Addressing Cognitive Distortions in Treatment 

Your thoughts can be unhealthy and hold you back. Cognitive distortion can reduce the quality of life and lead to bad choices. Click here to learn more.

Positive Psychology Interventions and Addiction Treatment
Positive Psychology Interventions and Addiction Treatment

Addressing Cognitive Distortions in Treatment 

How Mindset Affects Recovery

Your thoughts can be unhealthy and hold you back. Cognitive distortion can reduce the quality of life and lead to bad choices. Click here to learn more. 

The information presented on this page is a general overview and is offered here as a comprehensive resource. At Ampelis Recovery, our programs are customized and tailored to the individual’s needs. Specific details below that cover treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols used for our clients.

If you would like to learn more about Ampelis Recovery and our customized programs for professional men, please do not hesitate to reach out.


What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions were initially researched and coined by psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960s.1 Distortion is fundamental truths and thought patterns that are not based on reality. Individuals with mental illnesses may have several cognitive distortions that they hold dear.  

In recovery, cognitive distortions can cause relapse, erode resistance, and make it generally more difficult to overcome substance use. For example, a client suffering from paranoia will be less receptive to treatment and psychotherapy. 


Elements of Cognitive Distortion 

  • Automatic Thoughts: Automatic thoughts are your immediate, uncontrollable thoughts that arise based on core beliefs and self-perception. A client experiencing cognitive distortions may automatically think that they are unlikeable by every new person they meet. Taking note of automatic thoughts requires a certain level of self-awareness that can be gained through therapy and practice. 
  • Emotion Based: Many cognitive distortions are based entirely on emotion rather than an actual event. For example, a client may feel as though they are unlikable despite being invited to social events and having a wide group of friends. Clients with cognitive distortions may review events and actively misconstrue parts of conversations while disregarding anything that may disprove their theories. 
  • Self-Deprecating: A client with cognitive distortions will almost always paint themselves as a victim or being unlikable. They may downplay any responsibility they have for outcomes in favor of seeing themselves as an underdog. 

Learn More About Healing the Brain

Relationship Between Cognitive Distortion and Dual Diagnosis 

Clients that receive dual diagnoses have a higher chance of experiencing cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are often the prerequisite for mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. 

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis, also known as a comorbidity, is when a client is diagnosed with two or more disorders that occur simultaneously—such as depression and substance addiction or insomnia and anxiety. A dual diagnosis can complicate treatment for one or all diagnosed illnesses. When it comes to treating a client with dual diagnosis, both disorders must be treated at the same time. If one disorder is not treated, it could continue to impact the other one. 

Risks of Cognitive Distortions

Risks of cognitive distortions include depression, anxiety, inability to perform at work, and reduced social capacity. A client with cognitive distortions may be unable to make well-thought-out decisions based on factual evidence. As such, they may make choices that hurt their careers, relationships, etc. 

List of Most Common Cognitive Distortions 

Some of the most prevalent cognitive distortions may include:


A client who overgeneralizes will experience a minor setback and equate it with great and long-lasting failure. For example, if they have computer issues at work, they may consider their entire day ruined and say things like, “Technology hates me. Every computer I touch breaks.” Because life invariably comes with challenges, a client that overgeneralizes will, in their perspective, face great adversity daily.


Behavioral habits such as magnifying and minimizing involve drastically downplaying your best quality and focusing heavily on the worst. A client with a habit of magnifying/minimizing may never feel good enough or successful despite any outward triumphs.


A person with blame as a cognitive distortion will deeply internalize any failures even if they had little to do with the outcome. They will feel as though they had more control or power than they did and assume that if they were better, things would be different. Another manifestation of blame is when a client denies all responsibility and places the burden of blame on anyone besides themselves.  

Eliminating Shades of Gray 

Even the tiniest setback qualifies as failure in the minds of someone with cognitive distortions. For example, one might commit to a workout for weeks, miss a day, then disregard all the progress made and consider the endeavor failed. A client with black and white views on the world leaves no room for natural setbacks or deviation from a plan. Life throws curveballs, and setbacks on long-term goals are normal. Being able to cope with those setbacks and see the bigger picture is key to overcoming this distortion.  

