There’s no doubt about it, addiction is a mental illness just like any other. We already know that conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety have an immense power to control our moods and thoughts. So, why would addiction be any different?
Oftentimes, we look at addicts with a critical lens. Because we may feel hurt, or taken advantage of, we’re more likely to place blame on that person instead of trying to empathize or understand their inner world.
Family members, friends, addicts themselves, healthcare workers, everyone really, can gain by opening up to new ideas, and learning exactly how addiction affects our thoughts.
The 10 types of Addictive Thoughts
1. “It’s all-or-nothing”
Take for example, this situation: A young man, 25 years old, has recently completed treatment for substance abuse and is trying to focus on maintaining his sobriety. However, his friends invite him to come along for a ride while they smoke weed in the car. Once he’s in the car, hanging out with his friends as they light up, he thinks:
I’m already out for the night, sitting in this smoky car. I’ve already ruined my sobriety and it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m just going to smoke now with them and see where things go.
Despite the fact that this young man didn’t truly ‘ruin’ his sobriety by going out with his friends, the single small step backwards convinced him he’d failed. This is an irrational way of thinking, and worst of all justifies abandoning your hard work at the slightest provocation.
This type of thinking happens when we experience one negative event, and generalize that experience to our entire lives. For example, if a wife sees that her husband forgot to feed the cats in the morning, and believes that her marriage is failing, full of neglect and aggression, because of it, she is is over-generalizing.
3. Mental Filtering
I often fall victim to this type of addictive thinking. Whenever I feel slighted, or mistreated by a friend, that experience changes my entire mood and point-of-view for days. A dark mental filter affects all of my thoughts, and for some time, I wrongly assume that everyone is being inconsiderate and rude. To counteract the mental filter effect, try to remember that bad moods affect our thoughts until they pass.
4. Discounting the good things
One of the main components of addiction is a negative self-image. We don’t see ourselves for the incredible individuals that we are, and thus believe that we deserve our addiction and the trouble it causes.
The irrational thought behind that negative self-image, is discounting the positives. Instead of including your sense of humor, beautiful smile, and unique skills in your self-image, you dismiss them. We might say to ourselves that they don’t count, and focus solely on our faults.
5. Jumping to conclusions
Before we learn about the whole situation, we jump to a negative conclusion. Have you ever accused someone of stealing from you, when actually the missing object was just out of sight? This is a common example of jumping to conclusions, which can weaken our relationships, and cause you to feel slighted, and upset when there is no reason.
Magnification happens when we completey exaggerate our bad qualities, to the point that we can’t see our strengths. This style of thinking serves to weaken our self image, and make us more vulnerable to relapse.
7. Emotional reasoning
This is another form of addictive thinking that I struggle with. It happens when we make judgements and decisions based on our feelings, rather than any real-life evidence. For example, feeling like your partner is distant and then believing that he must have a secret lover is a form of emotional reasoning. Without seeing any evidence or verifying facts, you’ve made a decision based on a feeling that upsets you, and damages your relationship.
8. “Should” statements
Thinking to yourself that things “should”, “must”, “ought to”, or “have to” be different and better than they are now is dangerous. Setting goals is a great thing, but placing harsh demands on yourself will only stress you out. Also, thinking that things “should” be a certain way, means that they’re not good enough now. Try to appreciate the good that you already have, and set attainable and non-judgemental goals for the future.
When we label, ourselves or another person, we are over-simplifying the situation and setting specific expectations that might not be very realistic. Labeling ourselves as an addict, erases the fact that we can also be a recovered-addict or any other thing for that matter.
Humans are more complex than any one single label can describe. Avoid this style of thinking to stay open minded to other possibilities.
10. Blaming, and Personalizing
We touched on blame in the introduction. The reason blaming and personalizing are forms of addictive thinking, is that they are really not very rational behaviors. When we blame, we’re simply reacting to a situation we don’t like.
Blaming another person for our problems makes it harder for us to think about positive actions we can take to improve. Personalizing, or blaming ourselves, is a way to feel guilty, ashamed, and inadequate when we really need to work on feeling empowered, and capable of positive change.