6 Dysfunctional Family Roles in The Haunting of Hill House

In Netflix’s dark new horror-thriller, The Haunting of Hill House, a family moves into an old mansion that haunts them for years to come. Though the ghouls and ghosts that plague the Crain family make the show a fantastic addition to the horror genre, the series showcases themes that represent genuine threats that haunt families every day. There is no doubt the show will delight viewers looking for thrills and chills. However, it also heavily leans into the family drama category at times. As you watch the show, you may even be drawn into the true-to-life stories and struggles a character is grappling with before being jarred by an unsightly specter.

It’s clear that this ghost story is an allegory for more profound truths about family, mental health, and addiction. The show gained some notoriety because of the ghouls that its creators hid in the background of so many shots. Like these hidden phantoms, the show hides profound themes in the background of this thriller. As Steven Crain, the oldest brother, says, “A ghost can be a lot of things. A memory, a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. But in my experience, most times they’re just what we want to see.”

The show also deals with addiction as a prominent theme, especially as it applies to Luke Crain, the family’s youngest brother. Addiction is often called a family disease because of the way it affects the family system. It doesn’t just leave an impact on the people closest to a person with a substance use disorder. Addiction also sometimes has roots in family issues, childhood traumas, and unresolved social issues.

Sometimes addiction stresses families to a breaking point, but addiction can also be just one consequence of a dysfunctional family. Psychologists have identified six common roles in dysfunctional families that often include or surround people who struggle with addiction. There are several variations of these six roles, but most models are relatively similar.

Whether or not the creators of The Haunting of Hill House wrote the characters with these roles in mind, the show serves as an excellent example of each of the characteristics of a dysfunctional family.

Before you continue, there will be spoilers for major plot points going forward. If you haven’t seen it and you’d like to, bookmark this page, go watch it, and then come back!

The Members of a Dysfunctional Family

As families grow and develop, it’s common for members of the family to fill certain roles to form a family system. Individuals start to build their own ways of acting around each other and are reactive to each other. At their best, families can work together to support one another in a way that positively serves everyone. At their worst, families can ignore each other, tear each other down, or enable behavioral or psychological issues.


Victims are typically the person in the family with the substance use disorder. People who struggle with addiction often see outside factors as the cause of their issues. Victims are typically at the center of a family’s attention. They can be seen as hostile, aggressive, manipulative, charming, and self-pitying. But inside they often feel shame, guilt, fear, pain, and hurt. Other family members can help them toward recovery or enable their continued substance use.

Family Hero

Family heroes are also called caretakers, but in a dysfunctional family, it’s often a high-achieving child that assumes this responsibility. They’re usually sticklers for the rules, seek approval, and pride themselves on being responsible. They often feel the need to make sure the family behaves well, and if that’s not possible, they want to maintain a good appearance. Sometimes they ignore the deeper problems in favor of maintaining a facade of perfection. When other members fail to keep up this appearance, the hero may feel resentment.However, heroes often feel guilty, insecure, and hurt beneath the surface.

Lost Child

The lost or forgotten child is often the shy, quiet member of the family. They prefer to remain out of the way. They may seek to avoid conflict or pain to the point of isolating themselves from other members of the family or other people altogether. They may also ignore problems in the family or wash their hands of issues, seeing them as someone else’s responsibility. On the outside, they’re quiet, reserved, independent, and attracted to superficial things. On the inside, they may feel rejected, afraid to connect, or anxious.


The scapegoat, or problem child, is a family member who is seen as defiant, a troublemaker, hostile, or a rule breaker. When it comes to families with addiction, scapegoats often act out to divert attention from the victim onto themselves. They will distract attention from the real problem or the victim’s need for recovery. Other family members may even blame the scapegoat for the families problems, ignoring deeper issues. At times, the scapegoat may seem resentful or even cruel, but it often comes from a place of shame, guilt, and rejection.


The mascot, or the family clown, is often seen as immature, fragile, cute, or hyperactive. They may deal with problems with humor, use jokes to break the tension or misdirect attention away from the deeper problem. Mascots can also be seen as sensitive or fragile, causing other family members to coddle them or shield them from harsh realities. Beneath the surface, they may not know how to deal with problems in an appropriate way, leading to feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, and even anger.

Chief Enabler

The chief enabler, also called the caretaker, often tries to keep the family in balance, despite deep issues. The enabler often allows the other family roles to continue by holding broken pieces of the family together to avoid confronting problems. They may make excuses for bad behavior, cover up mistakes, and superficially fix issues. When it comes to addiction, the chief enabler shields the person with a substance use disorder and the family from experiencing repercussions that arise as consequences of addiction. They may also avoid talking about addiction altogether. Beneath the surface, they may feel inadequate, afraid, or helpless.

