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Common Thinking Errors in Recovery and How to Challenge Them

Our mental well-being in recovery depends on our ability to manage our thoughts, regulate our emotions, and behave productively and responsibly despite our circumstances. In this article we hope to help you identify some of the common thinking errors and provide some ways to challenge your thinking. 

It is our thoughts that drive our feelings, which influence behavior. If we are not aware of our internal thought processes, it can be very difficult to manage our unconscious behavior that might drive us to pick up alcohol or drugs. Paying attention to our thinking can be a challenging task, but learning to recognize and manage our thinking patterns is critical to the success of staying sober long term. 

Thinking errors are faulty patterns of thinking that are self-defeating. They occur when the things you are thinking do not match up with reality. Those who commit thinking errors often don’t realize they are doing so. After entering recovery, many addicts find that they must identify thinking errors and challenge their old way of thinking to create new healthy ways of thinking. 

Thinking errors affect recovery because our thoughts influence our feelings and behavior. For example, if you think you are working hard at work, you might feel confident and proud of your accomplishments and work harder to impress your superiors. On the contrary if you believe that a family member is mistreating you, you might feel anger or irritation and behave towards them in a way that is damaging to your relationship. Based on the emotion you feel, caused by your thoughts, can determine your next action or behavior. If you are accustomed to feeling negative emotion, then you are more likely to use a behavior like drinking or using drugs to numb the emotion you are feeling. 


Black and white thinking or all or nothing thinking. This is one of the most common thinking errors. Black and white thinking is an all-or-nothing perspective on life. Black and white thinking limits your choices to find creative solutions to life’s problems. This thinking error is dangerous because it can damage relationships if you’re not willing to be open minded to new solutions or can never see more than one side of a story. With black and white thinking you can easily categorize people and situations without having to actually think about the impact or consequences. 

Awfulizing your situation.  Awfulizing is the feeling that life is unbearable when things do not go as planned. If something doesn’t go the way you want, you might use this as an excuse to drink or use drugs.  With awfulizing a situation, you never truly learn to sit with discomfort or pain which can be used to grow your character. Awfulizing keeps you in a state of being a victim, therefore giving your power of choice away. 

Minimizing your feelings, thoughts or actions. Minimizing is about making your behavior (or any other problem) seem smaller to avoid being accountable. Minimizing allows you to escape personal responsibility for your personal choices. Minimizing negatively affects your relationships because you cannot form true authentic relationships because you are not willing to see how your actions may affect others. 

Victimhood, self pity or blaming others. When engaging in victimhood it’s the belief that you are not responsible for your actions thereby making others responsible for your behavior. This is different than minimizing in that with minimizing you may acknowledge that you have some personal responsibility but do not own up fully to your part. When playing the victim, you get to feel pity for yourself and project the reason for your actions on someone else. The payoff could be that others might feel sorry for you temporarily, but a long term pattern of this thinking error will ultimately damage relationships as nothing is ever your fault. 

Jumping to conclusions by mind reading or telling the future. This is where you make negative assumptions or conclusions about something or someone without investigating the facts about a particular situation.  

Mind Reading is an arbitrary conclusion that someone is reacting negatively to you, without actually looking at the facts of the situation. With mind reading you always get to be right at the cost of personal relationships. You can make poor assumptions about others without investigating if they are true, harming your relationships.  

Telling the Future (also known as Fortune Telling) is where you anticipate situations will turn out badly and convinced that your prediction is accurate. Your predictions are not rooted in reality. By predicting a negative outcome subconsciously you’ll find ways to make that outcome happen therefore proving that your predictions are accurate. 

The first step to change thinking errors is to be aware of your thought patterns. Just by being aware of your thinking you can choose to challenge the thought, or find a different thought to think. Thinking healthy thoughts, instead of destructive ones, will help you feel better and make better decisions in each moment.  Once you can recognize a thinking error, it’s helpful to ask questions to help you identify how these thinking errors are present in your life, and some ways you can substitute the thinking error. 

Some questions to ask when identifying a thinking error:

  • How do I use this thinking error (pick an example from above)?
  • Where did I learn this thinking error?
  • What are the advantages of thinking in this way?
  • What are the disadvantages of thinking this way? (Or what do I lose by thinking this way?)
  • What is a healthier thought for me to think?

If you find that you cannot change your thinking errors by yourself, it’s recommended to get support from a licensed therapist. We have licensed therapists on staff at Collective Recovery to help you change your thinking.  You do have the power to change your thinking. At Collective Recovery we have an entire curriculum on how to identify and correct thinking errors in our Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program to set our clients up for successful long term recovery! 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, click here for your free benefits review, or call us at1-866-UTAH-HOPE.