What Is Alcoholic Thinking? Characteristics & How to Overcome It

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Last Updated - 05/17/2024

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Updated 05/17/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholic thinking is a term that encompasses the unique cognitive patterns and psychological behaviors associated with alcohol addiction.
  • Alcohol affects decision-making and can lead to emotional changes that encourage continued drinking, potentially causing long-term problems and contributing to alcoholic thinking.
  • Signs of alcoholic thinking include denial, rationalization, blame-shifting, self-pity, perfectionism, aggression, impulsivity, risky behaviors, an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality, and prioritizing drinking above all else.
  • The cause of alcoholism is complex, involving both alcohol’s influence on thinking and existing thought patterns that lead to alcohol misuse, with childhood mental health issues potentially predicting later alcoholism.
  • Strategies for overcoming alcoholic thinking include avoiding old routines, identifying triggers, utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), practicing mindfulness and meditation, and going to an addiction treatment center.
  • Understanding the origin of alcoholism is crucial for developing effective prevention strategies and treatments that target both alcohol’s influence on thinking and existing thought patterns.

What Is ‘Alcoholic Thinking’?

The concept of ‘alcoholic thinking’ is essential in understanding the cognitive patterns associated with alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

This type of thinking is characterized by a collection of cognitive processes and behaviors that can predispose individuals to alcoholism or can be a result of chronic alcohol use. The concept is rooted in the notion of the ‘insanity of alcoholism,’ as described by Alcoholics Anonymous, highlighting the irrational justifications that alcoholics may use to continue their drinking habits despite negative consequences.

Alcoholic thinking often involves rationalizations, justifications, and an altered perception of reality that supports the continuation of drinking despite negative consequences. It can manifest as denial of the severity of the addiction, minimization of the impact of alcohol on one’s life, or blame-shifting to external factors or individuals.

A study from Virginia Tech suggests that decision-making in individuals with AUD can be influenced by their ‘temporal window of integration.’ This ‘window’ is essentially how far into the future they can consider the consequences of their actions when making present choices. 

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that certain ways of thinking, like fear of judgment, fear of success, and believing that you can control your drinking, can make it more likely for someone to start drinking again after they’ve stopped.

It’s crucial to address the distorted thinking patterns associated with alcoholism to effectively treat and recover from it. Identifying these signs can help individuals and healthcare providers create targeted strategies to combat alcohol’s harmful effects on the brain and prevent relapse.

Influence of Alcohol on Alcoholic Thought Processes

Alcohol affects the brain, influencing behavior, thinking, and emotions. Studies show that alcohol can make people more emotional and put them in a good mood in non-threatening situations, which may encourage them to keep drinking. Research on how alcohol affects decision-making helps explain how these mood changes can lead to patterns of thinking associated with alcoholism.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) shows that the brain’s ability to change and its role in both the development and recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) are important. Alcohol can harm the brain, especially in young people, which can make them more likely to develop AUD when they are older. Drinking a lot during this important time can also change how the brain develops and how well people think, feel, and socialize. This can cause long-term problems and might lead to ‘alcoholic thinking.’

Cognitive-behavioral approaches to alcoholism treatment suggest that ‘alcoholic drinking’ is a sequence of learned behaviors. Positive effects of alcohol, such as reducing anxiety or enhancing sociability, can be key in the development of these behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral models also emphasize alcohol-related cognitions, which are crucial in the initiation, maintenance, and cessation of alcohol use.

Alcohol’s impact on the brain is not uniform across all individuals or life stages. For example, age-related differences in chronic alcohol’s effect on cognition highlight the potential for greater resilience in adolescents to the long-term effects of alcohol compared to adults. Yet, the initial damage to developmental processes may pave the way for ‘alcoholic thinking’ to take root.

Characteristics of an Alcoholic Mindset

Alcoholic thinking is a pattern of cognitive and behavioral symptoms associated with problematic alcohol use. It is characterized by a range of signs that indicate an individual’s drinking habits have become harmful or compulsive. Recognizing these signs is crucial for early intervention and treatment. 

Common signs of alcoholic thinking include:

  • Denial and rationalization
  • Shifting the blame
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Aggression 
  • Impulsivity and risk-taking
  • Self-pity
  • Perfectionism
  • Entitlement
  • “All or nothing” mentality
  • Alcohol as a central priority in life

For those exhibiting these signs, seeking professional guidance is recommended, as treatment options such as cognitive behavioral therapy and support groups can be effective in overcoming alcoholic thinking.

The Origin of Alcoholism: Alcohol or Alcoholic Thinking?

The debate about the cause of alcoholism is similar to the question of the chicken and the egg. Does alcohol use lead to “alcoholic thinking,” or do existing thinking patterns lead to alcohol misuse?

A meta-analysis by Boden and Fergusson looked at the connections between alcohol use disorders (AUD) and major depression (MD) to find out if one might cause the other. They found that childhood mental health issues could predict the development of both mood and substance-related disorders, suggesting that factors existing before alcohol use could affect the start of alcoholism.

Prospective studies show that early psychological issues can lead to both mood disorders and alcohol use disorder (AUD). The relationship between mental health and alcohol use is complex. Sometimes, people use alcohol to cope with distress, which can worsen both the mental health issue and the alcohol use. Attitudes toward drinking and social norms also affect and are affected by alcohol consumption, particularly among college students.

Understanding the origin of alcoholism is complex. It’s hard to pinpoint one single cause. Alcohol can influence the way a person thinks, but certain thought patterns that exist before someone starts drinking shouldn’t be ignored. This debate is important for developing effective treatments and prevention strategies for alcoholism.

How to Overcome Alcoholic Thinking

Overcoming alcoholic thinking involves a multifaceted approach that includes recognizing triggers, developing coping strategies, and seeking professional support. 

Some effective ways to get out of the alcoholic mindset include:

  • Avoiding old routines and habits is critical, as they can lead to relapse. Instead, replace them with healthier alternatives that tap into your personal passions and skills.
  • Identifying personal triggers, both external and internal, is essential for preventing relapse. 
  • Implementing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be a powerful tool in managing alcohol cravings. CBT helps individuals alter their cognitive processes and behaviors, making it a cornerstone in addiction treatment.
  • Mindfulness and meditation practices can support the journey to overcome alcoholic thinking by fostering greater self-awareness and emotional regulation.
  • Seeking admission to an alcohol addiction treatment program can help you safely detox and learn lasting coping skills for a sober life. Treatment options include inpatient rehab, outpatient care, and dual-diagnosis treatment.

Find Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder Today

Getting help for alcoholism at The Recovery Village Columbus can greatly improve the chances of overcoming alcohol addiction. The center’s team of professionals works closely with each patient to create and continuously adjust treatment plans that ensure long-term success. The Recovery Village Columbus offers several treatment options, including medical detox, inpatient rehab, and more to provide you with personalized care at our Joint Commission-accredited facility. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to take the first step toward living an alcohol-free life.


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