The mind is a mysterious thing. The average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day, and many of the thoughts that pop into our heads are unexpected. Those thoughts can be downright intrusive or invasive.
If you ever find yourself going about your day when you begin thinking about past trauma or unhealthy desires without intending to, it may feel as though you are being attacked mentally. It can even take you to the point where you want to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, and before you know it, a substance use disorder can develop. When that happens, you need to stop the thoughts, which will help in stopping the addiction for good.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are thoughts or images that pop into your head from time to time that directly contradict your core values. These thoughts tend to stand out because they make you extremely uncomfortable. Frequently having intrusive thoughts and not knowing how to manage them can lead to depression and substance abuse.
Examples of intrusive thoughts include:
- Thoughts about embarrassing yourself
- Thoughts about having medical problems
- Flashbacks to past events
- Inappropriate sexual thoughts
- Excessive focus on superstitions
- Desires to hurt people or yourself
- Urges to take drugs or commit crimes
For example, a veteran with PTSD can picture the carnage of war every time they hear a loud noise that reminds them of a gunshot or bomb explosion. Another person may picture hurting people in graphic ways without any provocation.
These thoughts are simply thoughts, and the majority of people who experience intrusive thoughts do not act on the thoughts. The problem occurs when someone does want to act on the thoughts or when the thoughts start to affect a person’s day-to-day activity. When experiencing intrusive thoughts does start to become a problem, it can be difficult to talk about it.
Intrusive thoughts can scare an individual, and many people don’t want to talk about their thoughts out of fear of judgment. However, intrusive thoughts are more common than you might expect. In fact, a study by Concordia University found that 94% of people across the world experience intrusive thoughts. You do not need to worry if you experience intrusive thoughts, but you do need to take action if these thoughts start to affect your life or your mental state.
Intrusive Thoughts, Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorder
Debilitating intrusive thoughts can be a sign of a mental disorder. Many people who suffer from depression experience self-deprecating thoughts or thoughts about self-harm. People who suffer from OCD may experience intense anxiety if certain actions aren’t completed, and they tend to fixate on certain thoughts. People who suffer from PTSD may experience intense anxiety from thoughts of past events popping into their heads.
It can be hard to control intrusive thoughts and the anxiety that they bring. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to stop the thoughts from overpowering their lives. Unfortunately, substance misuse can actually make the thoughts worse.
If you use drugs to calm your intrusive thoughts, you may start to depend on the substances to get you through the day. Soon, you may have to face your original intrusive thoughts, which have possibly been amplified by the drugs, as well as new intrusive thoughts about doing drugs and where you’re going to get them. It’s up to you to control the thoughts and how you respond to them in a more productive way than substance use.
Addiction treatment at Granite Recovery Centers involves treatment for both the addiction as well as the intrusive thoughts and associated mental disorders. This strategy of treating both mental illness and addiction at the same time is known as dual diagnosis. If you take part in dual diagnosis treatment, you will learn how to get sober, and professionals will also help teach you how to control and respond effectively to intrusive thoughts.
When You Need Rehab
Since intrusive thoughts are so normal, how do you know when it’s time to get help? Here are some signs that you should get into treatment for intrusive thoughts.
- Inability to Work: Some people get so anxious that they allow their invasive thoughts to interfere with their work-related responsibilities. This may happen if anxiety prevents someone from leaving the house or makes people at the office uncomfortable. An abundance of intrusive thoughts can also prevent you from concentrating and make performing even the smallest of tasks difficult.
If intrusive thoughts have interfered with your work, rehab can teach you ways to cope with your intrusive thoughts so that you learn how to be productive every day and behave in a socially acceptable manner. Eventually, successful treatment might lead to promotion and a raise.
- Intensely Disturbing Content: Some intrusive thoughts contain explicit and scary content that can cause alarm. These thoughts may be violent and indicate serious mental illness. If you have intrusive thoughts with disturbing content, treatment can help you determine why your mind takes you to those places. Eventually, successful treatment can lead to less graphic thoughts and a better way of handling them when they do occur.
- Substance Use Disorder: Intrusive thoughts can lead to someone using drugs to shut their brain off. Unfortunately, the substance use disorder becomes even more damaging than the thoughts over time. If you have intrusive thoughts that have led you to misuse substances, rehab will help you get sober and stay that way. Successful treatment will teach you how to manage intrusive thoughts naturally.
