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Beat the Mind Games In Early Recovery

 Terry Martin

(This article originally appeared on and has been slightly edited for this blog)    

Alcoholics and addicts often romanticize drinking or using their drug of choice. Drinking or using offered comfort, entertainment, and companionship—or so you thought.   At the same time, you might relate recovery and abstinence to feelings of pain, misery, and sacrifice. These opposing feelings are reinforced on a subconscious level, below the surface of your thoughts. The result is that you might adopt unhealthy and inaccurate beliefs as facts of life when in reality they are only your distorted perceptions of the truth.

Use these tips to help you learn how to recognize thoughts that don’t serve you as you move through recovery from drugs and alcohol and reprogram your mind with thoughts that do.


3 Quotes to Help You Quit

  1. If you want to change your life, change your mind.
  2. We either make ourselves happy or miserable, the amount of work is the same.
  3. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

The first quote is from Terry Martin. It’s a catchy little phrase, and very appropriate during early recovery Or, it’s another meaningless expression that do-gooders like to chant. The choice is up to you.

Your recovery can be a horrible, difficult, torturous period of penance that may end with you becoming a user again because you really want to be drinking or using but feel you can’t.

Or, your recovery can be a somewhat uncomfortable but exciting path leading to new opportunities and higher self-esteem. You know you won’t drink or use because you’re already feeling the freedom of living without chemical dependence. That too is up to you.

We Are Experts at Mind Games 

You have to be, to continue to do something as self-destructive as abusing drugs and alcohol and still sleep at night. If you allow those old mind games to continue, you are going to be facing a “horrible, difficult, torturous period of penance,” so take the easy way. Make a mental change, and try some new, fresh mind games.


14 Mind Tricks to Get You Started

Here are some tricks to get you started:

    1. Never allow yourself to think “I need to use” or “I need a drink.”  That’s way too emotional. Change it to something wordy enough to take the passion out of the sentiment, like, “I’m feeling some tension that I would have interpreted in the past as a desire for a drink.” Same goes for “I want to drink” or  “I want to use.” In addition to being unemotional, analyzing the feeling makes you realize that you are not actually in pain over a craving to use.
    2. Never allow yourself to think “I could have just one.” Change it to “I could become a addict again.” They amount to the same thing.
    3. Never allow yourself to visualize yourself enjoying a a drink or using. Instead, change the mental image to a picture to the embarrassing, disgusting behavior you partook in when you used… Think of the relationships that were ruined…  Remember all the pain that alcohol and drugs brought into your life.
    4. Often point out the good stuff to yourself. Everyone sees the healing changes at different rates. Even on your first alcohol and drug free day, you can find something good, even if it’s just your money jar. As you notice them, write them down. You’ll be amazed at how fast you come to take the benefits for granted.
    5. Often tell yourself how good you feel. It’s just as easy to say “I feel great” as it is to say “Oh, am I ever suffering”. Easier, actually—there are fewer syllables. And your subconscious really does come to believe what you tell yourself. Try writing, “I am so glad to be free” on a post-it and sticking it to your bathroom mirror so that you are sure to remind yourself of this every morning.
    6. Never deny yourself something good because your remaining abstinent. Say you associate sitting on your porch with using.   In the first days of recovery  you may associate everything with drinking and using.  Deal with the triggers early on and don’t leave yourself feeling deprived. One exception is alcohol. Even if you don’t believe alcohol is your problem or drug of choice, alcohol has to be avoided because it also lowers your inhibitions and capacity for rational thought.
    7. Often laugh. Laughter is a much better, more effective, and healthier relaxant than consuming poisons. Try some Youtube therapy.
    8. Never doubt that one drink or hit will make you a user again. There have been too many stories of people who hadn’t drank or used for years and wound up right back at their old level, kicking themselves every second of the way, for anyone to seriously question the law of addiction. Which, by the way, is a Law like “gravity,” not a law like the “speed limit”. You might be able to drive too fast without getting caught, but don’t step out of a plane just because nobody’s around to see you.
    9. Never let your mind fall into the old rut of junkie thinking. Don’t think of quitting as an end. It’s the beginning of a healthy new lifestyle where unforeseen opportunities will open to you. Don’t let your “junkie” tell you that the damage is already done. Yeah, you may have done some damage, but you don’t have to do one bit more. Don’t keep telling yourself that it’s hard. It takes a lot of effort but so does everything worth doing. You are learning new things and developing new skills every day. You are doing this.
    10. Never let your mind start to romanticize how great everything was when you “got to” drink or use. And don’t envy the users getting their fix or old barflys, wasting their life away in some dingy tavern. Instead, remember what it was really like to NEED to use or drink. If drinking and using was all that great, you wouldn’t have ever considered quitting. Take a minute now and remember all the lousy stuff about needing to use.
    11. Never let yourself think that you “might use” or you “might drink”, even if it’s in the context of being “afraid” that you will use. That’s just giving yourself permission to do it, even if the permission comes with the price of beating yourself up later.
    12. Always recognize the truth—you control your hands, your mouth, your body. Nothing can make you drink or use unless you decide to do it. Make that decision with your eyes wide open. Any dubious relief that a a drink or using would offer will begin to wear off the moment you put it down, leaving you with nothing but a reawakened chemical addiction. The only valid reason to use is to decide to become an addict again and remain one until the day you die. And I really don’t think there’s any valid reason to decide that.
    13. Never say “never.” The thought that you will never be able to drink or use again is scary and might lead you to grab one because it could be the “last chance.” This is false. Drugs and alcohol will still be for sale tomorrow and next week and next year. You will always be free to use.   All you have to do is to decide to be a addict  again and accept all of the negatives that go with that right back into your life.
    14. Always reach out to your social support system before you drink or use.  And once you do, wait for at least three answers to your call for help. By the time those three come in, the “urgency” to use will have passed. What if you’re out and you won’t be able to reach out to support until you get home? Think about how long you’ve already gone without using. What difference will a few more hours make? Give your friends a chance to help before you relapse. Even better, give your own intelligent, rational mind a chance to kick in.



    Have a few “mindless mantras” that you can fall back on when you’re just too tired to think anymore today. They’re things that are too obviously true to argue with, and catchy enough to remember. You can often find them in people’s signature lines. They include:

    • If I have just one or use just once, I’ll be right back to where I started. Where I started was desperately wishing I could be where I am today.
    • What if you abandon the journey today and the peace would have come tomorrow?
    • It is not a matter of if you will go to war with  your addiction, but a matter of when you will go to war. Will you go while you are healthy and in control or when you are dying?
    • We own our recovery

    In times of stress, ask yourself, what would a non-user do?   Try to picture someone you know who has never used in the situation you’re in and try to imagine them reaching for a drink or drug to get through it. The absurd notion that a drink or drug would help them will help you see that the notion a drink or drug will help you is absurd, too. Congratulations to everyone who will not use today!


    A Note about this Article: This essay was adapted from a quit smoking article published in   Although it was originally about quitting smoking; the mind games we play are just as applicable to early recovery, so we decided to tweak it and share it here…. We it hope it helps someone succeed in their recovery.





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