Experts in the drug counseling field and those within the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) community know the term stinking thinking. It’s a phrase that refers to the destructive and dysfunctional thinking patterns of alcoholism, regardless of whether one is drinking or not.
In fact, although a person might have entered recovery there are still parts of his or her personality that warrant healing. Even when a person is no longer drinking patterns of thought that might have led to the drinking in the first place are often still in full swing. It’s the reason for another term among the AA community – the dry drunk. The negative connotation to this phrase comes from the fact that family, friends, and co-workers must still bear the irascibility, arrogance, and destructive behavior of a recovering alcoholic.
The kinds of thinking patterns that are common among new recovering addicts includes, but are not limited to:
- Failure to put oneself first before others.
- Dishonesty about the addiction, life problems, and dysfunctional relationships.
- Unrealistic expectations of others and of themselves.
- Tendency to blame others or external circumstances when they are accountable.
- Easily triggered by others’ comments and the tendency to take things personally.
- A failure to live up to one’s promises and commitments.
- The inability to deal constructively with challenges.
- Lacking maturity.
- The inability to fulfill obligations.
Of course, all recovering addicts do not share these thought patterns to the same degree. And depending on the stage of recovery they are in, some of these patterns may no longer be an issue. However, the destruction that is inherent in the addiction cycle is often a result of these thinking patterns. For this reason, they need to be addresses and healed. It should be noted that the only time to accurately address them is when a person is in recovery. Trying to do so while a person is still drinking is like trying to clean a pot while it’s still on the stove and filled with stew.
One effective form of treatment to address these thinking patterns is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which essentially aims to change behavior by identifying negative and distorted thinking patterns. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that addresses unhealthy patterns of thought that lead to making poor choices. CBT also provides healthier coping mechanisms to help manage challenging emotions, triggering life circumstances, and stress, replacing any old methods of coping that may have furthered dysfunction and stress. CBT can also enhance the effectiveness of any treatment medication that an addict might be taking.
Furthermore, CBT can help with the ambivalence that an individual who is new in recovery might experience. It’s common to experience ambivalence in early recovery. A large part of an addict might feel the need to get sober because of the destruction that is taking place while another part of the addict might not want to let go of the pleasures that come with getting high or drunk. One of the ways that the 12-step model attempts to address this ambivalence is through the first step, which is to admit one’s addiction. Essentially, when an individual can admit their powerlessness over alcohol, they are more likely to make the changes they need in order to get sober, and thus, reducing their ambivalence towards sober living. CBT can find those thoughts that might cause a drive to the bar and help replace it with a healthier thought.
In general, CBT is a highly effective modality for transforming stinking thinking into thoughts that are healing, healthy, and whole.
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