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Updated: April 14, 2023
What Is Cognitive Flexibility and How Does It Help With Sobriety?
When a person first gets sober, they change their lifestyle. Some of these changes may be challenging, especially in early recovery. Cognitive flexibility refers to your ability to adapt and adjust to changing situations and tasks, which involves modifying your thoughts and behaviors to meet the demands of new or changing circumstances.
In addiction recovery, cognitive flexibility enables you to adapt to a life free from drugs or alcohol. Recovery, after all, involves a significant change in a person's thinking and behavior. You can learn to make these changes, a day at a time, by boosting your cognitive flexibility. Progress in recovery means continually working toward being a better person - to yourself and others.
Cognitive Flexibility: Changing Thoughts and Actions
One way cognitive flexibility is essential in addiction recovery is in enabling people to overcome the rigid thinking patterns that often contribute to addiction. When a person gets sober, they're told that being open-minded and willing can help them begin to heal. Addiction is often associated with black-and-white thinking. If this sounds familiar, it's because people who struggle with substance use often see things as "all or nothing."
This thinking can be fatalistic and set a person up for relapse. After all, life is full of shades of gray. Having a bad day or feeling frustrated doesn't have to lead to a relapse. In early recovery, it may be difficult for somebody to consider alternative options or realize instinctively that there may be more than one perspective in any situation. In treatment or therapy, however, cognitive flexibility allows individuals to consider a range of possibilities and weigh the pros and cons of different options. Tools that help you begin to think differently, and react in more productive and positive ways, are important to helping you stay sober.
Another way cognitive flexibility is essential in addiction recovery is in enabling individuals to cope with stress and negative emotions. Addiction often develops as a way of dealing with difficult feelings or stress, so individuals in recovery must learn alternative coping strategies. Cognitive flexibility can help individuals develop various techniques for dealing with difficult emotions rather than relying solely on drugs or alcohol.
What Does The Research Say About Cognitive Flexibility?
Studies have shown that cognitive flexibility is associated with better outcomes in addiction recovery. For example, one study showed that individuals with higher cognitive flexibility levels were likelier to abstain from drugs and alcohol over a 6-month follow-up period. Other studies show it can also be a valuable skill for coping with anxiety disorders.
Learning new things is critical in addiction recovery. Openmindedness can help you begin to adapt to a lifestyle of sobriety and overcome negative and toxic thinking patterns.
Research has consistently found that higher levels of cognitive flexibility are associated with better treatment outcomes. The great news is that cognitive flexibility can be both practiced and taught.
Achieving Cognitive Flexibility in Recovery
Various ways exist to teach and improve cognitive flexibility in individuals. Therapy and peer support groups can help you change your thinking. Your therapist can work with you to help you counter negative thinking patterns that lead to old, counterproductive behavior.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that aims to change negative thoughts and behaviors by teaching individuals to identify and modify the underlying thought patterns that contribute to them. In addiction recovery, CBT can help individuals to develop more adaptive thought patterns and behaviors, including cognitive flexibility.
- Mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can help people develop cognitive flexibility. Mindfulness does this by training people to observe their thoughts and emotions without reacting to them automatically, allowing them to react more positively when ready.
- Problem-solving training can teach people a step-by-step approach to solving problems. The process involves identifying the problem, generating possible solutions, evaluating the solutions, and choosing the best one. This can help you to develop cognitive flexibility through critical thinking.
- Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing you to situations that normally trigger anxiety or distress. This can help individuals develop cognitive flexibility by teaching them to approach challenging problems more openly.
- Video games as therapy! Some studies have suggested that playing video games that require cognitive flexibility, such as strategy games, can improve a person's responses. While more research is needed in this area, research suggests that activities that challenge your thinking and cause brainstorming can also help you change your thoughts.
Learning new thinking and perspectives can help you stay open-minded and focused throughout recovery. Learning new tools to cope, think more critically, and react healthily will help you stay sober in the long term.
If you're having trouble adapting to life as a sober person. some of these activities can help you change your thoughts, actions, and life! You CAN overcome the rigid thinking patterns that can contribute to relapse behaviors, giving yourself a chance for long-term sobriety. Ask others in recovery how they learned to change their thoughts and actions. You'll find there are a lot of healthier coping strategies to try.
Consider Sober Living
Sober living homes are a great place for people new in recovery to begin to get their bearings and put new coping skills to the test. Learn more about our sober living homes, our amenities, and how we help keep you on track in recovery.
If you or a loved one is looking for a safe and sober home in North County San Diego, call 760-216-2077. One of our caring members is ready to answer all of your questions.
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