Mental Discipline and Healthy Thinking

Getting sober sparks a life transformation. Order replaces chaos. Energy replenishes fatigue. Relationships heal. Learning the value of mental discipline and healthy thinking is integral to this process. To learn more, read on.

Positive Thinking: More Than a Mind Game

Detoxing from alcohol is the first step in recovery. What builds lasting sobriety, however, is breaking habits of negative thinking. Just as it’s easy to overlook the signs of addiction, it is also easy to be blind to the underlying pessimism that fuels addiction.

Most addicts take their negative thoughts seriously—viewing them as valid instead of faulty. Several cognitions frequently believed by people trapped by addiction include the following:

  • My situation is hopeless
  • I can’t get sober
  • Life without drugs is too hard
  • My addiction is so severe that I no longer have a choice about whether or not I use
  • Getting drunk is the only thing that makes me feel good

According to the Mayo Clinic[1] Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)[2] is one science-based treatment for addiction that targets negative thoughts. The basic approach is to change emotions and, subsequently, behavior. This concept is especially promising for alcoholics, according to experts. They maintain that substance-abuse disorders are maladaptive behaviors resulting from negative learning processes. Therefore, to break an addiction, individuals must change problematic thought patterns. Several faulty cognitions to target first include the following:

  • Using is an escape
  • Using helps me relax
  • Using boosts my creativity
  • Drinking is manageable
  • Drinking helps me fit in
  • Using helps me cope with life
  • Being an addict is my identity

Practicing new patterns of healthy thinking is foundational to avoiding relapse. It is also critical to rebuilding a life of purpose and meaning.

Mental Discipline: Boot Camp that Pays Off

Over time, people who drink to numb painful feelings lose the ability to cope with emotional responses. Getting intoxicated is like waving a magic wand over uncomfortable situations. As alcohol takes effect, it enhances the effect of neurotransmitters in the brain to create a sense of calm. Problems seem to disappear. The illusion doesn’t last, however. In fact, the quick fix usually gives way to worse difficulties.

Mental Discipline and Healthy Thinking

Understanding the importance of mental discipline and healthy thinking can help you stay sober from alcohol

The key to escaping the toxic cycle is to put some muscle on your mental discipline. To this end, priority number one in many treatment centers is learning to manage emotions. Through individual and group counseling, therapists and recovery experts teach addicts how to face situations and feelings they once avoided by drinking.

Some tools and techniques commonly used to develop mental resilience and toughness include the following:

  • Fitness – Physical exercise is an excellent way to boost natural “feel good” chemicals in the brain while also neutralizing stress. It also boosts self-esteem.
  • Nutrition – Eating a balanced diet offsets cravings and promotes emotional balance. It also lays the track for a disciplined daily routine.
  • Self-soothing – Tapping into healthy outlets such as taking hot baths, reading a book, or getting a massage can help people in recovery feel less deprived and more relaxed.

A growing body of scientific evidence proves that meditation—specifically Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR)[3] is an effective way to gain emotional control. MSBR is an approach to meditation that involves paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and without judgment. Instead of seeking escape or suppress painful emotions, MSBR teaches addicts to observe them with curiosity and compassion, resisting all urges to take action, judge or “fix.”

Most addicts have a tendency to fall into several “cognitive traps”. They may catastrophize situations, focus on negatives, personalize situations that barely pertain to them at all, or see circumstances in terms of black and white, not grey. They then form emotional reactions to the stories made up in their heads, usually working themselves up into a frenzy of anxiety or depression. Mindfulness teaches practitioners to pause when agitated, taking time to evaluate and carefully observe one’s present moment experience. Action that may or may not follow invariably bears marks of greater wisdom, insight and awareness.

Relaxation: The Payoff that Sustains Progress

Stress and substance abuse are irrefutably linked, note experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse[4] (NIDA). Stress is not only a major contributor to maintenance and acceleration of substance abuse, but it also triggers many of the same neural pathways that raise vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse—even after periods of prolonged abstinence.

One way to maintain mental discipline and promote positive thinking is to allow plenty of time for relaxation. In fact, one solution taught in many professional rehab centers, Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT), is an intervention designed specifically to improve resilience to stress. Other coping skills frequently emphasized in recovery programs include the following:

  • Avoiding states of hunger, anger, loneliness and fatigue
  • Getting involved in community service
  • Journaling
  • Practicing positive thinking

Experts also advise active self-monitoring of mood changes by keeping a list of personal warning signs. Additionally, they suggest identifying enjoyable activities that generate positive feelings and could serve as a way to neutralize a craving or negative moods.

Recovery from Alcohol Addiction

If you or someone you love struggles with alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to wellness. You never have to go back to a life of addiction. Please call. Start your recovery today.

[1] Cognitive behavioral therapy – Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[2] Retrieved from

[3] Retrieved from

[4] NIDA – NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin – Stress & Substance Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved from


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