Cognitive Restructuring Tools to Help Overcome Addiction

Cognitive Restructuring Tools to Help Overcome Addiction

In the second article (Changing Thinking) of this series on learning to change our thinking, some of the tools for this process were introduced. 

This article will present more details of each thought-changing skill and will provide the practical application of each skill. 

Individuals who recognize that their own thought process is having a negative impact on how they feel and ultimately how they behave or ask why their addiction is so hard to overcome will benefit from the use of evidence-based tools in restructuring their thinking in order to feel differently and make healthier choices for their lives. 


It is just what it says it is, stopping those thoughts that are negative or detrimental. 

When you catch yourself with these thoughts, STOP the thought immediately. 

Say No to those thoughts, put those thoughts in check. 

Some people will visualize a big red stop sign or see themselves 'slamming on the brakes' or 'slamming a door' on negative self-talk. 

Once you stop the thought it will try to come right back so it may be necessary to use this tool repeatedly or another one that works in the moment.

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Reframing Thoughts

This means to be rational or realistic with that negative thought.

If you often have thoughts of, "I'm a bad person" or "I'm a loser" repeating "positive statements" to yourself that you don't really believe, or just saying to yourself what you think you ought to say won't convince you that what you are thinking about yourself isn't true. 

By asking yourself, 'How can I rethink/reframe this thought to feel better about myself and actually believe it?', can through practice, change that negative self-talk.

More Reframing Ideas for Changing Your Thoughts

Thought Conditioning

  • Making thoughts weaker or stronger. 
  • Reward positive thoughts. 
  • Punish negative thoughts. 
  • When wanting to use alcohol or other drugs, think of all the bad things that happened when you did.
  • Imagine the bad outcomes. 
  • Play the whole tape out. 
  • When you stop the thoughts of wanting to use alcohol or other drugs, reward yourself.

Coping Statements That Affirm "I can handle it"

Develop and implement statements that increase self-mastery and confidence. 

Such as, "I have solved bigger problems".

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Positive Thinking

As much as I know that positive thinking impacts how I feel, my thoughts still have to be believable to me.

Meaning, that I can tell myself "I'm worth being loved" all day long but if my Core Beliefs about myself says differently, the positive statement will, in most cases, not be effective in changing my negative self-talk. 

(In the next article of this series Negative Core Beliefs will be addressed)

Redirecting Thoughts

This is a form of distraction, to think about something else, such as a task that needs to be done or something that is encouraging or fun to think about, such as doing a hobby you enjoy, reading a book, or watching a TV show to redirect or distract your thoughts away from the negative ones.

Catching Your Thoughts

Become more aware of thoughts. 

When an event happens (or is about to happen), we all have thoughts about the event without even trying. 

These are referred to as 'automatic thoughts'.When we are feeling emotions, such as fear or sadness the automatic thoughts can become biased towards more negative outcomes or evaluations. 

One of the first steps of changing your response to events is to become more aware of the associated thoughts. 

To get better at catching these thoughts, you may want to try keeping a thought record. 

Typically, a thought record includes columns for events, your thoughts, and your feelings.

Checking Your Thoughts

Question the accuracy of your assumptions and interpretations. 

Once you begin to recognize the thoughts associated with the event and your feelings, the next step is to check how accurate and realistic the thoughts really are. 

We don't routinely do this step on our own because the thoughts occur so quickly and because we just assume our thoughts are accurate. 

To get better at checking your thoughts, you can practice examining the realistic and unrealistic aspects of the thoughts. 

It is also possible that some thoughts seem quite realistic in certain situations at certain times, but less so in others.

Challenging Your Thoughts

Actively challenge thoughts that are unhealthy for you. 

During this step, you learn how to challenge automatic thoughts and develop healthier ways to respond to the situation. 

Some specific techniques that you can use include considering what you may tell a friend in a similar situation, and learning to accept the possibility of unpleasant or unwanted experiences without becoming catastrophic. 

And my favorite is weighing the evidence that supports or refutes the thought your "taking your thoughts to court".

When in court you look for the evidence or proof that the thoughts you are having are truthful.

Feelings and opinions are ruled out, inadmissible in that moment because they may not be based on truth or fact. 


Learning to change how you think in order to change how you feel and behave is essential for changing your life, whether that be to live a true life of recovery from alcohol and other drugs, or to change the way you see yourself in the mirror. 

The tools covered in this article, if used, regularly, consistently, can and will change your thinking. 

Remember, practice, practice, practice, is necessary for whatever tools you use, to eventually make the difference you are looking for in your day-to-day life.

Restructuring how you think about yourself and your view of the world around you will ultimately enrich your life by improving your self-worth and self-confidence. 

As pointed out at the beginning of this series, to sustain a life in recovery means changing the people, places, and things, however, thinking must also change. 

Ask for help if you need more direction or professional guidance in changing how you think. 

Start your change today. You've got this!

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June 21st, 2024

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