What Is “Stinking Thinking”?

Those seeking treatment for an addictive disorder will soon find themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of recovery acronyms, slogans, and phrases. The applicable phrases, such as “This too shall pass,” “One day at a time,” and HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), will prove tolerable enough while others carry more of a potential for clients to grow weary of hearing them. “Stinking Thinking” tends to offer itself up as one of the latter phrases as described above. 


However corny and potentially annoying it may be to hear a rhyming phrase repeated so often, these slogans and acronyms are effective. They allow clients to easily recall complex ideologies about addiction treatment through triggered key phrases. They provide a quick reminder for patients to alter their perspectives which can make a difference, especially when involved in a triggering scenario that could lead down the path to relapsing. The slight annoyance of repeating rhyming phrases like stinking thinking is simply an essential memory trick for patients to recall key recovery guidance easily. 


Stinking thinking is about the complicated nature of addictive disorders being not only a physical but psychological illness. Much of rehab will be spent learning healthy behavioral practices that will become habits of sober living through repetition. These behavioral practices will extend from the more physical acts of eating well and exercising to include more psychological elements such as altering negative thought patterns to a more positive perspective. 


Stinking thinking is in direct reference to learning how to take preventative measures to avoid the negative thought patterns that can lead down a destructive path. This dangerous path is all too familiar to those in recovery and can lead to relapse. These thought patterns can increase stressors in daily life, promote anxiety, increase chances for the onset of depression, and even go so far as to trigger a relapse. If patients perpetuate these negative thought patterns, they eventually will find themselves more inclined to give up on trying to maintain their sobriety. 


Types of Stinking Thinking


Stinking thinking is a reversion to pre-treatment thought patterns that many in recovery might find comforting. Although negative thought patterns won’t increase the overall mood of clients, these negative thoughts will be appealing as they have been their sole companion and coping mechanism for much of their pre-treatment life. Also, the addiction mindset wants to advance stinking thinking as such negative thought patterns will ultimately lead to the misuse of addictive substances again. With these reasons in mind, clients must be vigilant in identifying stinking thinking by recognizing the re-occurrence of negative thought patterns and actively trying not to be consumed by those thoughts. 


The harsh reality is that recovery from an addictive disorder is difficult. However, through ongoing treatment, the result of sobriety and the overarching benefits of positive thinking will improve overall mood and physical well-being. Below we have listed some of the typical signs for patients to be aware of when it comes to negative thought patterns:


  • Resentment of others
  • Selfish inclinations
  • Bitterness about past actions
  • Blaming others
  • Feelings of superiority
  • Feeling of inferiority
  • Focusing on others’ faults
  • Extreme perspectives (or “black-and-white/all-or-nothing” thinking)
  • Being overly pessimistic
  • Focusing on negative motivators of actions


A good general rule of thumb for clients to be aware of when it comes to stinking thinking is to be wary of any extreme thought patterns, either positive or negative. We often use negative as an appropriate adjective for stinking thinking, but addictive thought patterns can also emanate from overly positive and grandiose thinking. Finding a middle ground between excessively positive or negative thinking is best to accepting life on life’s terms.


How to Combat “Stinking Thinking”


After becoming aware of negative thought patterns, the best way clients can combat or avoid exacerbating stinking thinking is to surround themselves with positivity and gratitude. Gratitude means recognizing good aspects of one’s life and gratefulness for those aspects. It has been psychologically proven as an effective tool for recovery and avoiding re-occurrent depressive thought patterns. Mindfulness meditation can also be a helpful tool for recovery patients to recognize the signs of stinking thinking better before such thought patterns consume them. This form of meditation will help clients be more mindful of each moment, allowing them to begin to shift perspectives away from negative thought patterns when they occur. Free guided practice lessons of mindfulness meditation can easily be found online on YouTube and practiced at home.  


Addictive disorders are complex illnesses with both physical and psychological components. Negative thought patterns — or “stinking thinking” — can be just as significant of a motivator for continued substance misuse as the physical dependence on drugs or alcohol. If you or someone you love struggles with both physical and mental components of an addictive disorder, then Choice House has the dual-diagnosis program of treatment to help. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, we utilize various therapeutic modalities to treat both the body and the mind preparing patients for the challenges of transitioning back to their independent lives as sober individuals. Our addiction recovery treatment program includes a 90-day inpatient service, an intensive outpatient program, as well as the opportunity to take up residency at our sober living campus. No matter the treatment program, participants will learn the necessary behavioral practices to help them recognize and react to negative thought patterns and avoid triggers as they re-enter society. For more information regarding Choice House facilities or addiction treatment, call +1-303-578-4977.

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