How to Change the Mental Health Patterns of Substance Abuse?
Updated: Feb 12
Our mental processes are designed to work in patterns of various repetitive behaviors, which we adapt to when we behave in specific ways for lengthy periods of time. These behaviors are different from our character because they are acquired behaviors. As you grow up, your decisions, principles, and way of doing things change based on certain environmental factors. As these patterns change, they expose you to the dangers of addiction and other mental health issues.
Understanding Cognitive Errors
Apart from the harm that drugs cause to your brain, harmful thoughts also trigger substance abuse. Addiction doesn't start immediately after substance abuse; it takes time, weeks, months, or years depending on your intake level. Within that period, you have a choice to take or not to take drugs or alcohol. When you choose to take a drug simply because it makes you feel relaxed or fresh, you have developed irrational or harmful thoughts triggered by cognitive errors.
Identifying and understanding cognitive errors is the biggest step towards finding a solution to your addiction. For instance, most tobacco smokers believe that smoking helps them relax, which is scientifically not true because it's a cognitive error. What makes smokers feel relaxed is the decrease in withdrawal symptoms, which makes them feel more at ease after smoking.
How to Identify a Cognitive error
At some point in life, we all experience cognitive errors where we reward our thoughts with what we think and repeat the same behaviors for a long time. For instance, believing or thinking that you cannot go to work without having a cup of coffee is a cognitive error. While it's not dangerous to take coffee, the behavior can easily get worse if not controlled. When it comes to addiction, cognitive errors can be identified through the following ways:
Minimization: You play down the negative impact of addiction by stating things like "at least I pay all my bills" or "I only drink during weekends."
Substance or nothing: You speak positively about the substance you are using, ignoring the negative effects such as "I always feel much better after taking my favorite beer" or "I drink to forget about my troubles."
Setting rules that you don't follow: You sit and think of the importance of sobriety and promise yourself to stop, but you never keep the promise such as "I will stop drinking next week" or "I won't smoke again after this."
Labelling yourself: You acknowledge and accept your present condition as something you can't escape from, such as "I come from a family of smokers" or "I have been drinking ever since I was in high school and have been okay."
How to Change the Mental Patterns of Substance Abuse
Breaking these problematic behaviors and thoughts means identifying the patterns and developing strategies to help patients cope and ultimately eliminate those patterns. As a patient, you can work closely with your doctor to determine what is influencing these patterns and create working treatment plans. Depending on your behavior and thoughts, your doctor may recommend dialectical or cognitive behavioural therapy to treat emotional and behavioral patterns. They also help eliminate cognitive errors and get patients thinking rationally.