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negative thoughts

How to Overcome Negative Thoughts in Recovery

Recovering from a substance use disorder is as much a psychological process as it is physical. Those in recovery often find themselves battling within their own minds with negative thought patterns. Feelings of worthlessness eat away at one’s self-esteem. Often, negative thoughts can fuel crippling anxiety and depression, driving many people back to drugs.

People who have dark, intrusive thoughts find that their negative outlook on life is often at the root of their addictive behaviors. Without overcoming negative thoughts, many of those in recovery end up relapsing and returning to their old habits.

The key to successful and lasting recovery is learning how to control your thoughts – how to stop negative self-talk and challenge negative thoughts when they come up, rather than uncritically accepting them. Thankfully, with the right approach and support system in place, it is possible to overcome negative thinking and achieve successful addiction recovery.

In this article, we’ll go over negative thinking patterns, examples of negative thoughts, and how to stop spiraling into negative thinking.

Identify Negative Thought Patterns

The first step in learning how to get rid of negative thoughts is learning to recognize your negative thought patterns. Few people actually self-reflect on their own thoughts, meaning they’re often surprised to learn just how negative they are.

If you think you may be one of these people, here are some examples of negative thoughts you may recognize:

  • “I can’t do anything right.”
  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I am a failure.”
  • “No one likes me.”
  • “I will never be successful.”
  •  “My life is hopeless.”

Other examples of negative thought patterns may include ruminating on past events or experiences and worrying about the future.

There’s also something called all-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking is the belief that if you can’t achieve perfection then there’s no point in even trying. An example of this would be feeling that because you might not (yet) be able to go a full year while sober, it’s no use trying for even a week.

Once you become aware of these patterns, you can then take steps to reframe your thoughts to gain more positive perspectives.

Stop Negative Thoughts by Challenging Them

One of the most important tools for learning how to overcome overthinking and negative thoughts is therapy. After you can identify your negative thoughts, you can learn skills in therapy to challenge and change them.

There are various types of therapy, each with its own approach. One of the most popular therapies for helping those in recovery is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT for short.

CBT is a type of therapy that helps people learn to identify, challenge, and change their own thought patterns. It is especially helpful for those in recovery and can help stop negative thoughts by replacing them with healthier thoughts and habits.

During a CBT session, the therapist will help the client identify their negative thinking patterns. They’ll then help the client challenge these thoughts and replace them with healthier ones

The goal of CBT is to help people become aware of their thoughts and develop better coping skills. The therapist will usually assign specific activities that the person needs to work on in between sessions.

Think Positive Thoughts

One of the best ways to stop negative thoughts is to practice positive thinking. Once you identify negative thought patterns, try to change them into positive ones.

Another way to think positive thoughts is to practice positive self-talk, also known as positive self-affirmation. This commonly takes the form of mantras – phrases you say to yourself over and over throughout the day.

For example, a mantra you could use could say something like “Every day and in every way, I am getting better and better.” The great thing about this is that after a while, you start to believe it, meaning you really do start getting better.

Finally, identify areas you need to change and work affirmatively toward changing them. If you notice something about yourself that you do not like, rather than dwell on it, try to make an effort to improve. By doing so, you’ll be able to feel good about yourself because your flaws are being reduced. And even if you aren’t successful, the fact that you tried deserves respect – from yourself as well as those around you.

In therapy, your therapist will assign specific activities that a person needs to work on in between sessions. These activities specifically address the person’s unwanted thoughts so that they have the opportunity to replace them with positive alternatives throughout the week. As a result, clients can use healthier methods of managing negative thoughts and negative emotions, which eventually help them develop an overall positive attitude in life and recovery.

Spend More Time with Positive People

The people you are around can have a major impact on how you feel. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people can help keep you away from negative thoughts. Try to spend time with people who are encouraging, uplifting, and understanding. 

It can also be helpful to find a mentor who is also in recovery and can relate to your experience. Having someone you can talk to who understands your struggles can be invaluable when it comes to dealing with negative thoughts. You can also join in-person and online support groups to get advice from others who are struggling with similar issues.

