The Surprising Value of Having Addictive Thoughts

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Ask nearly anyone on the street about the value of having addictive thoughts and they will think you must be crazy. After all, that sounds like asking about the value of having cancer. “Who would want addictive thoughts?” they might ask, while carefully backing away from you. They can’t be blamed. The notion that there is value in these unwanted thoughts does seem backwards. And, there can be no denying that if you never had them, that would be a good thing.

The important question is not whether you want them, but what to do when they occur.-Lance Dodes

But, anyone who suffers with an addiction does have addictive thoughts. The important question is not whether you want them, but what to do when they occur. It’s at that moment that people usually make a mistake. Knowing that addictive thoughts are the first step on the road to addictive actions, most people try to get as far away as they can.

Some try to argue themselves out of them. Remember all the promises I made to myself! This is just stupid thinking! Others try to distract themselves by thinking of something else, or plunging into an activity. I’m going to bear down and examine every little aspect of my work here. See you later, I’m going to the gym! Sometimes, folks treat the thought as though it is a challenge that has to be met head-on and defeated. Okay, listen here. I’m going to show you who’s tough. Nobody’s going to get me down that path again!

None of these ways of dealing with addictive thoughts work well.

You can’t run from them for long, or distract yourself for long, and certainly you cannot defeat them by willpower for long – for a simple reason. They are not an enemy to avoid or defeat, they are an important part of you.

Instead of addiction being a mysterious, uncontrollable power in your life, you can become the controller of the addiction.-Lance Dodes

Like any other thought or action, addictive thoughts arise from your own emotional life and have an important emotional meaning and purpose. This is the key, and once people grasp this fact it becomes possible to do something new. Instead of running from addictive thoughts or fighting with them, they can stay with them and get to know them. After all, if addictive thoughts have emotional meaning and purpose, maybe it’s possible to learn exactly what they are. And if the emotional factors behind addictive thoughts are known, suddenly the entire situation is reversed. Instead of addiction being a mysterious, uncontrollable power in your life, you can become the controller of the addiction.

You can find out not just why these addictive thoughts occur, but why they occur when they do. And most importantly, you can use that knowledge to anticipate when you will be faced with a much more serious problem: not the addictive thoughts, but an overwhelming addictive urge.

What Are Your Addictive Thoughts Really Saying?

But how to do this? It’s easy to describe. Whenever the thought of performing any addictive action comes to mind, take a moment to look backward in time to see what just happened. This could be what somebody else said, or did, or something that you said or did, or some thought that just came to mind. It could be that you were thinking about the work you have to do later that day, or the fight you had with your domineering sister, or the paper you have to write by Tuesday. It could be the reaction of your friend when you told him that you got a promotion, or your anxiety about calling a woman for a date. The list of possible precipitants is as long as the list of things that lead folks to feel lonely, anxious, depressed, angry, frightened, and so on. The common element in these situations is that something made you feel trapped, or overwhelmed, or helpless.

The common element in these situations is that something made you feel trapped, or overwhelmed, or helpless.-Lance Dodes

The first time you try this approach, it may not be clear what led to the addictive thought. But if you keep looking backward whenever you have those thoughts you will inevitably discover a pattern. Why? Because addictive thoughts are never random. Whatever issues drive them are specific to each individual and occur repeatedly. So, with enough experiences, even though the precipitants prior to each addictive thought will be a little different on the surface, the same issues behind them will eventually stand out.

You will discover, for example, that addictive thoughts are always precipitated by the loss (or threatened loss) of a friend, or by fear of standing up for yourself, or by anxiety about how you will be perceived by the opposite sex, or by a conflict with a boss, and so forth. It will be something that, upon reflection, you will recognize as an area that has always been sensitive for you.

Once you are at this point, you can start to look forward to when this set of issues will next arise. You will know in advance that this is when you will be at high risk of feeling your addictive urge and performing your addiction. Armed with this knowledge in advance, you will have many ways to deal with it.

By using addictive thoughts as clues to understanding your addiction, they change from frightening and mysterious unwanted messages to opportunities to be empowered.

  • I haven’t said anything here about how addiction works to deal with these issues because I wrote about this in an earlier post on Pro Talk (see: The Psychological Basis of Addiction).
  • An explanation of both the emotional basis of addiction and the process of using addictive thoughts to master it, with real-life examples of how it works, can be found in my books, The Heart of Addiction and Breaking Addiction: A 7-Step Handbook for Ending Any Addiction.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of We do believe in healthy dialogue on all topics and we welcome the opinions of our professional contributors.

What Are Your Thoughts on this Topic?

  • AddictionMyth

    True – just look at what triggered your cravings to ‘escape’ or what you did while drunk/high (or at least the parts you can remember – e.g. rob-a-drugstore or enter-up-the-exit-ramp). Then you’ll know what caused your ‘addictive thoughts’. And don’t worry, you won’t die if you give in to them. Have a sip or snort, it won’t kill you. On the other hand, many ‘treatment’ programs and professionals want you to believe that your cravings will surely do you in, and if you actually believe that then they just might.

  • Shaun Shelly

    Agreed. We often see CBT focus on thought stopping techniques. Just stop the thought. I would prefer to examine what is happening that leads to the thought. One of the exercises I do with groups is a mindfulness based exercise that helps examine thoughts and choose whether or not to respond to them. We tell people to expect “addictive” thoughts, to see this as part of their learned behaviour, and the fact that they can now recognise when these thoughts pop up is a massive step forward in the quest to make concious decisions around drug use.

  • Gordon (RoughTradeEditor)

    They can help in other ways as well…So you have an addictive personality? Use it to get “addicted” to good things, things you want to accomplish. Examples could be exercising or writing that book you never get around to. Once you start doing some positive things, you might just find that you get “addicted” to them and find it easier to do them, as you know it’ll end up making you feel good. It’s not just about replacing your addictions, as that can be destructive as well, but using what you think of as your “shortcomings” to your advantage. Everyone has some personality traits they wish they didn’t. I guarantee anyone who regularly succeeds in the endeavors they pursue has figured out a way to use their “negative” traits to their advantage. Trust me, it’s worth building this skill. Our posts at go over a lot of this and some of you just may find them useful. Thanks for the positive spin on an often depressing issue!