How the Crains Fit In

It’s important to note that not every character fits neatly into just one category in the dysfunctional family roles. Much like a real family, roles can be nebulous, and characters can fit into multiple positions at different times throughout the show. However, most characters gravitate toward one role. If you think a character would better fit into a different dysfunctional family role, let me know in the comments.

Victim – Luke

Haunting of Hill House - Luke
Photo: Netflix

“My family. They don’t believe me, and I don’t blame them.” – Luke

Luke’s struggle with addiction is seen at different points throughout the show. We see him at his worst, manipulating his sister into helping him get heroin, and we see him at his best, 90 days sober, and helping his friends and family. Luke sees his mother poison his friend when she’s under the influence of the house’s haunting, and he later explains that traumas from his childhood followed him into adulthood in the form of a bowler hat-wearing, floating phantom. As a child, no one believed him when he told them about the supernatural things he saw, and it’s hinted that he uses this to blame others for his problems.

Family Hero – Shirley

Haunting of Hill House - Shirley
Photo: IMDB

“I’m going to fix her. That’s what I do.” -Shirley

Shirley is probably one of the characters that most clearly fit into one particular category. As the oldest daughter, she often looks after her siblings, even if it’s begrudgingly. She harshly rejects Steven’s book because she believes it will hurt the family, she takes Theodora into her home and lets her stay in the guest house, and she won’t let Luke into Nell’s wedding because he’s high. She often acts to protect the family even to the detriment of one of its members.

Shirley’s family hero persona is most obvious in the fact that she insists on being the one to embalm Nell after her death. Even when a family member dies, she sees it as her responsibility to “fix her.” The act of preparing a body for a funeral can also be a metaphor for Shirley’s need to cover up problems with a perfect facade. At the end of the series, when she is forced to confront her own secret shortcomings, a ghost from her past tells her, “Shirley never looks.” That is, Shirley never looks at the problems beneath the surface and instead seeks to cover problems with makeup or secrets.

Lost Child – Theodora

Haunting of Hill House - Theo
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix

“You said it was Luke that found the old bootlegging basement. That was me.” – Theo, to Steven

As the middle sibling, Theodora, or Theo, represents the lost child. The two oldest children maintain a sense of skepticism when it comes to the supernatural things that happen in Hill House, while the two younger children unreservedly believe they saw ghosts. Theo is caught in between. She has her own strange experiences but withdraws from painful memories by isolating herself. In the house, she discovers the ability to learn things and feel emotions by touching people and objects. While she grows up to use this ability with strangers as a child therapist, she wears gloves in her personal life to avoid feeling meaningful or painful emotions.

She favors isolation and only maintains shallow relationships with others. When Nell wants her to use her ability to help her figure out why her husband died, Theo resists. She hates to be touched, even when her father tries to lead her out of the house or when her family members try to help her up off the ground, which points to her loneliness and isolation.

Scapegoat – Steven

Haunting of Hill House - Steven
Photo: Netflix

“You know, you’re supposed to protect me. But you say the meanest things to me when I try to tell you.” -Nell, to Steven

None of the Crain family spends their life in active rebellion, but one member seems to be on the receiving end of a lot of the family’s scorn. Steven may fit into other categories at times, even as the family hero, but the way he treats the rest of the family when he’s feeling guilt or shame makes him work as the scapegoat. After he writes a best-selling book about the family’s experience at Hill House, many of his siblings resent him for telling their stories. When family members confront him, he often lashes out with something cruel.

He also doesn’t believe the family has had experiences with the supernatural; instead, he assumes they have a shared genetic mental disorder. Nell ultimately accuses him of “saying the meanest things,” when she tries to tell him about the family’s issues. Instead of confronting the problem and listening to others, he becomes hostile and defiant.

His relationship with Luke also points to his role as the scapegoat. He often assumes the worst of Luke, downplays his recovery efforts, and doesn’t believe him when he says he’s made progress. We later find out that Steven delighted in feeling useful as a child. He always wants to help his father, and he builds a vanity for his mom when she’s feeling down. However, he witnesses her deteriorating mental state, his dad doesn’t want his help when the project becomes too dangerous, and after his mother’s suicide and the supernatural events, he didn’t see anything. He feels useless, rejected, and guilty.

Mascot – Nell

Haunting of Hill House - Nell
Photo: Netflix

“I was right here. I was screaming and shouting, and none of you could see me.” – Nell

Nell can fit into several categories and ultimately plays a pivotal role in the show’s plot. She can be seen as the lost child, literally and figuratively. Plus, she’s not the wise-cracking class clown trope we are used to seeing in stories. However, she’s the youngest daughter and fits the cute and fragile characteristics. In one scene in which Luke is checking into rehab, the other siblings are nervous. As they ask questions and wonder about the treatment’s effectiveness, Nell continues to humorously point out that, “They have horses,” breaking the tension. Ultimately, Nell has trouble getting through to her siblings about the events in the house or about the family’s problem. When she tries to tell her family about the things she’s seen, she’s written off as a fragile child or the cute, quirky youngest sibling.