How to Prevent and Control Intrusive Thoughts
Intrusive thoughts don’t just go away with time. You need to put effort into getting things under control. Here are some tips on how to prevent and control intrusive thoughts and how you respond to them.
- Understand Your Intrusive Thoughts: You need to understand your intrusive thoughts if you expect to keep them under control. Since intrusive thoughts attach themselves to your core values, you need to identify your core values. These are values that drive you and form who you are as a person. The reason that intrusive thoughts are so disruptive in the first place is that they contradict the things that matter most to you. If protecting your child is one of your core values, you may experience thoughts involving your child getting hurt or sick. In some cases, you may even be the cause of the illness or injury. When you experience these intrusive thoughts, you can tell yourself that you are only experiencing that thought because of your love of and concern for your child. Understanding this can help you move past the thought so that it doesn’t disturb you as much.
- Face Your Intrusive Thoughts: Most people’s first instinct when they experience an intrusive thought is to try to forget about it as quickly as possible because it was unsettling. It can feel scary to take the time to actually face your invasive thoughts, but confronting them is the best way to resolve them permanently. Many intrusive thoughts are unrealistic. Try actually facing the thought. How realistic is the scenario presented? Dealing with the thought can make you realize that it is silly to give it attention since it is so unlikely to happen. This will make it easier to put the thought toward the back of your mind where it belongs.
Some intrusive thoughts may come from genuine fear, such as getting fired. For intrusive thoughts that may have credibility, you need to do what you can to minimize the possibility of the thought becoming a reality and prepare for the worst-case scenario. At the same time, you want to identify what precautions are appropriate and which ones might be going overboard.
- Talk Therapy: It can be extraordinarily helpful to talk to people about the thoughts that fill your head. A professional therapist at Granite Recovery Centers can help you express them in a productive way and understand them better. By talking your problem out, you can learn patterns and triggers that help you keep things in control.
In therapy, you will meet with a trained psychologist in a one-on-one session. Working with a psychologist individually gives you the opportunity to make the most out of the session since other people aren’t telling their stories as well. Plus, sessions remain confidential, and no one else needs to know about your specific thoughts. The psychologist will get to know you and your condition on a personal level, making it easier for them to suggest the proper treatment methods. You can also opt for a group therapy format where a counselor will lead a group of people who have similar issues. Group therapy gives people the opportunity to meet other people who relate to them and can show support. It’s also helpful for people who don’t necessarily want to talk about their problems with their loved ones.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The brain can be trained. This will take an extensive amount of time and patience, but it can be done through what is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. When going through CBT at Granite Recovery Centers, a patient will identify bad thoughts and triggers. Once the patient recognizes the triggers, they can take action to avoid those triggers. When the thoughts happen even without a trigger or a trigger can’t be avoided, the patient will learn how to control those thoughts. The goal is to eventually not have the troublesome thoughts at all, and reaching this goal starts with learning how to deal with the thoughts productively.
Patients start CBT by taking a detailed assessment of their invasive thoughts. The assessment will cover the content, frequency and effectiveness of the thoughts. Then, the therapist and patient will challenge dangerous beliefs and analyze the patient’s thought processes. Role-playing and situational exposure can train the mind to push out intrusive thoughts when they pop up.
- Medication: If your intrusive thoughts derive from a mental disorder, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication. In general, most psychiatrists will prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, for people with OCD and anti-anxiety medication, or antidepressants for people with depression. In many cases, the goal is to relax the nervous system. However, the problem occurs when medication may interfere with a person’s sobriety. If you are worried about taking medication, talk to your doctor to help weigh the pros and cons of both options. There may also be alternative methods of treatment that you can try before going on medication.
Granite Recovery Centers
At Granite Recovery Centers, we provide high-quality substance use disorder and mental health services in New England. We offer inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, sober living homes, and many additional services and aftercare resources. Call today to get help for your intrusive thoughts from qualified professionals.
Don’t let your thoughts control your life. Get help today by attending treatment at Granite Recovery Centers. Our goal is to help make you a healthy and happy individual again, and this starts with you taking ownership of your own recovery. You don’t need to drink or take drugs to make the disturbing thoughts go away. We’ll help you regain control of your life.