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Moving Beyond Negative Thinking During Recovery

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Negative thoughts are something that everyone experiences, but when they become extreme, they can be harmful. Letting go of negative thoughts can be easier said than done, but there are skills you can learn to recognize these negative thoughts, as well as skills to dissolve them before they do damage to your well-being.

This is especially crucial for individuals in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) because the moment the negative thought occurs is the very instance a slippery slope to relapse can begin. To quiet the negative thoughts or compensate for them, people may turn to drugs and alcohol, which can be the reason many people develop substance use disorder in the first place. This is why learning to move beyond negative tendencies is so important to recovery.

Why Do We Have Negative Thoughts?

Negative thoughts, also known as cognitive distortions, are faulty thinking patterns that people develop for many reasons, but they are not based on facts. Some are learned behaviors from childhood experiences that develop because of societal pressures, external forces, or trauma. Thinking negatively can be a coping mechanism that your brain develops naturally to deal with adverse events that are otherwise too difficult to deal with.

While negative thoughts may seem like they can help you at the moment as you deal with the situation at hand, when these experiences continue, so do the negative thinking patterns. Unfortunately, they will often eventually become a habit that you do without even noticing it.

Because it is human nature and habitual for most people, it may not be possible to stop negative thoughts from forming entirely. However, after you learn to recognize these thought patterns, you can practice changing them. The goal is to reframe the negative thought to put it in a different perspective, and the brain can be retrained to do this.

How to Identify Negative Thinking

Recognizing your thoughts and the internal dialogue you have with yourself is called metacognition. Being mindful of what thoughts you allow to remain in your head is the best way to keep those thoughts from manifesting for too long. Learning to practice mindfulness can help you to get control over your reactions to emotions. Mindfulness can facilitate your ability to use thoughts to not only control emotions but also harness your power to benefit your livelihood.


When a thought is identified as negative, you can ask yourself if the thought is useful, followed by, “What purpose does this thought serve for me?” Then ask yourself how the thought makes you feel. By challenging your thoughts, you explore their validity, and often, you can find faults with possible assumptions and even discover the actual truth. If a thought doesn’t sound logical or rational, it probably isn’t.

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Negative Thoughts and Addiction Recovery

One of the foundational components of recovery is learning to change the behaviors that led to SUD. Surprisingly enough, negative thought patterns are one of the primary behaviors we see in people with SUD. If successful recovery depends on reframing negative thoughts, you can see how continuing those negative patterns would not be conducive to recovery.

To identify negative thought patterns, you must learn what these patterns are. Below are the characteristics of some common negative thought formations and examples of each, followed by an example of how they can be reframed.

Should Statements

Thoughts that begin with “I should,” “I have to,” or “I ought to” are lead-ins to feelings of letdown, disappointment, and guilt. They can make you feel bad about yourself and make you feel like you don’t measure up or aren’t good enough. Likewise, projecting these statements onto others can result in you harboring resentment, anger, and frustration.

When you say things to yourself like, “I shouldn’t be angry,” you start to believe the false reality is how you “should” be. Then, you can convince yourself that you must be wrong because you aren’t the way you should be. When you do this, you just deny what is true at the moment: that you are angry. It is a direct cause of shame and guilt because you believe the way you are is inherently wrong.


  • I should have a better job by now.
  • I should get more exercise.
  • I should know better.
  • I should lose weight.
  • He should call me more.
  • She should care more about me.

While there are a few techniques that work to reframe “should” thinking, one simple trick is to either switch the word out for “could” or “would” — or just take the “should” out altogether.


Here are the examples above reframed:

  • I could have a better job by now.
  • I could get more exercise.
  • I know better.
  • I could lose weight.
  • He could call me more.
  • She cares more about me.

All-or-Nothing Statements and Overgeneralization

All-or-nothing statements and overgeneralizing things are two very similar cognitive distortions in that they only speak to the very worst of something and overlook anything else that is good. Paying attention to words that creep into your thoughts, like “always” and “never,” can help you think more clearly about these statements.


  • Deciding, “I am a complete failure,” after not getting one job.
  • Saying, “I am never going to learn to cook,” after burning one meal.
  • Determining, “My partner doesn’t love me,” because they forgot one anniversary.
  • Nothing good ever happens.
  • He’s never going to understand my feelings.
  • I’m never happy.
  • You never ask how I’m feeling.

One way to combat these generalizations is to try talking to yourself as you would a friend. What would you say to a friend who said an all-or-nothing statement to you? You’d likely be telling them something positive to reframe the thought. Those are the words you should be telling yourself, too.


Jumping to Conclusions

This is a very common cognitive distortion in which people convince themselves of something without valid proof of it. In a sense, this is like a hypothesis that doesn’t get tested before it is declared to be true. To stop this type of negative thought pattern, when you see yourself immediately assuming something, stop for a moment and consider the facts and explore other potential outcomes. You can do this by seeking more information before assuming something you don’t know is true.


This form of negative thinking either minimizes the positive and significant parts of your life, such as successful accomplishments, or blows an insignificant negative event out of proportion so you fail to notice anything positive.


  • I got a raise, but it was very small. (Minimization)
  • I forgot my lines and ruined the whole play, (Magnification)

To overcome this type of negative thought, try to see a situation from a more positive outlook. Find something or many things good about a situation and use mindful thinking to focus on those instead of what went wrong.