Jumping to Conclusions

Jumping to conclusions is a behavioral habit that refers to taking a small piece of information and creating various negative scenarios. A client who jumps to conclusions will always feel as though they are unliked or have done something wrong. They may spend so much time considering the conclusion in their head that they don’t leave much room for the actual events.  

Expecting Disaster 

Someone who expects disaster lives in perpetual fear of failure and misfortune. They are unlikely to try new skills as they assume they will do poorly. They often plan for and expect events to go bad. Even when things go well, they may consider it a failure by focusing only on the bad. They may entirely disregard any successes and reinterpret them as reinforcement of their negative worldview.

Mental Filter 

The mental filter distortions occur when a client focuses on a single negative comment or setback despite any surmounting success. For example, if an obese client undergoes healthy weight loss and nine out of ten friends all comment saying they look great, but the tenth friend disagrees. A client with mental distortions will internalize and obsess over the words of the tenth friend.  

Emotional Reasoning  

Emotional reasoning happens when clients consider their emotional state the same as reality. For example, a client may become frustrated at a customer service representative and then think because they’re frustrated that they must be right.  


Labeling is a common behavioral form of cognitive distortions that involves self-deprecating language and thought. A person who labels may verbally call themselves a loser, failure, not good enough, etc. Labelers also label others with equally negative terms. If a client labels someone else, they begin to treat them as they are that label. Regardless of whether the label is accurate, it limits any potential healthy connection.  


Personalization, much like blame, involves internalizing even the most minor criticism or setback and using it to cast self-judgment. For example, one might think “This person called me a loser; therefore, I must be one.”  

Control Fallacies 

A key sign of cognitive distortions in a client is the idea that they have more control over people and situations than what is reality. They often feel if they’d been better, earlier, etc., then events would be different. They may blame themselves for events they have little to nothing to do with. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy that is a time-proven practice. It aims to change a client’s habits, core beliefs, and outlook on life. Much like cognitive distortions, the outline and therapy were created by psychiatrist Aaron Beck. Psychotherapy takes time to work but has long-lasting benefits.  


Self-talk refers to how a client communicates with themselves, how they perceive themself, and what specific language they use when considering their actions. Negative self-talk involves verbiage like loser, failures, inadequate, etc. CBT focuses on changing self-talk to become positive and make clients aware of their self-perception.  


Core-beliefs impact how a client views the world and what activities they give energy to. In recovery, it also affects their resolve and ability to resist further drug use and addiction. A client that views the world in a negative light is more likely to view themselves negatively. Ensuring a client possesses healthy core beliefs increases their chance of success with sober living.  

Thoughts- Feelings-Actions 

Thoughts become feelings, and feelings become actions. A client that is aware of their thoughts can positively change their future actions and their outlook on life.  

Advantages of CBT

CBT has several advantages. Here are the most common: 

Effective Communication

CBT stresses open and honest communication with others and with yourself. Effective communication assists in conflict resolution, building healthy relationships, and job performance. 

Learn to Manage Thoughts 

Awareness is key to recovery. A client that understands their mental states, traumas, and triggers can better avoid and learn from them. Managing thought, as mentioned above, results in better choices and actions in the long run. 

Develop Ways to Cope 

Addiction is often the result of trauma. Drugs and alcohol are used as a coping mechanism to deal with painful memories or as a way to relax from depression or anxiety. CBT provides healthy coping mechanisms that are beneficial for the client’s mental state. 

Reduce Symptoms 

CBT reduces withdrawal symptoms by giving the patient healthier ways to spend time and improve quality of life. CBT can also help a patient overcome sleep issues. Sleep issues result in being more sensitive to pain such as the aches that come from withdrawal.

Change Flawed Beliefs 

CBT assists a client in analyzing their life outlook and breaking down why something doesn’t make sense. Many clients have never been confronted for their fallacies and may be unaware they have them. CBT can correct flawed beliefs and improve quality of life.