Addiction recovery usually doesn’t come easy. In fact for many people, it involves pitfalls, discouragement, and relapse.
This is at least partially because the emotions involved in recovery are complex and difficult to navigate.
Staying positive through the process can be difficult but provides many benefits.
Positivity, Negativity, And Addiction Recovery
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes addiction as a chronic condition. This means that addiction treatment is not about curing addiction but is about managing it to stay sober.
Emotions can be both beneficial and detrimental to how people manage their recovery. Positive thinking can help clients stay away from some of the negative emotional traps that predict relapse.
But when used as a way to mask problems, a positive attitude can also hinder recovery by setting up emotional expectations that are too high and lead to disappointment.
The Role Of Emotions In Relapse
Relapse means that a person has abandoned their addiction recovery plan and begun using substances again. It can be thought of as a three-stage process that begins with negative emotions.
The three stages of relapse are: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse. Emotional relapse is when the person starts to develop an outlook fueled by negative thoughts and emotions.
This may include blaming others or being doubtful of their own abilities. During a mental and physical relapse, the person begins to once again see drug or alcohol use as an escape from negative emotions or other difficulties.
During this time, the person may fantasize about using the substance, consider the accessibility of the substance, lie, bargain, isolate from loved ones and peer support, plan a relapse, and finally relapse.
The Role Of Positive Thinking In Recovery
The role of positive thinking in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is crucial and can sometimes mean the difference between sobriety and relapse.
What Is Positive Thinking?
Verywell Mind describes positive thinking as a way to stay positive amid the challenges of life. Positive thinking can benefit your mental health, physical health, and general well-being.
It can also help you support a loved one during a difficult time. Most experts in this field will not describe a positive mindset as a set of rose-colored glasses, but rather as a way of crediting good things that happen while acknowledging negative events as outside the norm.
Much of a positive outlook derives from how people who think positively explain events around them. They give credit to themselves when they deserve it and don’t blame themselves for situations outside of their control.
A positive outlook does not deny negative situations. Positive thinking is best described as a general way of seeing things that can include a pessimistic point of view when the situation warrants it.
Positive Thinking As A Key Element Of Addiction Recovery
According to one study, addiction treatment facilities that teach clients how to stay positive give them a greater sense of hope and expectations for a better quality of life.
In the stages of early recovery, the ability to develop and maintain positive thoughts can help clients deal with the normal urges to use again. Here are some specific ways in which people in recovery at a treatment center can develop positive thinking.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
People who are in the recovery process often face a variety of negative thought patterns that can drive relapse or that may be one of the causes of substance abuse in the first place.
Many of these thought patterns have to do with a person’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s ability to overcome addiction.
These negative thought patterns may appear as: insecurities about handling life without use of the substance, doubt about their ability to stay sober, a fear that something is intrinsically wrong with them, blaming others for their problems.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic models can help clients develop positive coping strategies and thought patterns.
It can also help them address fears, learn from setbacks, redefine life goals, and be more accepting of the sometimes uncomfortable process of recovery.
Mindfulness And Meditation
Mindfulness practices are not generally considered an evidence-based treatment method but are increasingly being used in long-term recovery as a way of dealing with negative thinking or other relapse triggers.
As a practice, mindfulness often involves meditation as a way of processing negative emotions or life experiences and developing the skill of focusing on and accepting the present.
Another way for people in recovery to stay positive is through self-care. Self-care is the art of finding practical ways to help yourself feel better or regain and maintain health.
Self-care practices include: supporting your immune system through a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, engaging in a hobby or practice you take joy in.
Finally, people in recovery can learn positive thinking through the encouragement and accountability of being around positive people in a group support context.
The 12-step recovery approach has been a leading example of group support for decades, and many addiction treatment programs incorporate one form or another of the 12 steps.
People who aren’t interested in the 12-step approach have other options for group support through group therapy, peer recovery coaching, and more.
The Pitfalls Of Positive Thinking
Perhaps surprisingly to some, positive thinking is not without its pitfalls. For example, expecting positive thinking from someone before they’re ready to heal can create unreasonable expectations.
Toxic positivity has less to do with positive thinking and more to do with having a “good vibes only” mindset. This mentality may make demands of others, explicitly or not, to be positive or be excluded from the group.
If the person is experiencing overwhelming emotions and doesn’t feel safe to express themselves or share their true concerns out of fear of not being positive, they may retreat into themselves.
Both unreasonable expectations and toxic positivity are pitfalls that, in the context of recovery, can lead to emotional exhaustion, isolation, and ultimately relapse.
Find Addiction Treatment Today
If you or a loved one are facing thought patterns that enable substance abuse, you can find treatment today. Call us to learn more about the recovery process, including how to get started.Article Sources
- Addiction & Health — Effectiveness of Positive Thinking Skills Training on the Hope and Quality of Life of Drug-Dependent People
- Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin — Neither an Optimist Nor a Pessimist Be: Mistaken Expectations Lower Well-Being
- Right as Rain by UW Medicine — What You Need to Know About Toxic Positivity
- Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation — Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction
- VA — Reducing Relapse Risk
- Very Well Mind — The Power of Positive Thinking
- Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine — Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery