Cognitive Restructuring are mental processes that are based on the theory that by changing your thinking, you can change behavior.
When you change your thinking about your drug or alcohol problem, your thoughts change. Your thoughts guide your behavior, and your behavior changes. Since 1965, the treatments have always been through AA, NA, twelve-step programs. Those programs have done fairly well, but there has been no alternative.
If you had difficulties with some of the concepts of an AA or a twelve-step program, you would have difficulty getting successful treatment.
These programs have become embedded in the fabric of our society, their format integrated into our laws and court system. Most treatment centers base their treatments on AA or twelve steps.
The Cognitive Restructuring program empowers the individual. AA, however, maintains that the addict or alcoholic is powerless. Many people see this as being helpless, and they give up or excuse their using behaviors. Other AA concepts include: He has a disease for life. He needs to have a sponsor. He needs to be with people who have his disease and to meet with them in the group.
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Since, according to AA, the disease is for life, the addict or alcoholic needs a higher power. He labels himself as an alcoholic or addict, demeaning and devaluing himself.
That process works for some people, but it’s not for everyone. (By the way, for those of you who choose to be spiritual, that’s essentially a choice and, rest assured, Cognitive Restructuring does not interfere with that choice.)
Cognitive Restructuring is different. It appeals to a person’s logical self. It makes sense to me as I have always had difficulty working with the twelve-step program, because I hold that the individual is the only one who is in control of himself.
Logically, the individual is the only one who can get himself out of his trap. The only one who is going to stop him from drinking is himself. There’s no group. There’s no sponsor.
So once it’s been established that an alternative to a twelve-step program is needed, the people involved need to look at things differently and try a new approach.
This program is made to help those people who gravitate toward something that appeals to logic and their sense of empowerment.
Cognitive Restructuring is a ten-stage program.
1. You have to decide that something is wrong with your life, although you may not know exactly what. Not everyone can arrive at that point. It’s very difficult, but when you’re reaching out for help, you at least need to say: “My relationships (or my finances, my family, my life) are chaotic for a reason and I think it has to do with drugs or alcohol.”
You have to say: “I think something is wrong and I’m going to have to find a way to approach this. How do I do that?”
2. You choose a method. It’s reasonable to choose AA. But there is an alternative to AA and NA. You make the decision to choose Cognitive Restructuring.
3. Now comes the serious part. You must look at the consequences of your drug or alcohol problem. You have to look at what you’ve lost, but you also must try to factor in what could have been gained had it not been for your drug problem or alcohol problem. People don’t think about that. What would your relationships be like with your children, your family, your parents, grandparents? How would things be different? How would your finances be different? How would your jobs have been different? How would your legal issues be different?
4. Once you’ve looked at the consequences, you need to get to the point where you decide that you must break through. You must make the connection between the consequences and your drug or alcohol problem. You cannot be in denial. You must break through your denial.
5. You must make the decision to stop. You’re the only one who can do that, and you’re the only one who controls you twenty-four hours a day and can stop you from drinking or drugging, no one else. You’re not helpless. You are not powerless in this area of your life.
You must make this decision of your own free will. Not because you’re facing a DUI charge, your wife’s leaving you, your children don’t speak to you, your boss fired you, you tested dirty and you’re on probation. It can’t be forced on you.
The consequences make you look at yourself, and it must be without anger, without resentment, without being coerced, without being forced into it. You must make the decision of your own free will because you made these logical steps that brought you here. You stop, because you want to live a clean life. You must make the decision like that; otherwise it has no value in terms of future sobriety.
6. Don’t just stop. You must detox. The drug or alcohol must be safely out of your system for you to have a Chance to Change.
7. You look at your past and evaluate it. You take into account coexisting mental health problems, like depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder. You have to address your mental health problems, because the probability of staying clean when your mental state is altered is very low. You have to be able to think clearly. If you have problems that will interfere with your sobriety, you seek professional help.
You can’t work a Cognitive Restructuring program if you have an underlying untreated mental illness that interferes with your ability to think, your cognition. It stands to reason.
8. After you’ve stopped, you understand the cravings process. Some people also call that process the primal urge to use. You must acknowledge the fact that cravings will occur and that only you are in control of them. You must realize that at some point you may desire to use and get high, and that only you can control these cravings, no one else. It goes beyond just taking a drug. You cannot alter your mental state with any substance. You have to reach that point.
9. You must avoid the traps. These include excessive amounts of caffeinated drinks, steroids, gambling, compulsive chaotic relationships, obsession with food, exercise or overwork. Dependency or abuse in any one area of your life can alter your mental state, and may become problematic. You’ve got to be really careful of this. In addition, watch out that you don’t become an “inadvertent addict” by abusing over-the-counter drugs or by manipulating your doctor into prescribing drugs that are addictive.
10. Your drug or alcohol problems and their consequences are in the past. You are working through the stages of a Cognitive Restructuring program. You’ve achieved nothing. Just because you don’t do bad things to your body and to your environment and to the people around you doesn’t mean you’ve done something noble or good. What you have done is something for you, something successful, which has give you a Chance to Change, a chance to live.
Now, you focus on doing positive things for yourself and your community. You stay healthy. You take care of your body. You get your finances in order. You live a positive life. You form positive relationships.
You make no mention that your stopping drugs or alcohol is positive, because it’s not. This is the stage you live with the rest of your life.
What you can do is brag about your positive achievements. You got an education. You have a good job. You created something. You have a very good relationship with someone. And remember, there’s no rushing this stage. Look at it this way: For every day that you used and altered your mental state, you need a day of not using to undo it.
As you go through the chapters and I point out to you dysfunctional or automatic behaviors and thoughts and false beliefs that hold you back, I want you first of all to become aware of that kind of thinking. Second, I want you to challenge those thoughts. And finally, as you challenge your old thoughts and old ways of thinking and gain insight, substitute positive thoughts in their place.
This is how Cognitive Restructuring works.
As you go through the chapters based on the 10 points I’ve outlined above, keep in mind Cognitive Restructuring’s basic three steps. 1. Become aware of dysfunctional thinking. 2. Challenge dysfunctional thinking. 3. Substitute positive thoughts for dysfunctional thinking. Use this basic process to move in the right direction, away from addiction and toward a life without drugs and alcohol.
And relax! This is not that complicated. Don’t panic. This is easy to grasp. As you continue through this program, you’ll get it and absorb it. It just takes a little time. Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t get into those negative thoughts. The addicted mind will immediately tell you that it’s too hard. It isn’t. Take this Chance to Change.
A special note to my readers: I wrote this book in the same way I speak to my patients. My many years as a psychiatrist have helped me develop this skill. It is my hope that this one-on-one communication will hold your interest and change you.