The Mental Patterns Of Substance Abuse
Our mental processes often work in patterns of repeated behaviors that are formed when we behave in specific ways for extended periods of time. They differ from our instinctual behaviors because they are “learned” behaviors, or ones that we develop as we change and grow as human beings. Unfortunately, these patterns of behavior set us up for the dangers of addiction.
Irrational or harmful thoughts and mental patterns are often triggered by what psychiatrists call “cognitive errors.” Psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Beck was one of the first psychiatrists to really understand the ways that harmful addictive behaviors are linked to these cognitive errors. He understood that, beyond the physically addictive element of substances lies the negative influence of cognitive errors.
Understanding cognitive errors is vital to pinpointing any you possess and understanding how they influence your addiction. For example, many tobacco smokers believe that smoking “relaxes” their nerves. The opposite is actually true: nicotine is a stimulant, one that forces the heart to work harder and which causes nervousness and anxiety.
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The relaxing effect that many smokers feel is actually caused by a decrease in withdrawal symptoms. The body, which feels pain and anxiety without its addictive substance, feels more at ease with the substance. The idea that smoking is relaxing is a damaging cognitive error.
Common Cognitive Errors
Irrational cognitive errors are common in the lives of all of us and some of the most common cognitive errors that contribute to addiction include:
- All-or-nothing – essentially, black and white thinking, such as “I always feel better after drinking” or “I never experience anxiety after doing heroin”
- Minimization – playing down the damaging effects of addiction, such as “at least I’m not living in a crack house” or “I don’t drink every day, just Friday through Sunday!”
- “Should” statements – creating expectations and rules for yourself that are difficult, such as “I should be able to quit drinking in a week” or “I ought to be able to quit cocaine cold turkey”
- Labeling – letting your addiction create an identity that you can’t escape, such as “I’m just an alcoholic and that’s that” or creating labels for people who are trying to help you quit
If you suffer from an addiction, there’s a good chance you have suffered from these cognitive errors. The hardest part about breaking out of these patterns is that they are so often rewarded physically. Remember: every time you use an addictive substance, your mind floods with dopamine.
This pleasure chemical seemingly rewards your cognitive errors by creating an ecstatic physical and mental state of mind. Thankfully, it’s possible to break this cycle by utilizing different types of behavioral correction techniques.
Breaking Those Problematic Thinking Patterns
Cognitive behavioral therapy works on correcting irrational thoughts and behavioral patterns by helping people find strategies that help them cope with, and then eliminate, those patterns. The doctor and the patient will work together to find the influence behind these patterns, root out their cause, and create active strategies.
Dialectical behavioral therapy is an off-shoot of cognitive behavioral therapy designed in the late 1980s. It differs slightly from cognitive behavioral therapy in that it focuses primarily on treating borderline personality disorder, i.e. extreme emotional swings, “black and white” thinking, and extreme and inappropriate emotional reactions to menial situations.
People who utilize dialectical behavior work in finding personal support systems, identifying problematic behaviors, and find ways to calm their emotional extremes by developing coping strategies. Both of these therapy types help eliminate cognitive errors and return a person to more rational and considered thinking patterns.
Other treatments, such as traditional psychotherapy, can also be utilized to treat addictive mental patterns. For some people, holistic treatments such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and practicing self-love are often useful ways to calm the mind, interpret the problems in their lives, and find ways to correct them.
Finding The Mental Health And Addiction Help You Need
If you need help breaking free of the mental patterns that influence your addiction, please contact us at Vertava Health today. We can help you find a behavioral therapist that specializes in these techniques and which can help you overcome your addiction.