The Road to Relapse: 8 Dangerous Thoughts to Avoid in Recovery

Jul 14, 2017 | Blog, Recovery

Even when you’re well into the process of recovery, it’s easy to get stuck in addictive thought patterns – some of which can lead down the road to relapse. We offer solutions for eight dangerous thoughts that could put your recovery at risk.

Relapse Thoughts to Avoid in Recovery


  • Learn how to identify and avoid toxic thoughts in recovery.
  • We deconstruct 8 thought patterns that can potentially derail your recovery.

Getting sober is an important first step in addiction recovery, but it’s just the beginning. You also have to completely change your way of thinking. Even when you’re well into your recovery, it’s easy to get stuck in addictive thought patterns. With that in mind, let’s explore eight dangerous thoughts that have the potential to derail your recovery:

1. It’s All or Nothing in Recovery

This is a particularly easy trap to fall into in early recovery, when you lack the experience and maturity that comes with time. And it’s especially dangerous in the context of relapse. Many recently recovered addicts convince themselves that a single relapse takes them back to square one.

The reality is that recovery is an ongoing process. Mistakes and backslides happen, and you have to press on in spite of this. Recovery happens on a moment-by-moment basis, and ongoing success requires moving on.

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2. Looking for Someone to Blame

In active addiction, it’s all too easy to look for culprits, and this line of thinking has a way of hanging on into recovery. Addicts are prone to stinking thinking: restlessness, irritability and discontentedness. This is the brain’s natural response to having to find new sources of stimulation.

One of the problems with these negative thought patterns is that they lead you to blame others. You might even double down on your own self-negativity, convincing yourself that you’re morally flawed for having these thoughts. To resist relapse, remind yourself that thoughts like this are both natural and surmountable. Playing the blame game won’t help, but taking responsibility for your own state of mind certainly will.

3. Thinking Your Can Downgrade to a ‘Safer’ Substance

It’s easy to convince yourself that your problem is simply a matter of dosage. Maybe you’ve decided that hard liquor is a no-go, but a beer or two is fine. Maybe heroin is off-limits at all times, but pills are okay at the weekend. There are endless versions of this, but all of them set you up for relapse. This is, perhaps, the only situation in which all-or-nothing thinking pans out. Downgrading doesn’t work; but total abstinence does.

4. Making Mountains out of Molehills

We all do it – magnifying small problems into large-scale tragedies. Suppose you ask a girl out on a date, but she declines. Or perhaps you applied for a job and didn’t get it. These developments don’t mean that you are worthless, or that nobody likes you. A host of variables is at play, and the truth is often much less dramatic than you make it out to be.

Instead, try to minimise problems and focus on the positives. This will enhance the perceived value of your current situation. By the same token, don’t let yourself focus on the mistakes you made in the past when you were still locked in the clutches of addiction. If you’ve been sober for two months, then the two years you spent in addiction are no longer part of your present circumstances. Allow yourself to minimise them.

5. Entertaining the Idea of Moderation

Life in recovery is hard at first, and it’s all too easy to tell yourself that you can occasionally so long as you keep it under control. This ignores the fact that you’ve already proven that you can’t control your drinking or usage. Moderation is clearly not an option.

The only reliable way to stay clean and sober is to completely abstain from all potentially addictive processes. A glass of wine with dinner may sound reasonable. But deep down, you know that it never stops there. Banish the thought of moderation and embrace the healing power of abstinence instead.

6. Overgeneralising

Have you ever caught yourself generalising about an entire group of people based on the actions of one? Or maybe you allow a single negative experience at a 12-Step meeting put you off of attending meetings altogether. Overgeneralising is a form of stinking thinking, and it poses a threat to the ongoing success of your recovery. Make a point of reminding yourself that everyone (including you) makes mistakes, and that certainly doesn’t mean they’re bad, wrong or worth writing off.

7. Anything Involving the Word ‘Should’

The word ‘should’ has a way of creeping into a recovering addict’s lexicon in unhealthy ways. It often means they’re setting up unrealistic expectations for themselves and others.

If you catch yourself saying things like, ‘I should be further along in my recovery at this point,’ then it’s probably time to take a step back and reconsider. In place of this, try using affirming statements and focusing on your accomplishments.

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8. Believing You’re Cured of Addiction

Staying sober can be exhausting at times. Peer pressure from old friends can seem overpowering, and cravings can be downright intense. But there comes a point in every recovering addict’s life where day-to-day life starts to become easier. At some point, you may even feel that you’ve been cured of addiction.

The problem is that addiction is a chronic, brain-based disease. Even when you have successfully developed new, healthier lifestyle habits and thought patterns, those old addictive patterns are still lurking deep in your brain’s wiring. Letting yourself believe that you’ve been cured is risky business, and it sets you up for a bracing relapse. The only way to stay healthy is by remaining committed to your recovery.

Build Your Recovery Toolbox at The Edge

At The Edge, we work with young men who are ready to embrace a life in recovery. We help you develop powerful tools to achieve recovery, and maintain it.

Whether you’re ready to tackle your addiction for the first time, or you need help developing stronger habits in recovery, we can help. We’ll also leverage our extensive global network to give you ongoing support. Contact us today to learn more.