Self-Talk’s Role in Addiction Relapse

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“I can handle it. It won’t hurt me.” “Oh, go ahead, you know you want it. One time won’t matter.” “I’ll just take one!”

It often seems that the moment you decide to quit an addictive substance or activity, the deluding, conniving self-talk begins. Before you know it, this deceptive self-talk urges you to engage in dysfunctional behavior, and now the danger of relapse is just around the corner. That’s the power of language and how it shapes our thoughts and actions.

But it is possible to get a hold of this self-defeating, one-way conversation. Change your self-talk and you change yourself.

Addictions help people avoid unpleasant or painful emotions. People develop addictions not only to substances—such as drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, food—but also to activities, such as gambling, sex, the Internet, work, theft, shopping. The common thread is a preoccupation that interferes with life, continued use or involvement despite negative consequences, and loss of control. While they may bring short-term relief, addictions result in long-term nightmares. You know you are caught up in addictions when one or more areas of your life are disrupted by your habit.

To the voices in your head, however, it’s ALL about the short-term relief.

Lynne Namka, author of Avoiding Relapse: Catching Your Inner Con, refers to this self-talk as the “Inner Con.” This is the grand seducer who tempts you to go back to your addiction with huge fabrications, distortions, tricks and rationalizations that ignore the severe emotional, interpersonal and physical consequences of continued use.

“Your Inner Con is absorbed in totally protecting and preserving itself,” writes Namka. “It feeds your fixation and agonizes about not being complete without using. It seduces, swindles and victimizes you to go against yourself and your better nature. It divides your psyche and creates mistrust in yourself. Its purpose is to keep hounding you until you weaken and give in. It will say anything to get you to use.”

This Inner Con is the fear-based part of you. It fears change. It fears facing the unpleasant and painful emotions that the addiction hides. Actually, it’s the active voice of your addiction.

In order to make a success of recovery you need to become more positive about life and your future. One of the biggest hurdles to achieving this is negative self talk. Believe it or not, it’s just as easy to turn your internal voice into the biggest cheerleader rather than your harshest critic.

By understanding this, relapse into addiction becomes only one choice of many. Doing some or all of the following actions will help counter this negative, seductive self-talk:

Become aware. The first step to overcoming negative self-talk is to be aware of it. People can become so wrapped up in their thinking that they don’t even notice that they are excessively negative.

Learning to think critically can be a real help when it comes to challenging negative self-talk. Critical thinking involves being able to investigate ideas to see if they really are true.

Meditation techniques such as mindfulness can be particularly good for getting a better handle on your inner world. Those who practice these techniques become better at identifying their thought patterns, and they can see how this affects their life.

Get support. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Work with a mental health professional. Find an “accountability partner.”

Engage other inner characters. Why let your Inner Con hog the microphone? What does your Inner Healer have to say? Your Inner Hero? Your Inner Cheerleader?

Counter the negative, distorted self-talk with affirmations. “I am the master, not the slave. I choose not to smoke,” or “I am able to say ‘No.’ I choose NOT to use,” or “I am a good person, and I choose to have friends who do not pressure me into drinking with them.”

Journaling. Make lists of all of your Inner Con’s statements. Write dialogues between this and other inner characters. Write all the emotions that surface when you’re not engaged in your addiction. Then talk to a friend, confidant or your therapist.

Develop Gratitude. Another powerful technique for overcoming negative self-talk is to develop gratitude. This means that the person should spend a few minutes each day considering all the things in their life they have to feel grateful about – a gratitude diary is one way of doing this. 

Schedule daily contemplation time to help change beliefs and destructive self-talk. Use this time to journal, meditate, pray, read or study. You may want to make this a daily practice for the rest of your life.

Replacing the negative self-talk with supportive beliefs and self-talk frees up blocked positive energy. It puts you on a path not to destruction but to fulfillment.

Need more information? Contact Chi Recovery now by calling 707.812.7772 or go to