Overcoming Intrusive Thoughts in Addiction Recovery

Mar 12, 2024

Our thoughts in a quiet room can be deafening.

For some, it was intrusive thoughts that led to an addiction in the first place. For others, it’s a byproduct of the addiction. Either way, intrusive thoughts can be an unbearable reality during addiction recovery without the proper tools to face them.

Let’s explore some ways that you can overcome the challenge of intrusive thoughts.

Overcoming Intrusive Thoughts in Addiction Recovery

(Andrew Neel/Freepik)

How Intrusive Thoughts Impact Recovery

While dealing with recovery, one might feel an array of difficult emotions. Anxiety is common during the recovery process. You might feel heaviness in your chest, shoulders, or wherever you carry most of your stress. Intrusive thoughts on top of that create a recipe for mental instability.

When we believe our intrusive thoughts, they filter how we view ourselves and the world around us. Intrusive thoughts can range from causing us uneasiness to fully disturbing us.

Seeking help from an addiction recovery center is sometimes necessary to gain tools that will successfully take power away from the troubling thoughts in your mind; thoughts that may trigger your addiction. Your thoughts may lead you to believe you’re incapable of living a healthy, happy life. These thoughts often lead to relapse.

How to Overcome Intrusive Thoughts

You may think that the damage is done. That you’ve made so many mistakes, and the thoughts in your head will never go away. That in itself is an intrusive thought. There are treatment options for you that can help conquer those thoughts and turn the overpowering negativity in your mind into positive, fulfilling, and motivating internal dialogue.

Some different types of therapy to help with intrusive thoughts include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a common form of psychotherapy where you talk with a therapist who helps you become aware of negative thought patterns to eventually view yourself and the world around you more clearly and respond to challenges more effectively.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This type of therapy derives from CBT, and it’s aimed at helping people better regulate their emotions, live in the present, and better cope with stress and anxiety. It focuses on mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): This therapy focuses on gaining psychological flexibility in daily life. It uses mindfulness, acceptance strategies, commitment, and behavioral change practices. This helps people bring awareness to how their thoughts are self-sabotaging and how to prevent them.
  • Motivational Interviewing: This type of therapy is similar to one-on-one talk therapy. It involves the individual and a trained therapist. A typical session consists of casual, open dialogue while the therapist listens intently, asks questions, affirms, engages, and offers tips and strategies to work on changing the individual’s mindset. This works excellent for tackling intrusive thoughts because it addresses them head-on with a professional.

Tips for Turning Negative Intrusive Thoughts into Positive Thoughts

While dealing with intrusive thoughts in recovery, do what you can to cling to optimism as much as possible. Practice positive self-talk and tell yourself you are strong, worthy of happiness, and can do hard things. If you don’t believe these things yet, say them to yourself in the mirror anyway. Some activities you can do while practicing positive self-talk are:

  • Listening to Music: While we are all so different in our thoughts, backgrounds, and interests, music is a universal tool that helps evoke emotions, drum up nostalgia, and give us pleasant flashbacks. Music is a powerful tool in recovery. Make a playlist of your “happy” songs. Listen to those songs that moved you in the past, bring you to tears of joy, and give you hope. Ask your friends and family for their “happy” songs, and give them a listen. Let the music heal you while telling yourself that it will all be OK because there is light at the end of the tunnel, and these difficulties are temporary.
  • Being in Nature: Nature is also healing. Spend quality time with Mr. Sunshine and soak up that vitamin D while practicing positive affirmations and self-talk. Go on a walk, sit in the sun, go for a hike, or take a swim. Being outside in times of turmoil can help you feel connected to God, Mother Nature, and yourself.
  • Watch a Meaningful Movie: If you’re a movie lover, consider watching one that always gives you sparks of inspiration and hope. Watch a true story about someone who overcame adversity or a feel-good movie that always helps you gain some perspective. Sometimes, an inspirational story in a film is the best way to feel hope and optimism.

Practicing Mindfulness

Whether it be dwelling on the past, obsessing over future scenarios, believing false narratives about yourself, or considering self-harm, mindfulness is being aware of the present and allowing you to sit in the “now” instead of obsessing over the past or future. You can practice mindfulness by:

  • Pausing and describing what you see in your mind
  • Giving a prayer of gratitude every night
  • Accepting the past and vowing to learn from it and move forward
  • Doing one simple thing today to reach your goals tomorrow

Ezra Taft Benson, former President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character — and our character will determine our eternal destiny.”

Gaining control over our thoughts creates a domino effect of healthy actions that can eventually set us free. Many Christian-based treatment centers offer tools to stop fighting the darkness and instead add the light of Christ into your life. Addiction is hard no matter what, but progression becomes possible when we take steps to take care of ourselves, work through our weaknesses, face our struggles head-on, and overcome the intrusive thoughts that seem to consume our minds night and day.

Your worth is infinite. Your life is meaningful. You can overcome anything. When you stop giving power to your intrusive thoughts, you can regain control of your mind, focus on your recovery, and start to see what an astronomical difference it makes in your daily life. Contact our Utah and Idaho addiction treatment centers for more help with overcoming intrusive thoughts.