Impaired impulse control, combined with a relative inability to process consequences, can accurately sum up what is often referred to as addictive thinking. These types of thought patterns can lead to a lack of trust in one’s self and others, then to increased isolation. Reward and negative reinforcement factor importantly in behavioral and addictive motivation. The anticipation of reward is sometimes what we refer to with the terms ‘triggers’ or ‘cravings’, which are issues addressed in treatment at Sober Partners.
Once the brain experiences or anticipates experiencing, some rewards from drug abuse, such as blunting of negative emotions, an increase in feelings of well-being, or the lessening of withdrawal symptoms, negative reinforcers are put in place. When a negatively reinforcing behavior like drug abuse sets up a reward pathway within the brain, regulation of impulse control is compromised and negative consequences that result from the continued use of the substance cease to matter as the substance is now also being abused in order to diminish the feelings associated with these consequences.
This is where addictive thinking comes into play. Once a relationship between a behavior and a feeling is established, obsessive thinking or anticipation of reward may be coupled with more uncomfortable feelings unless a particular action is followed through to its conclusion. Chemical restructuring in the brain may bring about dominant thoughts which center on obtaining and using the drug necessary in order to both create and diminish the desired euphoric effect and the resultant accompanying grief involved.
The resultant physiological and psychological cravings will produce thought patterns which are often referred to as addictive thinking patterns. Addictive thinking in relation to substance abuse may manifest itself in difficulty delaying gratification, pleasure-seeking, impulsive actions, degradation of previously held moral standards or principles, a victim mentality, and a fear of exposure. The foundation of these addictive thinking processes is anchored in denial of one’s own objective reality, the irrationality of thoughts and behaviors, and self-obsession or selfishness to the point of willful disregard or neglect of another’s feelings of safety. Addicts and alcoholics often show no awareness or concern for the boundaries set by other people and compromise their own values in order to obtain and use the substances that provide relief from the resultant obsession and addictive thinking.
The vicious cycle of addictive thinking patterns results in unhealthy behaviors that then begin to have a negative impact on relationships. Nearly every action, motive, or decision the addict makes can begin to fall into question or suspicion by those around them. As an addictive behavior history begins to take root in an addict’s life, non-addicts begin to take notice and become mistrustful. An addict’s predominant focus becomes the obtaining and using of a particular substance or substances. Frequently the addict, driven by this type of addictive thinking, will choose a relationship with a drug over those with his or her own family.
Addictive thinking patterns produce unhealthy behaviors that negatively impact relationships. Non-addicts will begin to question the addict’s motives and thought processes behind decision making. Distrust of the addict develops based upon behavioral history. The main focus for an addict is substance abuse, as he or she will often choose drugs and/or alcohol over the family. Isolation starts to develop in this pattern as friends and family begin to distance themselves from the addict because they no longer trust them and also as a protective mechanism from being hurt or let down. Arguments increase and people get pushed away as the addict begins to vigorously defend his or her motives and position, especially those that challenge the addictive behaviors. The addict has now become alienated.
The isolation or alienation fuels the substance abuse and denial become the main strategy for the addict to help justify the behaviors. From the addict’s point of view, everything is just a big misunderstanding: family doesn’t understand, friends don’t understand, employers don’t understand. The addict may then seek solace from other active addicts and the addiction may grow stronger. The isolation from family and friends has now become reinforced. In treatment, these addictive thinking patterns must be brought to light and addressed by both the addict and their loved ones, as this type of behavior can continue to persist even in sobriety.