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Understanding an Addict’s Thought Patterns

Posted on :  October 30th, 2014  |  By :  towardsrecovery

Addiction is more than just a physical condition; it is also a mental one. According to findings in The Journal of Neuroscience, cognitive or thought patterns may differ among substance abusers as compared to those who do not suffer from addictions. It suggests that addicts may have more difficulty with thought processes related to understanding long-term consequences. In addition, they also show a tendency toward impulsivity. Aside from these discoveries, however, there are some common thinking patterns exhibited by those suffering from substance abuse.

Common patterns

An addict’s thought patterns display themselves in certain types of thinking behaviours. Here are some common patterns:

  • Blaming and shaming. Whether directed at oneself or others, the addict often engages in thoughts of blame and shame. A person may blame his or her substance abuse problem on the insensitive or neglectful parent. As for shame, it’s often self-directed. For example, the addict feels responsible for things beyond his or her control, such as a parent’s death.Constant blaming is also considered victim mentality, in which everyone else is responsible for the addict’s negative consequences and feelings.
  • “Should” statements. Many addicts succumb to “should” or “ought” statements in their thought patterns. The substance abuser has a mistaken belief that everyone and everything should live up to his or her expectations. These expectations are often unrealistic as well. When things don’t measure up, frustration and despair ensues, which leads to abuse. “Should” statements don’t only apply to others, the addict often uses them in regards to personal behavior as well. If he or she fails to do what “should” be done, it often leads to reaching for a fix.
  • All or nothing thoughts. An addict often exhibits “black and white” thinking patterns. These patterns are especially noticeable in the use of the words “always” and “never.” Statements such as “I always get the short end of the stick,” or “I’ll never be able to stop using,” are common. They often help the addict justify further substance abuse.
  • Catastrophic thinking. This irrational thought pattern can be considered “making mountains out of molehills.” Things become magnified and blown out of proportion. It often shows up in relation to guilt over a relapse. That one drink isn’t viewed as a slip up; it’s seen as a last straw that will lead to job loss, bankruptcy, divorce, homelessness, or some other major catastrophe.
  • Discounted thinking. Discounted thinking is the flip side of catastrophic thinking. This form of cognition discounts or minimizes things. For example, a former addict who has been sober for two years discounts the achievement and dwells on that one relapse instead.
  • Elitism. At some point, an addict entertains elitist thoughts of feeling unique or special. Perhaps it comes across as non-conformity. This pattern often displays itself as setting oneself apart.
  • Fear of being exposed. An addict often has thoughts around fear of exposure or getting caught. Whether it’s the discovery of the addiction itself or illicit behaviours surrounding the addiction, fearful thoughts often repeat in a continuous loop.
  • Impulsivity. As mentioned earlier, impulsivity seems to be a common thinking pattern among addicts.
  • Overgeneralizing. This is essentially a distortion in thinking, where sweeping generalizations are made from a simple isolated incident. For example, a man hurts a woman emotionally and from then on she says all men are no-good cads.
  • Pleasure seeking. An addict’s thoughts also revolve around pleasure seeking. Seeking a high or a release from that next fix is a common pattern. Pleasure seeking thoughts also coincide with pain avoidance as well.
  • Stressful thoughts. With difficulty in seeing long-term consequences, the addict often succumbs to stressful thoughts. He or she panics because the idea of things improving in the future is unimaginable. As a result, these thoughts can lead to a relapse or increased substance abuse.

Although these thought patterns are common for an addict, they can be changed. Seeking mental health counselling as part of a substance abuse recovery program can help alter those patterns, leading to improved thinking and an improved life.

If you’d like to learn more about dealing with thought patterns and substance abuse recovery, and live in or around Hamilton, St. Catharines, or Brantford, Ontario, you can make the first step by contacting Towards Recovery on 519-579-0589 to locate your nearest clinic and kick start your journey.

Make sure you have an unexpired OHIP card or call 1-866-532-3161 to find out how to get one.

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  • Individuals using/abusing street narcotics (e.g. heroin).
  • Patients abusing prescription narcotics(i.e., Codeine, Talwin, Percocet/Percodan, Dilaudid, Morphine or Demerol, et cetera).
  • Individuals displaying any of the following behaviours: Compulsive drug use or drug seeking/craving.
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