5 Common Distortions in Thinking and Cognition That Can Affect Recovery

5 Common Distortions in Thinking and Cognition That Can Affect Recovery
Addiction September 19, 2018
Author: Ilana Jael

At some point in our lives, we’ve all had negative thoughts, but when these negative thoughts are persistent enough that they affect every aspect of one’s life, they are classified as cognitive distortions. For those addicted to alcohol or drugs, this kind of distorted thinking can be a trap that prevents individuals from breaking the cycle of addiction.

Cognitive Distortions, Defined

Cognitive distortions are inaccurate and untrue thoughts or beliefs which distort one’s reality. Typically, cognitive distortions help us to deal with fear, defending us from the dangers we believe are present currently or from those dangers we may have experienced at an earlier point in time.

The Relationship Between Cognitive Distortion and Dual Diagnosis

Despite the protective nature of cognitive distortions, they have a more sinister side. Because you don’t realize the inaccuracy of your distorted thoughts, they can grow in their persistence until they seem real. Left unchecked, these distortions can become damaging and limit your ability to do what you want or need to do, such as stopping substance abuse.

A dual diagnosis of both substance addiction and cognitive distortion is very common. Also called “co-morbidity,” these issues can cause you to constantly bounce between positive thoughts about recovery and those thoughts which encourage further substance abuse.

Common Cognitive Distortions

The following are the 5 most common cognitive distortions which must be recognized, acknowledged, and treated in order to avoid a delay in recovery.

1.  Imagining the Worst

Also known as catastrophic thinking, this distortion causes an expectation of disaster or tragedy to the point where anxiety or panic sets in. The large amounts of stress and negativity that this distortion causes can negatively affect one’s health, as well as one’s ability to recover.

2. Believing There Is No Middle Ground

Polarized thinking involves the belief that because you made a mistake or failed to accomplish something, that you are unworthy or undeserving. This distortion can cause you to think that you do not deserve to recover from your addiction.

3. Forming Blanket Conclusions with Little Evidence

Over-generalization is another damaging distortion, causing you to believe that defeat in some form is inevitable and that you are bound to repeat it. For instance, you may think that because you relapsed at one time in the past, that all recovery efforts you make will be unsuccessful.

4. Focusing Only on the Negative

Negative filtering is where you completely discount the positive aspects of an experience or situation in favor of an exclusive focus on the negative. This distortion causes the development of increasing amounts of anxiety because it affects your entire frame of mind about a situation.

5. Making Assumptions

When you form a conclusion about something or someone before having all the facts or allowing another to respond, you are jumping to conclusions. This can negatively impact all of your personal relationships, as well as those relationships with individuals who are helping you recover.

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Overcoming Cognitive Distortions

Where it comes to treating addiction and the cognitive distortions which so often accompany it, there are several options to consider.

If a psychiatric evaluation has been recommended, medication may be prescribed for the purpose of symptom management. Holistic treatments and approaches consider your spiritual health, as well as your emotional, mental, and physical health. 12-step programs allow you to attend meetings and interact with others who are being treated for addiction. Finally, motivational interviewing can be of much help during addiction recovery.

However, there is one treatment that, when used in conjunction with any of the options above, can enhance their effectiveness and drastically increase recovery success: cognitive behavioral therapy.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy for addicts, or CBT, is based on the theory that one’s learning process plays a critical role in substance abuse patterns. CBT teaches addicted individuals to recognize addiction-related behavior and correct it by applying learned skills.

Advantages of CBT

Cognitive distortion is very common among those in recovery for addiction and, because it can be so damaging to one’s well-being, it’s crucial that these negative thought patterns are changed. CBT can help addicted individuals to reduce their number of reasons for addiction, as well as prevent relapse.


CBT is an incredibly flexible form of addiction treatment. Depending on the setting in which treatment takes place and who is assigned as your therapist, your CBT sessions may involve any or all of the following:

The type and combination of individual therapies you receive will be based on your individual needs, so no two treatment programs will be completely alike.


The chances that you will be negatively affected or harmed by the sessions you attend are slim to none. If you aren’t sure that cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction treatment is for you, your therapist can assess your symptoms and situations and diagnose you further. They can also work with you to improve any underlying mental health issues.

Skills You Can Use

Those who receive CBT learn skills to identify negative thought patterns and their associated behaviors. These skills can be applied at any point during and after treatment for ongoing self-care.

Emotional Management

In addition to the other skills learned in CBT, you’ll also learn how to manage your emotions. This will allow you to prevent the heightened emotional state that typically accompanies cognitive distortions.

Rebuilding Self-Esteem

CBT assists you with improving your self-image, which is a critical foundation for recovering from addiction. When one has healthy self-esteem, there is no longer any need or desire to participate in self-destructive behavior. CBT therapists engage in the constant reinforcement of your self-worth.

Support Network

A cornerstone of CBT is the support network it provides for those in recovery. This network can help should you be faced with a situation that may result in relapse. This kind of support will reinforce that your recovery is important, causing you to believe in your success as well.

Common Barriers to Addiction Recovery with CBT

Regardless of how long you’ve been using, you may feel that your drug of choice has damaged your brain beyond the point where you will be able to recover. The reality is that, although damage may have occurred, this doesn’t mean that there is no hope of correcting distorted thinking. The reality is that whether you developed cognitive distortions before or after you began using, you can correct them.

The cognitive distortion of jumping to conclusions can cause you to think that you won’t receive any support from your family or friends. However, the reality is that your friends and family love you and want to help you. There are many ways for them to do this. For example, your loved ones, once they’ve learned about anxiety, can help you learn new and healthier ways to correct your thinking by allowing you to practice your newly acquired skills on them.

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Loved ones can also help you by encouraging you to avoid situations and behaviors that may trigger negative thought patterns and behavior and to use the coping skills you’ve learned in CBT to overcome them instead.

Discover a Different Way of Life

Sober living is a different way of life and, sometimes, it may seem out of reach. Recovery is hard work that will result in major and positive change. CBT can help you free yourself from the cognitive distortions which can hinder recovery and discover a completely different way of life.

RECO Institute offers collaborative care and an empathetic environment which empowers positive transformation and promotes progress. If you’re ready to learn more about our sober living apartments in Delray Beach, we are ready to help; call (561) 665-1865.

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