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Why Self-Awareness Is a Key Component of Addiction Recovery

Watercolor Silhouette of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes has many impressive traits, but self-awareness isn’t one of them.

As Dr. Tasha Eurich points out on Read It Forward, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic super-sleuth is “brutish, rude, and arrogant. And because he can’t understand the way his self-aggrandizement comes off to the people around him, he is virtually alone in the world…”

Not only is self-awareness an attractive-yet-uncommon character trait, it is also extremely important to possess if someone is trying to recover from teen addiction.

The Pitfalls of a Lack of Self-Awareness

Perhaps the simplest way to define self-awareness is to recognize what it’s not. For instance, the antonym of self-awareness is denial (which frequently characterizes those who are misusing drugs or alcohol). Put another way, you probably have low levels of self-awareness if you:

  • Bully others
  • Make excuses
  • Act defensive
  • Are controlling
  • Change behaviors suddenly
  • Act in a passive-aggressive manner
  • Display egotism or arrogance

Self-Aware People Navigate Recovery Better

Generally speaking, people who are self-aware have an excellent grasp of their well-being in specific areas, including their emotions, thoughts, sensations and behavioral patterns. As a result, these individuals are keenly aware of situations, motivations and triggers that make them act or feel a certain way. Unsurprisingly, addiction actively works to erode self-awareness. Since drugs and alcohol tend to dull a person’s emotions and feelings, they cannot accurately assess their behaviors or motivations.

This was highlighted in a study published in 2014 in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. The scientists found evidence to suggest that people who suffer from a substance use disorder experience dysfunction in the ventromedial prefrontal and the rostral anterior cingulate cortexes of their brains, which reduces their self-awareness.

Identifying, Pausing, Planning and Responding

Teen boy looking in the mirror

A critical aspect of addiction recovery involves working to rebuild self-awareness. This means trying to identify certain behavioral patterns, negative thoughts, or false assumptions that precede drugs or alcohol use. Once these issues are detected, the person can begin developing coping mechanisms to change his or her behavior; in other words, self-awareness helps prevent recurrence of use of alcohol or drugs.

One common tactic advocated by treatment counselors and therapists is what’s known as the “Pause and Plan” response. As the name implies, those who misuse substances are encouraged to “pause” when they spot one of their triggers, thoughts or behaviors that in the past drew them toward booze or drugs. If they are then able to “plan” their response, they hopefully will make choices that are more in line with their recovery goals and objectives.

How To Increase Self-Awareness

People who are in recovery work on their self-awareness in a variety of ways. Talking about their feelings and thoughts in one-on-one or group therapy sessions can help them get ideas on how to make positive changes in their lives. They may also keep a journal, practice “self-talk” conditioning, or engage in art or music therapy to better put them in touch with what they are feeling and thinking.

If you want to make an effort to boost your self-awareness, here are five steps you can take today:

  1. Make time for introspection and self-reflection, which is the first step toward identifying undesirable behavior.
  2. Endeavor to understand your emotions – not only what they are, but what their source is.
  3. Pay attention to your responses or reactions to various situations.
  4. Pay attention to your thoughts so you can start pausing and planning appropriate responses instead of letting your thoughts control you.
  5. Ask others for feedback, because they’re likely to notice something about you that you don’t.

If someone you know is in denial about their substance misuse, lectures and admonishments probably won’t do any good. Only when their self-awareness begins to improve will they start to recognize that they must make changes in their life for things to change. When a person in recovery is self-aware, he or she is much more likely to be motivated to embrace a treatment program, therapy regimen and aftercare plan — and remain substance-free for good.

Teenaged girl looking out window.

If someone you love is in denial about substance misuse, contact us today for advice on how to help the person see the need for treatment.

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