Rumination’s Impact on Addiction and What to do About It

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Addiction can cause many negative factors in a person’s life. Furthermore, loved ones of those who are addicted are also left with a variety of negative elements as well. One of the potential consequences or symptoms of addiction is rumination.

Rumination is when a person thinks too much about a problem or event and does not reach a solid conclusion. Rumination can cause a person to become anxious, distracted, and irritable, leading them to seek an escape from their thoughts. Typical thoughts in a negative rumination cycle might be, “Why can’t I stop using?” or “if only I could lessen my stress,” or “I wish I were smarter.”

All of these questions have one common theme: they do not move a person toward finding a solution. Some folks that have an addiction, or those that have an addicted family member, can spend hours, days, or even months going over these scenarios in their mind. These questions, when left without a concrete resolution, can potentially leave a person feeling stuck in a rut or on a downward spiral of negativity.

Changing Your Way of Thinking

Everyone may have these ruminating thoughts from time to time, and some will have them more often than others. However, the difference between becoming trapped by and initiating victory over these thoughts is the willingness to ask yourself another type of question. Ask yourself, “Is this ruminating thought leading me towards solving any of my problems?” Most likely, the answer will be no. Although rumination can bring a person temporary relief and comfort, focusing on solutions more than one’s problems allows a person’s mind to shift gears and focus energy on moving towards a solution. That is not to say that all problems have an easy, clearly evident solution right away, but this way of thinking is a step in the right direction. This strategy takes some practice, but can yield amazing results.

How and why does this strategy work? This may be best seen in a practical example of this principle. An addicted person, we will call him John, begins to think about certain things and they potentially become overwhelming, repetitive thoughts in his mind. “Why can’t I just be normal and not use drugs anymore?” or “if only I would have grown up in a different family I wouldn’t be going through this.” His loved one might say, “If only John loved me he could quit using and be normal.”

End Negative Rumination Cycles

These are mostly realistic thoughts and feelings, and partially truth based; however, repeating these questions is going to get a person nowhere closer to a resolution to their problems, and it can actually make things worse. Recognizing and understanding negative rumination cycles will help John and his family adjust their thinking, which will eventually help alter his feelings and behaviors towards himself, others, and the world around him. Instead of negativity and despair, John may begin to feel hopeful about the solutions to his recovery.

Although a difficult principle to implement all at once, small changes in a person’s thinking will be great steps towards positive thinking and recovery. An example of thought shifting may be turning “Why can’t I just be normal and not use drugs anymore?” into “I am struggling to quit, but what are some steps I can take to stop using?”

Ending the rumination cycle can be a difficult process to master and even after practicing for years, one will never perfect it. Also, changing these ruminating thoughts is not an ultimate solution to a person’s addiction, but it can be a major step towards gaining control over their thoughts and begin moving towards positive recovery. It can also be a great tool for a family member to use to help support a person who is suffering with an addiction. It will most likely be a difficult, lengthy road, but eliminating negative rumination will have worthwhile, positive benefits.

Rumination is often associated with addiction, but it can also be associated with other mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Learn how therapy or treatment can help with repetitive thoughts and encourage positive change.

Written by Joseph Campasino, BA, CADC

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