Chief Enabler – Hugh

Haunting of Hill House - Hugh
Photo: Steve Dietl/Netflix

“Does he talk to you about what happened that night? Because all I’ve got are those tabloid quotes. He refuses to tell us anything else.” – Steven, about Hugh

Like many parents, Hugh fills the role of the chief enabler. He sees himself as someone who can fix anything. As Hill House’s mold problem spreads deeper and deeper, Hugh continues to try everything to fix it. When his family experiences tragedy, he works to do the same. He never talks to his children about the events that occurred on the night that his wife died by suicide. So much so that his children resent his secrecy. Even when pressed, he believes he has to shoulder the burden of the tragedy alone and shields his family from confronting their most pressing problems.

What About Olivia?

You may have noticed there are six dysfunctional family roles and, as Luke pointed out so many times, there are seven Crain family members. Olivia, Hugh’s wife, architect, and a mother to the five children can fit into some of the family roles, especially the chief enabler role. However, she also profoundly portrays another problem that’s common in the families of people who are suffering from addiction: codependency. (Major spoilers ahead!)

Codependency is the emotional or psychological reliance on a loved one, and it’s incredibly common among people who take care of someone with a disease. Chief enablers are often co-dependent parents who would prefer to keep their addicted children close to them rather than send them away to addiction treatment. Olivia adopts a similar mindset as Hill House starts to affect her.

She becomes terrified of what may happen to her children when they go out into the world. As the house poisons her mind, she concludes it would be better if she and her children would die in the house than to go through the pain and suffering out in the real world.

While this is an intense metaphor, it does point out the problem with co-dependent loved ones standing in the way of their friend or family member getting treatment. While treatment can be painful, failing to address the issue is far worse.

The Show’s Portrayal of Addiction

The Haunting of Hill House deals heavily with addiction, relapse, and how it affects an individual and their family. Luke is the main character who’s affected by a substance use disorder but Trish, a supporting character, also offers a lot of insight. While it’s not the main focus of the show, it takes a fairly honest look at addiction and recovery.

The series portrays addiction as a disease and shows the characters that are going through addiction as real people with highs and lows, not just people with moral failings. However, it also shows the stigma that people with a substance use disorder have to face, like when Steven writes Luke off as a “junkie.”

The show is also somewhat unique in the way it deals with chronic relapse. Both Luke and his friend Trish have been through multiple treatment programs and relapsed many times. People who go through multiple relapses often feel hopeless. Even when they’re in recovery, they may think that another relapse is just around the corner. In one scene, Steven asks Trish what’s different about her current attempt at recovery because trying the same thing and expecting different results is insanity.

She tells him, “That’s what recovery is. The same thing over and over again, in spite of the results, or in spite of a backslide, or in spite of a full-fledge f—— relapse. Doesn’t mean you stop just because it gets a little repetitive. One day at a time.” -Trish

While relapse is a real threat and happens to as many as 60 percent of people who achieve sobriety, it’s not inevitable. There are even specific treatment approaches for people who have experienced chronic relapse. If a relapse does happen, it doesn’t mean that treatment failed; it just means that treatment and your relapse prevention strategies need to be revisited.

Treating the Family Disease

The show may be an excellent example of storytelling in the horror genre, but it also teaches viewers valuable lessons about addiction and how families can work together or fall apart. If the show struck a chord with you because there is someone in your life who’s struggling with a substance use disorder, there’s help available. Speak to an addiction specialist at the Palm Beach Institute by calling 855-534-3574 to learn more about addiction treatment and what family members can do to help.

How to Avoid Relapse Around Addicted Family Members

When you leave the lifestyle of active addiction, one of the biggest challenges is reconnecting with people from your old life. Many of them knew you when you were using, and some of them might still be using, too. However, what can you do when the person in your life who’s still using is a family member?

Dealing with drug use in your family is always a challenge. Knowing the difference between helping and enabling can be difficult at times. And watching someone go through something as terrible and life-altering as active addiction can cause heartache. However, when you have your own recovery and sobriety to consider, the challenge increases dramatically.

Maintaining your sobriety is one of the most important ongoing parts of your recovery, and it requires continual commitment. If a loved one is using around you, it poses a significant threat to your drug abstinence. Learn more about how you can deal with an addicted family member without relapsing.  

Don’t Accept Drug Use

As part of your relapse prevention plan, you might have set rules and boundaries for yourself. You might have resolved to avoid parties where you know there will be drug use. You may even avoid certain routes that go past some of your old favorite bars.

