Tricks Your Mind Plays on You When You Have a Substance Use Disorder

In Addiction by Tree House Recovery

Fundamental differences exist between a mind with a substance use disorder and one without one. Part of it is genetic and part of it is a matter of circumstance. Research also suggests that substance use itself changes the brain in a way that perpetuates substance use and alters a person’s behavior. Someone with a substance use disorder might be perfectly aware that substance use is bad for them and even sincerely want to quit. However, for some strange reason, they keep using. The addicted brain demonstrates many tricks to keep you using, including the following.


Drugs and Alcohol Feel Like Something You Need

Research shows that substance use actually changes your brain. Perhaps the most important change is to the dopamine system which controls motivation and goal-directed behavior. Substance use is strongly reinforced by the same system that evolved to make you seek food, shelter, and sex. As a result, drugs and alcohol feel like a basic need and they take priority over actual needs. Logically, you may know that you don’t need drugs and alcohol to survive. Still, you feel like you do.


You Feel Like You’re Different From Everyone Else

“Terminal uniqueness” is a term used by 12-steppers, often referring to people new to recovery. Individuals struggling with this mindset feel that they are different from the rest, therefore, no one can understand them. To support this belief, they constantly seek to find differences between themselves and everyone else. This often takes place in meetings or at your treatment program. Maybe you look around the room and think something like, “I’ve only been drinking too much because work has been stressful and my girlfriend just dumped me, but these other people are all real addicts.” Perhaps you notice the specific substances used by others or the depths that their addictions took them. Instead of recognizing the fact that your addiction could lead you down the same path given the right amount of time, you put yourself and your story on a pedestal and use it to justify the belief that you are not as bad as the rest. Maybe you feel like your life was harder and more traumatic than anyone else, and if they went through what you did then they wouldn’t be able to get sober either. 


The truth is that everyone’s circumstances are different. Pegging yourself as unique separates you from your recovery community and decreases willingness to participate in treatment. Successful recovery lies in the similarities.


You Begin to Believe You Can Use in Moderation

One common trap is feeling like you have been sober for long enough that you can now use in moderation. In the stages of relapse, this is typically part of the mental phase. Signs of mental relapse include reminiscing about past drug use, minimizing the consequences of using again, and thinking of schemes to moderate your substance use. Unfortunately, a mental relapse often ends in looking for opportunities to relapse or making a definite plan to relapse. Even if you are able to drink or use drugs in moderation at first, you will likely end up in trouble again pretty quickly.


You’ve Slipped up so You Might as Well Go All-In

Slips aren’t uncommon in addiction recovery and if you handle them the right way, you can get back on track quickly. Unfortunately, many people hear a little voice that says, “Well, you’ve already ruined your recovery so you might as well go all in.” This is clearly not the case. A month-long binge is obviously much worse than having a drink with dinner and much harder to come back from. It’s only the logic of addiction that makes it seem like a good idea to throw gasoline on the campfire. 


Need Help?

You can’t always trust your thoughts. One of the first steps in making better decisions is gaining awareness around the kinds of tricks your mind plays on you. Therapy is great for helping you spot distorted thinking and learning to cope with it. Having a good support network with whom you can discuss your thoughts is also a helpful source of feedback. People in recovery will be quick to tell you when your addiction is dong your thinking for you. At Tree House Recovery of Portland, Oregon, we help men find their way out of addiction with a holistic treatment program that strengthens the body and mind. To learn more, call us today at (503) 850-2474