It’s important to remember that taking care of yourself in recovery doesn’t have to be a solitary exercise. You can always invite friends from your recovery community to participate in fun sober activities! For instance, you can get a group together for a yoga or meditation class. In turn, you can engage in a healthy source of stress relief with the added bonus of support from your sober community.

Avoid Negative People

Conversely, being around negative people increases your likelihood of spiraling into negative thought patterns. When you’re in recovery, it’s important to stay away from people, places, and things that could trigger negative thinking.

This means avoiding people who may have been part of your past substance abuse, places associated with your substance abuse, and anything that reminds you of your addiction. Being around the same social circles where your substance abuse first took shape will only make it more likely you return to those old habits.

Instead, use your newfound clarity as an opportunity to form healthy relationships that are based on things other than substance abuse. This will help you stay focused on your recovery and support system. While avoiding negative people, it is just as important to stay connected with a support group that can provide you with the guidance and encouragement needed to get through tough times of relapse.

Set Attainable Goals

Sometimes negative thoughts can happen when we set unrealistic goals for ourselves. Setting attainable goals that are realistic and based on your current situation can help you stay on track and keep negative thinking at bay. It’s important to remember that recovery is a journey, and the process of getting to your goal will look different for everyone. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking, be kind to yourself, and celebrate each small accomplishment along the way.

In fact, all-or-nothing thinking is a type of cognitive distortion that can be a barrier when setting goals in recovery. It’s the tendency to think in extremes, such as seeing yourself or situations as either completely “good” or “bad”. Although clack-and-white thinking is commonly associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it can set anyone back in addiction recovery. This pattern of negative thoughts can lead to unhelpful emotions, like feeling overwhelmed and pessimistic about your progress in recovery.

Instead, focus on the small steps you are taking and acknowledge your successes, no matter how insignificant they might seem. This will help to keep you motivated and focused on your long-term goals. Additionally, be sure to reach out for help when needed – there is nothing wrong with asking for support from friends or family, or seeking professional guidance if necessary. With adequate help, you can learn to replace your black-and-white thinking with more realistic views and achieve lasting recovery.

Talk to a Therapist About Your Negative Thoughts

Whether you are newly sober or have five years of sobriety on your belt, talking to a therapist can help you understand and overcome your negative thoughts. Your therapist can help you recognize patterns that are keeping you stuck, help you identify your triggers, and provide you with tools during CBT therapy that can help overcome them.

With a therapist’s help, you can develop healthier habits and understand more about your current coping strategies and how they are impacting your recovery.

While working with your therapist, you can learn ways to eliminate negative thoughts and tools to maintain a successful recovery. By recognizing your negative thoughts, challenging them, and developing healthier habits, you can move toward a more positive mindset and emotional well-being. To help you get there, your therapist may suggest lifestyle changes, medication if necessary, and other therapeutic techniques like mindfulness meditation.

Your therapist may also encourage you to explore different ways of expressing yourself. During your therapy sessions, you can participate in activities such as artful expression, yoga, journaling, or spending time in nature. These activities can help you gain insight into your thought patterns, increase self-awareness, and foster a healthier relationship with yourself. Additionally, your therapist may provide support and guidance as needed while walking with you through the journey to recovery. With time and effort, you can reach a healthy state of mind and manage stress in a more effective manner.

Learn How to Stop Negative Thoughts at South Coast

By understanding your negative patterns, challenging them, and practicing positive thinking, you can learn how to stop negative thoughts and create lasting changes in your life. Take the time to identify your patterns, seek help when needed, set attainable goals, and spend time with positive people and activities. With dedication and effort, you can learn to be kinder to yourself and your recovery journey, and ultimately find greater peace and joy in life.

If you or a loved one is currently in recovery from substance use disorder, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help. We offer substance use recovery services that are compassionate while being backed by the latest research. Our team of highly credentialed staff is committed to helping you overcome your negative thoughts and helping you recover.

If you are looking for help with your addiction, call us at 866-881-1184. Our highly qualified staff are available 24/7 to answer your questions. All calls are free and confidential.


Negative emotion – APA 

Alexandra Kraska
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT