When you’re on your path towards long-term sobriety, you might hear of various treatment methods, such as Motivational Interviewing or the 12-step method or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
The characteristic quality of Motivational Interviewing is its focus on eliciting your intrinsic desire to change. Because recovering from an addiction is a path that only you can take, the desire to change must come from within. If you are not ready to let go of your addiction, then it will most likely remain a significant disturbance in your life.
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.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 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 you might be taking.
In the practice of CBT, there’s a term called hot cognitions. It’s a term that is used to describe the experience of a thought that leads to an emotional charge. A hot cognition is any thought, image, memory, or inner mental experience that leads to an emotional response within. They are the sensitive areas inside like getting your buttons pushed or getting flared up in some way emotionally.
In a way, they are like big neon signs that point to the areas of your inner experience that need tending to. These areas are those parts of you that need work; they need your attention and care. Interestingly, because hot cognitions are inner experiences that make you feel uncomfortable, the most common response is to avoid them or avoiding those situations in which a hot cognition is likely to be experienced.
For instance, if you experienced rejection after rejection in life, you’re probably sensitive to getting to close to others. When you’re developing friendships or romantic interests, you might find yourself avoiding getting too close to someone in order to avoid a painful rejection, which in the past might have led to drinking or drug use.
However, by avoiding this kind of situation and the inner hot cognitions associated with rejection, you never allow yourself the pleasure of enjoying others. More importantly, through avoidance, you continue to believe in the thought that you’re going to be rejected by that person. By allowing yourself to get close to others, you give yourself the opportunity to change that belief over time and create new experiences that are in line with being accepted by others.
You can get to know your cognitions by keeping track of when you feel emotionally charged by a situation or interaction. Next, knowing your hot cognitions can facilitate making a different choice about how to respond to them. Whereas in the past, it might have led to drinking, today it might lead to calling your sponsor. In the past, it might have led to a relapse; today it might lead to going for a walk instead of calling your old drinking buddies.