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Positive affirmations for addiction recovery

December 5, 2021
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

There are two definitions of ‘affirmation’ in the oxford dictionary. The first one is, affirmation is the action or process of affirming something, and the second is affirmation is an act of emotional support or encouragement. These two definitions give you a glimpse into why affirmations are a powerful tool when it comes to addiction recovery.

What are affirmations?

Affirmations can be both positive and negative, and their effects on our psyche can be profound. To give a very relatable example, young children are full of life, they are fearless, curious and always trying new things. Apart from their own personalities to thank, children are surrounded by parents, relatives and well-wishers who are always encouraging them on, whether it’s taking their first steps, or trying new foods, or cheering them to say new words. They are surrounded by constant affirmative words like, “You can do it”, “You are the best”, “You are loved so much”, so on and so forth. This encourages the child to keep doing better.

Compare this to adult life. We are surrounded by bosses, co-workers and people who may or may not believe in us. A stressful environment at work or tough relationships with loved ones may cause us to doubt ourselves. “I can’t do this”, “I am not good at this”, “This is out of my league”, these negative affirmations become a part of our daily internal dialogue. Eventually, we stop believing in ourselves and stop trying altogether.

Affirmations are powerful and positive affirmations can bring about a massive change in an individual’s life, especially if the said individual is struggling with addiction. While in therapy, it’s the therapist who puts faith in the addict that they will recover. However, when doing the positive affirmation exercises, the addict places faith in oneself and stays on the path of recovery. Thus, positive affirmations can make an individual more self-reliant, confident and positive, which is great for staying away from addictive behaviours.

How do positive affirmations work?

It may seem far-fetched that you can manifest things to go your way simply by telling yourself repeatedly that you can do it. However, this technique is backed by science.

A study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience used MRI to establish that practising positive affirmations activates the reward centres in your brain. In other words, just by saying, “I am the best at what I do” will light up the same reward centres that respond to other gratifying experiences, such as eating an ice-cream or receiving an exciting gift. 

Positive affirmations fire up your neural pathways and make changes to those areas of the brain that are responsible for making you happy and positive. When you are positive and happy, you tend to be more proactive towards situations around you and that can lead to better outcomes.

Another scientific reason why positive affirmations work can be explained by how our brain functions. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt to different circumstances throughout one’s lifetime. It may seem unbelievable, but our brain can get a bit mixed up on the difference between what is real and what is imagined, which actually can be quite convenient.

Creating a mental scenario of yourself doing something like overcoming your fear of water by going scuba diving or doing well in your performance review and getting a promotion stimulates a lot of the same areas in the brain that actually doing these things in reality would. Repeating affirming statements about yourself everyday can encourage your brain to believe that these statements are facts. Once your brain is convinced, your action will follow suit, and you will find that you are capable of doing the things you said you can do.

Using positive affirmations, especially when you are doing something difficult is a great way to prepare yourself. Individuals recovering from an addiction can use these positive affirmations to truly believe that they are successfully recovering from their addictions. It can help them control negative thoughts and behaviour that encourage addictions and thus stay on the path of recovery. E.g., when a recovering addict repeats the affirmation, “I am in charge of my own life’s success story”, then it gives the individual the power to really bring about that success, which for the individual concerned could be about not giving into drugs or alcohol. Positive affirmations help one keep negative thoughts away that may derail genuine efforts. 

Self-affirmations for enhancing life and staying on the path of recovery

People use positive affirmation statements to bring a change in a certain area of their life that they are struggling with or to encourage a more positive attitude in their life. The following suggestions can help you as well as recovering addicts to create positive affirmation statements that best fit their current need in life:

Focus on the areas of your life that need to change: Your affirmation statements need to reflect the change you desire in your life, otherwise you won’t feel motivated to say these statements regularly or even believe in them. For e.g., If you wish to have a more loving relationship with your partner, your affirmation statement could be, “I deserve to be loved” as opposed to, “I can be on my own”. You really need to choose your affirmative statement wisely, so dig deep and find what you really need.

People who are trying to recover from an addiction may find that the addictive substance has more power over them. They can change that by affirming to themselves that, “I am more powerful than my addictions”.

Your affirmations need to be realistic and attainable: While it’s true that affirmations can help you greatly, it is not a magic spell that can turn everything around. For e.g., If you wish to have your own apartment, your affirmation could be, “I will change my financial circumstances so I can qualify for a home loan” as opposed to “I will have a big mansion of my own”. The first affirmation is well-planned and is based in reality, the other affirmation is wishful with no way of knowing how it will be manifested in reality.

A positive affirmation for a recovering addict can be, “Every day, through small actions, I am getting better”. It’s important to note that unrealistic affirmations can become a source of negative emotions and failures.

Turn your negative thoughts into positive ones: If you find that you are constantly talking yourself down and that you have a negative self-image of yourself then note these negative thoughts and feelings down. Once you have done that, then choose affirmations that are completely opposite of those thoughts and beliefs. For e.g., if you think, “I am not smart enough for a promotion”, turn it around and write a self-affirmative statement such as, “I am a talented and experienced person and I deserve a promotion.”   

A recovering addict may feel a lot of shame and guilt for their past behaviour, this negative thinking can lead them to relapse back into their addictions. A positive affirmation to combat that can be, “I am proud of myself for not giving into my addiction.”

Your affirmative statements need to be in the present tense: When you are affirming something to yourself, it needs to be in the now and the present. This will help you believe that the statement is turning true right now. Affirmations based in the present are also more impactful. For e.g., “I can do better now” is far more motivational than “I will do better someday”.

Staying away from one’s addiction is a lifelong journey and how you are in the present can influence the future. An affirmative statement like, “I like the person I am becoming.” is powerful enough for the recovering addict to continue being that positive and strong person in the future too.

Repeat your affirmations with real emotions – Affirmations can be more powerful when you back it with true feelings. When you want to manifest a change in your life, you need your affirmations to be meaningful enough to elicit a real emotional response. For e.g., if you want to ace a new project, you need to motivate yourself by telling yourself, “I am fully prepared to take on any challenges that may come my way.”

People with addictions may think that they give into addictions because they are unhappy people and that thought can get them to lapse again into addiction, starting a vicious circle. People with addiction issues need to take stock of their emotions and harness it to bring about a real change in their recovery process. E.g., I have all the love I need within me.” This emotion of love that one can feel for oneself can be a great tool of healing.

In closing, positive affirmations are powerful tools to change your life around. So, make your own affirmations today, and repeat it every day, day after day, till you manifest those changes in your life. 

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Using Affirmations: Harnessing Positive Thinking.

Cascio, C., O’Donnell, M., Tinney, F., Lieberman, M., Taylor, S., Strecher, V., Falk, E. (2015, Nov). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

(2021, Feb) The Science Behind Positive Affirmations.

White, A., Raypole, C. (2020, Sep) Positive Affirmations: Too Good to Be True?