Self-Talk’s Role in Addiction Relapse
“I’ll just have one. It’s no big deal.”
“I can’t have fun unless I’m drinking.”
“I can handle it; it’s not a big problem.”
During the early part of the recovery process, conniving, deluding self- talk is always present. Before you know it, this deceptive self-talk can become a deafening self-shout, and the danger of relapse increases. That’s the power of automatic thoughts and how they shape our feelings and actions and behaviors.
But it is possible to get hold of this self-defeating, one-way conversation with yourself. Change your self- talk and you change yourself.
Often, people use substances to help avoid painful emotions. Even though one has begun abstinence, it doesn’t mean that the painful emotions go away. To the voices in a person’s head, it’s all about short-term relief, which some have called self-medication. The voices in a person’s head are the automatic thoughts–often maladaptive thoughts–that provide the cues for the deluding self-talk.
Lynne Namka, author of Avoiding Relapse: Catching Your Inner Con, refers to the automatic self-talk as the “Inner Con.” This is the grand seducer who tempts one to return to his or her addiction with inner thought processes that are fabrications, distortions, tricks and rationalizations that ignore the severe emotional, interpersonal and physical consequences of continued substance use.
Dr. Namka writes that, “Your Inner Con is absorbed in totally protecting and preserving itself.” She also states that, “it feeds a person’s fixation and agonizes them about not being a complete person without using substances.” The Inner Con seduces, swindles and victimizes an individual to go against their better nature. The maladaptive self-talk creates mistrust in self. Self-talk is often described as having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The Inner Con’s purpose is to keep hounding you until you weaken and give in. It will say anything to get you to return to substance use.
This Inner Con is a fear-based part of each person. It fears change. It fears facing the painful emotions that the use of substances has allowed one to numb or evade. The Inner Con is the active voice of your addiction. It is not who you are; it is just an automatic thought process that can be changed with work. Doing some or all of the following actions will help counter the negative, seductive self-talk:
- Get support. Work with a counselor or sober accountability partner.
- Journal. Use a thought-feeling journal to document your inner dialogues. Share these with your support person(s).
- Schedule quiet time. This helps with journaling, meditating, prayer, reading or study.
Always remember, in early recovery the goal is to replace the negative self-talk with supportive beliefs and new affirmations for success and continuing abstinence.
Dr. Bill Duke is the founder and principal treatment provider at Awakening Recovery Center. Awakening Recovery Center provides a variety of intensive outpatient recovery and rehabilitation treatment programs, including alcohol treatment and state licensed DUI treatment programs in Jacksonville, Florida.