Interesting read by Practical Recovery. Extracting from a paper published by Smart Recovery SD, the author sheds light on “cognitive cheats” that can cause major damage to self-control if they go unchecked. In other words, the conversations you have with yourself can be damaging if you don’t question or consciously manage your thought process. Below are a few examples of how you can reprogram or interrupt your damaging thought process while in recovery.

The Power of the Question

A common mantra among those with addictive or damaging habits is “I’m totally worthless!” The next time you hear yourself uttering these words or entertaining these thoughts, ask yourself, “Is that true? Have I never done anything worthwhile?” The answer, of course, is NO, you are not worthless and YES you have done plenty of good in your life. Lastly, you must consciously replace your limiting belief with a statement like, “I have done a lot of good in my life and I will continue to do so. I cannot judge myself as worthless because I don’t feel good right now.”

Another common mantra among alcohol and drug abusers is “Nothing good ever happens to me and nothing good ever will.” Remember start with a question like, “Has nothing good ever happened to me?”  Then replace that thought with something like, “My family and friends continue to love me and that is something I can cherish every day.” The most important part of this process is while you are replacing your negative thought with a rational belief, picture it, and feel it. This is really where the “hack” starts to root and the brain begins to change.

question can help with your internal addiction dialogue

The right questions can direct your internal dialogue and feel freeing.

Humans are renowned for our cranial horsepower.  To maximize efficiency, our brains developed a number of shortcuts to thinking that are rarely questioned.  The discovery of the brain’s cognitive shortcuts made researcher Daniel Kahneman one of only two psychologists ever to with both the Nobel and Grawemeyer prizes, and for those interested the book Thinking Fast & Slow gives a detailed account of the cognitive cheats than can wreak havoc when they go unquestioned.


In the world of addiction, the company line continues to be notoriously under-questioned and groupthink abounds.  People who question the status quo in addiction treatment are greeted with about as much enthusiasm as a free thinker in boot camp.  But for any provider or person seeking treatment, questions are the foundation of changing our thinking, and changing our thinking is often at the heart of any lasting change.


Disputing irrational beliefs is at the heart of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and is a primary emphasis in SMART Recovery.  Afficionados of CBT and SMART know the ABC tool well, where we identify an activating event (aka trigger), the resulting beliefs, consequences of our beliefs, and then challenge the irrational beliefs with realistic replacements.  A classic ABC example involves getting cut off in traffic (the activating event), which often results in irrational beliefs (e.g. all people are *insert preferred insult here*), and a consequence of increased anger and irritability.  The belief that all people are jerks, or idiots, or whatever, is obviously not completely accurate.


Often, the best way to challenge an irrational belief is to simply put a question mark at the end of the belief.  If all people are jerks, simply ask, all people are jerks? Putting a question mark at the end of every addiction cliché is probably something worth doing.  All addicts are the same?  Recovery is for life?  Addiction is a disease?  One is too many and a thousand is never enough?  I’m powerless and I have to surrender?  There’s only one way to recover?  I can never touch a single psychoactive substance again?  I can’t drink?  I couldn’t help it?  Hmm, actually I can help it and what I’m really saying is that I wanted to and I couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to.

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