The 7 Most Common Cognitive Distortions That Lead to Relapse

The 7 Most Common Cognitive Distortions That Lead to Relapse

Progress is not always linear. To get from Point A to Point Sobriety, you may travel a twisted route. Relapses affect many individuals in the recovery community, but rather than judge them or fear the worst, it is more beneficial to assess the underlying causes.

The rates of remission differ greatly between people seeking treatment and those who are attempting to go it alone. An estimated 20% to 50% of those in treatment struggle with short-term relapse, but that figure climbs to a range of 50-80% among those who are untreated.

The bottom line: recovery works when you work for recovery. Sober living offers structure and support to people in our community by offering therapy and analysis. You have the keys to success, but sometimes, mental roadblocks get in your way. The following seven cognitive distortions may impede your road to recovery. Together, we can break them down and clear the path to sobriety.


The human brain is the world’s most sophisticated supercomputer. It processes an avalanche of stimuli every microsecond of every day. The data on which your mind chooses to focus determines how you perceive the world. So, when you obsess about negative information, you are dooming yourself to negative outcomes.

Mental filtering is a condition in which a person separates positive feedback from other information, honing in on the bleakest impressions possible. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness, which is fertile ground for relapse. If you believe you can’t overcome addiction, then chances are you won’t succeed. Be mindful of your mindset in order to change your filtration process.


When we discuss “relapse,” it sounds ominous. But relapses can be minor setbacks from which you can rebound fairly quickly. We should try to avoid black-and-white thinking, otherwise known as polarization.

If you view the world as a series of cliffs, then it is inevitable to fall off of one. In reality, life ebbs and flows. Some days are wonderful and others are just meh. By navigating between the highs and lows, you avoid the pitfalls of seeing stark conclusions. Even if you have a temptation for drugs or alcohol, you don’t need to succumb to it. The world is not black and white, so chase your rainbow (metaphorically speaking)!

“Should” Declarations

The past is in the past. There is nothing we can do to rewrite history, try as we might. That is why living in the past is a dead-end. By saying something “should” have happened, you are expressing an unwillingness to move forward with your life.

The same is true of “should” statements in the present tense. When you occupy your mind with how others “should” behave or how your life “should” be, then you are ignoring all of the possibilities to improve your situation. For instance, instead of saying, “I should go for a nice walk,” you could actually just lace up your sneakers and go for it. Action is not only louder than words; it is also more empowering. In the case of an unfortunate relapse, you will no longer frame it as a situation you “should” confront, but rather one you “will” confront.

Everything Is Personal

Personalization puts far too much pressure on you. When you perceive every deed and conversation as an attack on you, then you begin to become paranoid about the world around you. Stop personalizing everything and you will start liberating yourself from obsessive worry.

The move away from personalization is essential to a productive recovery. If you feel insulted by everyday occurrences, you may turn to substance use as self-medication. However, by realizing not everything is about you, it may help you regulate your negative perceptions.

Control Issues

Personalization also relates to the fallacy of control. You can’t change others’ minds or hearts, and the sooner you stop trying to control the world, the sooner the world will be a more manageable place. External factors such as workplace conditions and politics are scenarios we all must navigate. Loosen the reins and enjoy the ride. By living a less controlled existence, you can avoid the fatalism of falling into relapse.


Emotions are powerful forces. When we are depressed or anxious, the feelings swirling around us threaten to consume us. But emotional reasoning leads to cognitive breakdown. If you convince yourself that your feelings are true – even the most extreme ones – then your perception can become quite skewed.

Case in point: you feel underappreciated at your job. You can either convince yourself that it’s just an off day, or you can allow your emotions to cloud your worldview. Your brain tells you that everyone has conspired against you, and that’s why you aren’t getting promoted. This sense of emotional reasoning has destroyed your self-esteem and your ability to work through the problem productively. Your sense of worthlessness has evolved into a pattern of behavior, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Emotional reasoning often leads to relapse because if you feel like you can’t resist a drink, then you will soon believe it. Break the chain of negative feelings yielding to dark thoughts and avoid the dangers of emotional reasoning.


Relapse is an outcome we all try to avoid during recovery. But sometimes, the most unwelcome situation is exactly what we gravitate towards. A moth can’t help but fly into the flame, despite its danger… or perhaps because of its danger. When we fixate wholeheartedly on the worst-case scenario, it becomes almost inevitable.

There’s an old saying: don’t think of a purple elephant. Now, what are you thinking about? A purple elephant, right? Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion in which everything you see is a calamity. Whenever you turn a corner, you encounter temptations. But instead of perceiving the world through a lens of failure, you can change your outlook.

Catastrophe can only affect you if you let it. Embrace change, follow positivity and lean on others within your recovery community. We have all faced down our demons at some point or another. Let’s trounce them together. Contact Ethos and turn the page on negativity.