Brain scans show that in people who have struggled with addiction for a long time, the part of your brain responsible for rational thinking becomes cut off from the part of your brain responsible for gratification. That means the longer addiction persists, the less you are physically able to make good decisions about drugs or alcohol. That presents a problem for recovery. If you can’t make good decisions about alcohol and drugs, how can you stay sober? The good news is there are strategies for making better decisions and with practice, your brain can re-establish the connection between reason and reward. Here are some ways to make better decisions in recovery.
Make sobriety your North Star.
Your brain will come up with all sorts of reasons why it’s ok to have one drink, or you why you can hang out with friends who are using, or even that sobriety is not really that important. These reasons will seem totally convincing to you because your judgement around addiction is totally unreliable. One solution is just not to put sobriety up for debate. Take it on faith that sobriety is the most important thing and avoid whatever might jeopardise it. In that spirit, rely heavily on the judgement of people who want you to stay sober. Your sponsor, your group, your family, and reliable friends will have much clearer judgement and you should listen to them.
Clarify your values.
Decisions are hardest when we don’t know what’s most important to us. Once you figure that out, most decisions are easy because you just think about what action better aligns with your values. Take some time to clarify what’s really important to you. Start by thinking about why you decided to get sober in the first place. Was it your family? Your Career? Your health? Focus on the things worth staying sober for and let them guide your thinking.
Work with a good therapist.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, or CBT and DBT, respectively, are common treatment approaches for addiction. They both emphasise learning learning specific skills for making decisions and dealing with difficult situations. Sometimes these skills seem very basic. You might practice what to say if a friend offers you a drink, for example. You may think you know how you will respond, but you may respond differently when facing the real situation. Practising in a safe environment while making the situation as real as possible will improve your chances of making the right decisions in the moment.
Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centres in the UK. Castle Craig provides consulting psychiatrists who diagnose associated mental illnesses like anxiety states, depression, ADD, PTSD, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and compulsive relationships. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020