In cases of personalization or blaming, an individual may convince themselves that something was all their fault when it was caused by extenuating circumstances that were out of their control. They could also blame everyone else instead of taking responsibility for their actions. An example of the former could be thinking you weren’t invited to a gathering because the hosts don’t like you due to your substance use issues. An example of the latter could be blaming everyone around you for a lack of close friends when you have repeatedly denied any attempts to form a friendship bond.

Again, for these types of thoughts that are not based on reality, you must explore the thought thoroughly until you accept that there are other possibilities. Challenge the thought, and you might come to another logical explanation you can then follow up on to determine its truth.

Developing Healthy Thought Patterns for Recovery

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Remember: recovery is a process, and it takes time and effort. Overcoming negativity in addiction recovery means focusing on healthy thought patterns that can keep you positive and motivated as you work toward your goals.

Here are some healthy thought patterns that can be helpful during recovery:

  • Positive self-talk – Speak to yourself in a positive, kind, and compassionate manner. Instead of criticizing yourself, focus on your strengths and accomplishments.
  • Gratitude – Practice gratitude by focusing on the positive things in your life. Make a list of things you are thankful for and reflect on it regularly.
  • Mindfulness – Be present in the moment and focus on the here and now. Mindfulness can help you manage stress and anxiety.
  • Acceptance – Accept what you cannot change and focus on what you can control.
    Accepting things as they are can help you move forward and find solutions.
  • Self-care – Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Practice self-care activities such as exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
  • Forgiveness – Forgive yourself and others for past mistakes and transgressions. Holding onto grudges and resentments can be detrimental to your mental and emotional health.
  • Resilience – Build your resilience by learning from setbacks and challenges. Reframe setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.

Benefits of Positive Thinking During Addiction Recovery

Positive thinking can be a valuable tool in the recovery process. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life and your recovery journey, you can improve your overall well-being and increase your chances of success.

Here are some ways positive thinking can help:

  • Increased motivation –  feel more motivated to stay sober and work towards your recovery goals.
  • Improved self-esteem – build a more positive self-image and improve your self-esteem.
  • Better coping skills – develop better coping skills to deal with triggers and cravings.
  • Reduced stress and anxiety – reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for substance abuse.
  • Improved relationships – improve your relationships with others, including family members and friends.
  • Better overall health – impact your physical health, mental health, and emotional well-being.
  • Increased sense of purpose – develop a sense of purpose and meaning in your life, which can be highly motivating during recovery.

Relapse and Negative Thinking Disorder

While negative thinking in and of itself is not a disorder recognized in the DSM-V (a manual of mental health conditions accepted by psychiatrists), pervasive negative thoughts, also known as rumination, can be a symptom of anxiety, depression, PTSD, negative affect syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more.

If you’re struggling with negative thinking in general or any of these mental health conditions, it’s especially important to take steps to prevent SUD relapse.

  • Identify triggers – Identify the people, places, and situations that trigger negative thinking and the urge to use. Avoid these triggers as much as possible or develop a plan to deal with them in a healthy way.
  • Reach out for support – Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or support group when you’re struggling with negative thinking. Sometimes talking to someone can help you gain a new perspective and find new solutions.
  • Practice self-care – Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. When you feel good physically, it can help improve your mood and reduce negative thinking.
  • Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and develop a more positive mindset. Regular mindfulness practice can help reduce negative thinking and prevent relapse.
  • Challenge negative thoughts – When negative thoughts arise, challenge them by asking yourself if they are based on facts or assumptions. Try to reframe negative thoughts into more positive ones.
  • Use positive affirmations – Use positive affirmations to help counter negative thinking. Repeat positive statements to yourself, such as “I am strong and capable” or “I am worthy of love and happiness.”
  • Seek professional help – If you’re struggling with negative thinking and finding it difficult to manage on your own, seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you develop new coping strategies and provide additional support during difficult times.

Who Can I Talk to About Negative Thinking?

If you’re struggling with negative thinking in recovery, it’s important to talk to someone who can offer support and guidance.

Here are some people you can reach out to:

  • Sponsor – If you’re in a 12-step program, talk to your sponsor. They can offer guidance and support based on their own experience in recovery.
  • Therapist or counselor – A therapist or counselor can help you develop new coping strategies and provide additional support during difficult times.
  • Support group – Attend a support group meeting and talk to others who have experienced similar struggles. Hearing other people’s stories and perspectives can help manage negative thinking.
  • Friends and family – Talk to trusted friends and family members who are supportive of your recovery. They can provide emotional support and help you stay motivated during difficult times.
  • Lilac Recovery Center – If you’re new to recovery or navigating on your own and are struggling with thoughts of relapse, it’s often best to reach out to experts at a facility like Lilac Recovery Center. We can help you assess the therapies and strategies that can not only manage your detox and withdrawal but also provide you with hope for lasting recovery.

Luxury Recovery Accommodations in San Diego

Lilac Recovery Center in San Diego provides comprehensive substance use disorder treatment services in a luxury setting, so you’ll feel at home while you’re establishing your road to recovery. We can provide the personalized care you need with all the amenities and luxuries you need to focus on your recovery. Contact Lilac Recovery Center in San Diego for more information about dealing with negative thoughts in recovery. You can also visit our blog for more tips and tools to manage your path to healing.
Luxury Recovery Accommodations In San Diego


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