Addiction Treatment: Curb Normal Cognitive Processes


People who have decided to enter a substance use disorder treatment center often have some misconceptions about what it will take to find recovery. It is quite common for addicts and alcoholics to think that all they have to do is stop using drugs or alcohol, and after thirty days or longer, they will no longer feel the pull to use again. If it were that simple, there would be no such thing as relapse.

Sure, breaking the cycle of active substance use is a huge part of recovery, but there are a number of other variables that need to be considered if long term recovery is to be achieved. Upon entering a treatment facility, one of the first things that you may hear is that substance abuse is only a symptom of a much bigger, more complex issue. Addiction experts will often say that stopping drug and alcohol use is, arguably, the easy part; continuing to abstain for years is the difficult part. Which is why it is crucial that one be retaught, or relearn, how to function and cope with the trials and tribulations of day to day life.

What’s more, most people living with a substance use disorder have some other form of mental illness at play— such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It is what is known as having a co-occurring disorder. For successful outcomes, both the addiction and the other pathologies at play must be addressed; for if they are not treated concurrently, relapse is often the outcome.

Everyone who has walked the road of recovery is fully aware that almost everything in one’s life must be changed—i.e. places, people and things. After completing a stay at a treatment center, one should be prepared to embark on a new way of living, which often requires changing who you interact with, the places you go and the things you do. Failure to do so can be, and often is, catastrophic.

In treatment, you will learn just how important it is to distance yourself from a “past” that was typified by drug and alcohol abuse. Experiences that could trigger or be a cue to use mind altering substances. Even “normal” people without a history of substance abuse are susceptible to doing various things because they were triggered by something. If you see water, it may make someone want to quench their thirst. Smelling a fresh baked cookie, could cause someone to have a snack attack.

If you follow this line of thinking, and replace the aroma of a cookie with the smell of a drug, you could imagine how it could end. Placing yourself in an environment where you could be exposed to triggers may jeopardize your recovery. In fact, new research suggests that because all human brains are susceptible to strong attentional biases, recovery does not just involve curbing drug use—it involves curbing normal cognitive processes, according to a Texas A & M press release. The findings were published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Psychology Professor Brian Anderson states:

“I think this is important to keep in mind when we try to make sense of why we and others we know do the things we do. Where we look and what we pursue are not always a reflection of our current conscious intentions. Rather, automatic biases are a normal part of life that we need to either consciously work against or replace with healthier habits when the ones we have led to bad outcomes.” He adds: “The information-processing biases that we know to be important for addiction are not a unique consequence of drug use, and curbing drug use itself will not necessarily curb the ‘pull’ from tempting situations that can trigger relapse. In order to treat addiction, we have to curb a normal cognitive process.”

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