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The iconic American poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising up every time we fail.” This concept of “rising up” is critical in understanding relapse and the importance of managing how we react to addiction triggers. A big part of this management also has to do with how well we can control intrusive thoughts.

Understanding Intrusive Thoughts

According to an article by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience,Intrusive thoughts have been defined as unwelcome repetitive thoughts, images, or impulses.” The journal also breaks down intrusive thoughts into three different types. 

These types are categorized by the following phrases: “Today, I cannot get certain thoughts out of my mind,’ ‘Today, I keep thinking about something over and over again,’ [and] ‘Today, I have difficulties suppressing thoughts about myself.’” When someone is struggling with addiction, these phrases are often saturated in obsessing over substances and/or using substances. It is important to remember that intrusive thoughts can also creep back up even in long-term recovery, particularly when addiction triggers present themselves.

Understanding Intrusive Thoughts and Addiction

12-Step recovery often discusses intrusive thoughts for those struggling with addiction as an “obsession of the mind.” What this means is that these intrusive thoughts can overtake all other rational thoughts. No matter the consequence, in active addiction, intrusive thoughts that focus on an obsessive need to use alcohol or other substances will always win out. 

However, an effective recovery program can help control intrusive thoughts and relieve this obsession of the mind. Still, an effective recovery program only remains effective if we stay active in it. When we disengage from our recovery plan, then the potential for intrusive thoughts to reemerge becomes much more likely. Also, when these intrusive thoughts are present, the potential for susceptibility to triggers and the potential for relapse becomes more likely as well.

People, Places, and Things: Understanding Addiction Triggers

There is a concept often discussed in 12-Step recovery known as “people, places, and things.” What this means is that these three are the most likely to trigger a relapse. These three also have great potential to trigger detrimental and toxic intrusive thoughts as well.

Intrusive thoughts can be about people that we have resentment about, places we know we can engage in old toxic behaviors, and things that make us nervous such as finances and future events. If these intrusive thoughts go unattended, they will generally get worse without some type of intervention, whether it be from a recovery professional or peer. After all, addiction is a chronic disease, which also means it is a progressive disease.

How Can I Better Control Intrusive Thoughts?

So, since they can be so detrimental and triggering, the question then becomes “How can I control intrusive thoughts?” The answer is by staying engaged in a long-term recovery plan, continuing to work with recovery professionals, and staying connected to individuals in a recovery community.

A long-term recovery plan often includes some form of continued therapy, psychotherapy, or counseling. This continued work not only helps us focus on our continued recovery but also gives us adequate opportunities and safe spaces to discuss if and when intrusive thoughts start to resurface. Also, the recovery professionals we work with can offer new tips and techniques to better control intrusive thoughts, such as “reframing the narrative” of a situation and recognizing when our behaviors are being caused by intrusive thoughts.

Recovery groups can be highly effective in helping to control intrusive thoughts, because they most likely have experienced them as well, most likely in active addiction and active recovery. These peers can help us control intrusive thoughts by reminding us to “pause” and breathe when intrusive thoughts related to a trigger feel unmanageable. Working with other people in recovery can also help in a seemingly simple way; when we work with others it allows us to step away from our own problems to help others with their own. 

Focusing on the Long-Term Journey at the Phoenix Recovery Center

Emerson also famously wrote, “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” At The Phoenix Recovery Center, we understand that intrusive thoughts in addiction often focus on “the wreckage of our past,” or our fears of what may happen in the future. We believe that a recovery that continues to focus on the present moment will eventually manifest into a progression of “present moments,” also known as long-term recovery. 

At The Phoenix Recovery Center, we understand that addiction recovery simply doesn’t end when we leave treatment. Recovery must continue to be positively cultivated so that intrusive thoughts and triggers don’t take away all the hard work we have put intoin to both better and ultimately save our lives. For more information on intrusive thoughts and solutions to manage them, call The Phoenix Recovery Center at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT