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cognitive dissonance
February 12, 2021

Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance in Addiction Recovery

Those who don’t struggle with substance use may have a hard time understanding people who do. Why would someone continue to drink and use drugs, despite the cascade of worsening personal and professional problems they’re having? Why would they insist they don’t need help when their past efforts to quit have repeatedly been unsuccessful? 

The answer is a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. While anyone can experience some degree of cognitive dissonance from time to time, people living with addiction are caught in a seemingly endless cycle of it. What are the characteristics of this issue, and how can overcoming it be an integral part of addiction recovery?

What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

The term “cognitive dissonance” refers to a mismatch between your beliefs and your actions. It’s possible to hold two conflicting ideas in your mind simultaneously, but doing so can be intensely uncomfortable. You might go to great lengths to relieve this discomfort, denying information or hiding your behavior to justify your actions and avoid guilt and shame.  

The disease of addiction is a classic example of this dichotomy. One way to deal with this internal conflict is to minimize all the potential problems that drinking and using drugs can cause. For instance, a substance abuser might justify their habit by saying that if they took steps to get sober, they’d deprive themselves of their primary way to relax and have fun. Some might even go so far as to say they’d never be able to enjoy themselves without their substance of use.

Maintaining an active addiction means living in a constant state of cognitive dissonance as you increasingly try to rationalize your substance use habits. For example, you might avoid learning about all the adverse ways drinking and drug use can affect your physical, mental and emotional health because doing so makes you feel anxious. Or, someone close to you might gently point out that they think you should seek help, and you respond by angrily denying you have a problem or claiming you can quit on your own whenever you like. 

How to Overcome This Problem

After living with cognitive dissonance for so long, it will take you some effort to break those thought patterns and concentrate on your newly healthy lifestyle. Cognitive dissonance makes it significantly more challenging to deal with cravings and triggers, which is why developing healthy coping skills is so crucial for your substance-free life.

If cognitive dissonance fueled your self-destructive behavior, adding cognitive behavioral therapy to your treatment plan can help. Maintaining a rift between your beliefs and deeds is a form of false reasoning, but CBT aims to help you replace negative thought patterns with positive ones. A therapist trained in CBT techniques can teach you to use willpower and logical thinking to work through distorted justifications and deconstruct all the mechanisms you put in place to validate your drinking or drug habit.

Beach House’s Clinical Modalities for Addiction Treatment

At Beach House, you’ll start learning about our curriculum and treatment modalities from the earliest stages of your stay in our intensive outpatient program. As you move through our full continuum of care, your therapist will challenge you to start integrating the new skills you’ve acquired into all aspects of your life. By the time you complete our programming, you should understand the underlying cause of your addiction and be able to spot any unconstructive thoughts and emotions that arise. 

Our goal is to break the cycle of addiction by equipping you with the tools you need to stay healthy and avoid a relapse. We understand you might have reached a point where you feel helpless, hopeless or desperate, and we will help you counteract those painful states of mind by meeting you with empathy, compassion and love. Reach out to our admissions counselors whenever you’re ready to learn more.

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