What’s the single biggest barrier to Recovery from an Addiction?

One of the more common ideas in recovery is that 75% of addicts will relapse within the first 90 days of their recovery. But, this idea has no weight within any single person’s path towards health. As a matter of fact, this professed failure rate is yet another aspect of what I believe is the single biggest reason why people do not achieve their goals (in recovery or otherwise): Judgment.

Most people associate judgment with “right and wrong” or “good or bad” and on a basic level, those association are correct. However, there are other ways that we judge and those other ways can sometimes seem innocuous and benign, when really, they set the stage for failure. What’s worse is when we judge ourselves, automatically, because of ideas that were never our own. These automatic judgments often lead to automatic reactions and behaviors that can be nothing less than toxic.

For example, I can be quite intense, often without much provocation. All that’s needed is for me to sense that I’m being attacked and I automatically become defensive and can raise my voice, even if the situation may not call for that strong of a response. But, I do know what causes that: One of my automatic thoughts that results in an adverse behavior is: “Oh no, I’m in trouble, I’m a bad person.” This type of thinking creates a defensive emotional state because on some other level, I know I’m a “good” person and that contrasting thought needs reconciliation and so I do whatever I need to do to convince the person that triggered the “I’m a bad person thought” so that I can prove to myself that the “good person” is the accurate representation. Most of the time, my convincing is far stronger and more intense than it needs to be.

When it comes to recovery, I’m willing to bet that the idea that a majority of addicts relapse paves the way for the relapse itself. I’ve heard people who dive into the “fuck it bucket” say things like, “Well, I’m going to screw up anyway so I might as well drink (or smoke or use).” This type of statement emerges from negative and automatic thoughts that exist deep in our psychological makeup that someone else built.

Our expectations of ourselves and others are powerful. If we automatically jump to a negative expectation when confronted with a given situation, then we are almost assuring someone’s failure. For example, if someone gets out of rehab and we say things like, “hmm, I wonder how long this sobriety will last” through a sarcastic tone, and if the person getting out of rehab hears it, then the negative energy will trigger the negative automatic thought and probably lead to a relapse.

We ALL have negative automatic thoughts about ourselves that can be triggered someone else’s judgment. The trick is to be aware of our own judgments that we make without thinking of them as such, while also being aware of our own negative automatic thoughts.

Whether or not 75% of addicts in recovery relapse within 90 days, the truth is that it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we believe in recovery and that we believe and speak success into recovery. Really, judgment dressed as a stupid statistic doesn’t help a damn thing.

Just a thought: Find yourself a nice quiet place, grab a pen and paper, and try to think of your own negative automatic thoughts and your automatic negative expectations and judgements of others….you might be surprised at their similarities….



  1. Here’s a little constructive criticism: Your article is too long. There’s a beauty in brevity.
    Recovering people need learn how to manage all of their reservations to use, completely and deeply surrender to further use no matter what, and to learn to differentiate between their thoughts. In other words, what to ignore (diseased thoughts) and how to listen to the still, small voice of their Higher Power. Hope, love, kindness and honor are involved with thoughts that come from their Higher Power. The newcomers’ disease will speak to them in their own voice, so newcomers think that their diseased thoughts are their own thoughts and okay thoughts, when in fact, these are their disease tricking them. The diseased thoughts are negative and backwards, whereas, recovery thoughts are positive. Positive in the sense of growth, health, becoming, and going forward. Diseased thoughts are insidious. Recovery thoughts may involve work, retraining the brain into positive patterns and positive thoughts. For example, instead of using, how many reasons can a person think of NOT to use?
    All a person who wants Recovery has to do is not pick up and go to daily, 12-Step, self help meetings. As long as the person doesn’t use, the Steps will become part of their life. But put simply, the single, biggest barrier to Recovery from Addiction is picking up.


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