking and belief system. Or, one may see problems in one’s own behavior but will use justificationif you had my life, you’d drink, too, for example.

Other common thinking errors in addiction are minimizing, redefining and vagueness. These help keep the focus off of problematic substance use or an addict’s behavior. Minimizing, for example, is the reverse of making a mountain out of a molehill. It takes a large problem like addiction and pretends it’s not such a big deal. It allows a bad situation to continue and to get worse. Redefining has a similar function, but actively diverts attention away from the substance use and labels the problem as something else. Similarly, being vague stops or slows down communication, by giving little clear information that can be addressed.

Some other thinking errors used in addicted thinking work more directly to hide the substance problem. These are lying, secretiveness and manipulation. Lying is a direct attempt to present false facts to cover up substance use and related issues. Secretiveness seeks to conceal the addiction, and manipulation of others attempts to gain an advantage that can further one’s substance use or related lifestyle.

All such thinking patterns and the beliefs that accompany them can be seen as ‘working in the moment’, but self-sabotaging in the big picture. One’s addiction continues and there is a temporary reprieve in not having to deal with discomfort at the time, but addiction progresses as do the negative consequences of it. Therefore, the patterns used over a period of time create a self-sabotaging and self-destructive coping strategy for life overall.

If You or a Loved One Need Help

If you or a loved one have an active addiction and are struggling to overcome it, recovery is possible with the right help. Withdrawal and detox are essential, but an effective treatment program will also provide services that help you address related issues such as self-sabotaging and self-destructive thinking programs and beliefs. If you are ready to begin your recovery process, we can help you.

Overcoming an addiction takes time, commitment and work, but the right professional help in a setting chosen with your particular needs and preferences in mind makes a difference. When you are in the right place, working with the right people, the process is not only effective but can be very rewarding. If it’s time to start your recovery process or to help your loved one begin, give us a call. We provide a free consultation service that will help you find the appropriate program for you or your addicted loved one.