Adolescents who are in the early stages of recovery from substance abuse often have a hard time envisioning a future without substances. Up until this point, most of their social life has probably come from engaging in substance use. They might fear that they will never be able to fit in or have fun if they can no longer use substances. As a professional, you can help your adolescent client unravel how substances are intertwined with their idea of living a happy and enjoyable life. With a little help, the adolescent can finally understand and accept that their life is just getting started!
Helping Your Adolescent Client Overcome Cognitive Distortions
Everyone can benefit from understanding how their thoughts impact their behaviors. Far too often, people slip into thought patterns that are negative and unhealthy. They may not realize the impact these patterns have on their daily life because they are so used to this way of coping. It often takes someone to point out the thought pattern for the person to realize what they have been thinking all along. Adolescents are no different. Cognitive distortions can lead them down a path that drives them to believe that substance abuse is a viable coping skill. Below are a few cognitive distortions that adolescents with addictions often have.
Many adolescents engaging in substance abuse fall victim to “all or nothing” thinking. They see things in black or white, and cannot discern different shades of gray. Although success and failure exist on a spectrum, adolescents tend to think of things as either success or failure — not a combination of both. If the adolescent is attempting to get sober, all or nothing thinking can be dangerous if they relapse. One drink might lead to many more, simply because they think the mistake they made means they have failed. They may have trouble acknowledging the mistake and moving past it. By helping your adolescent client understand that they can learn from a mistake without allowing it to become a full-blown relapse, you are showing them that there is gray to be seen in every situation.
Another common cognitive distortion that adolescents use is mental filtering. If an adolescent equates having a good time with using substances, they will focus completely on the good times they had while under the influence. By focusing only on these times, they are ignoring the times when they had fun without substances — almost like they never happened. If something comes up that contradicts their belief that substances equate to fun, they will filter it out. By helping your adolescent client remove their mental filter and see the experiences they have been avoiding, they should come to understand that substances aren’t what makes an experience fun. There surely will be times when no substances were involved that they still enjoyed themselves. Illuminating those moments is important.
Helping Your Adolescent Client Work on Their Thinking Patterns
To encourage your client to work on their thinking patterns and learn how they can refrain from falling back on cognitive distortions, it’s important that they try to see things on a continuous spectrum rather than just black or white. If they think they cannot have fun without substances so they will never get sober, you can help them understand that there is fun to be had without substances. Helping them understand the middle ground and see things in a more balanced way teaches them to use logic instead of feelings to drive their actions.
A great tool to help with this process is a thought journal. Adolescents often take their thoughts as absolute truth without pushing back and examining if they are rooted in fact. Just because the adolescent is thinking something doesn’t mean it is true. When your adolescent client has a distressing thought, encourage them to write it down and explain the associated feeling. Next, instruct them to apply a rationality filter to the thought. Is there truth behind what they are thinking, or is it a cognitive distortion instead? If the thought is negative, help them learn how to reframe it. By getting into a good routine with a thought journal, your client will become more aware of their self-talk and learn how to see the connection between their thoughts and their substance abuse.
Over time, your adolescent client should begin to see the upside to their life experiences without taking substances into account. They will learn to find joy in good company, rather than the opportunity to drink alcohol or use drugs. They will develop healthy hobbies and be able to apply the recovery skills they have learned into their daily life. Developing a healthy and strong mindset that helps them understand their life doesn’t have to revolve around substance use is key. With your help, your adolescent client can come to understand and truly believe that their life is only just getting started.
Sustain Recovery is here to help adolescents who are engaging in substance abuse by providing a positive and loving environment where they can address their addiction and mental health needs. We offer a wide range of programs to benefit your adolescent clients and show them how good their life can be. Working together, we can help your adolescent clients envision and embrace their sober future. When you sustain your recovery, you sustain your life.
To learn more, call Sustain Recovery today at (949) 407-9052.