When you encounter friends and family members who are still in the throes of active addiction, it’s important to have boundaries for them, too. If you live with or spend a lot of time with someone who uses, you should let them know that you won’t tolerate drug use in your presence. If someone uses legal recreational substances like alcohol, you can still tell them that it makes you uncomfortable to be around it.

Setting clear boundaries for yourself removes some of the uncertainty when it comes to certain high-risk situations. It’s easier not to cross the line when the line is clearly drawn. Setting boundaries with someone who is addicted can also show them your commitment to sobriety. In some cases, you may have to cut ties with them until they seek recovery.

Avoid Constant Triggers

Triggers are a fact of life for people who are living in recovery from addiction or other mental health issues for that matter. Some triggers come from inside your own mind and can be difficult to avoid completely. Others can come on suddenly, like when a billboard ad for some ice-cold beer triggers alcohol cravings. While it’s important to learn to cope positively with cravings and triggers, you should also avoid regular sources of triggers when you can. A friend or family member who continues to use around you can cause you to continually cause you to have thoughts and triggers toward relapse, testing the limits of your coping mechanisms.

If you have gone through addiction treatment, you may have experienced elements ofcognitive behavioral therapy at some point in your treatment process. In the cognitive-behavioral model, high-risk scenarios are the first catalyst for a relapse. A relapse doesn’t start with the first time you use again; it starts with the way that you cope with a high-risk situation. If you live with, or if you are always around someone who uses, you are constantly in a high-risk scenario. Relapse is a very real threat to recovery. Like other chronic diseases, addiction relapse occurs in more than50 percent of people in recovery.  

Avoiding triggers might mean distancing yourself from people who are still using. While this may sound harsh, it might be as beneficial to your addicted family member as much as it is for you.

Don’t Be an Enabler

While you were going through active addiction and treatment, your family may have had to learn how to avoidenabling behaviors. Now that you’ve completed treatment, and you’re encountering other people in your life in active addiction, it’s important to learn to avoid enabling as well. If a family member is struggling with active addiction, you, more than anyone, understand what they are going through. You might want to help them, ease their pain, or cover for them.

However, enabling is often defined as shielding an addicted person from a consequence of their addiction. Softening the blows that are coming as a result of their actions and behaviors can prolong the time they spend in active addiction before seeking help. If you’ve set clear rules about being around drug and alcohol use and abuse and a family member continues to break them, one of the consequences of their addiction might be that they see you less often.

It may seem like a drastic move, but if a family member is putting your sobriety at risk, it might be best to remove yourself from those high-risk situations. You can let the addicted person in your life know that you will be there to help them find addiction treatment as soon as they agree to seek the help they need. However, risking your own sobriety to be around someone who is using, may only serve to enable them and risk your recovery.

Continue Your Recovery

Addiction treatment is important in achieving and learning how to maintain sobriety. However, after you complete your addiction treatment, it’s important to continue your pursuit of recovery. People often relapse when they become complacent in their recovery process, and when you encounter high-risk situations like a using family member, it puts a strain on your resolve. However, going to 12 step meetings, connecting with your support group, and connecting with your alumni coordinators, can help heal you on the road to recovery, even as new challenges pop up.

Seeking Addiction Help

If a loved one or family member is ready to address their substance use disorder, you might be able to help them find the right addiction treatment services for their needs. Call the addiction treatment specialists at The Palm Beach Institute at 855-534-3574 or contact us online to learn more about the available therapy options and how you can help your loved one get the care they need. If you are worried that you might need help preventing your own relapse, or if you’ve started to use again, we might be able to help you find additional treatment or aftercare services as well. Call anytime.


7 Common Addictive Personality Traits to Look Out For

“It is extremes of personality and temperament—some of which are associated with talents, not deficits—that elevates risk. Giftedness and high IQ, for instance, are linked with higher rates of illegal drug use than having average intelligence.” — Maia Szalavitz, author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary Way of Understanding Addiction

In the past, psychiatrists thought that those prone to substance use disorder and other forms of addictive behavior shared a certain “addictive personality.” Over the years, researchers have failed to prove this to be true. However, research has shown there are certain common personality characteristics of addiction, or perhaps addictive personality traits, that appear in those who are at high risk of developing a substance use disorder or behavioral addiction, such as gambling or sex addiction.

It tends to be extremes in temperament or personality that increase the odds of developing an addiction. For example, these extremes are found in both those who tend to be anxious and neurotic — perhaps with a tendency toward obsessive behaviors — as well as those who may not struggle with anxiety or other mental health issues but rather are very adventurous and seek excitement. Both of these extremes are examples of having trouble with self-regulation. Read on below for more details about seven of the common personality characteristics of addiction.

1. Problems With Self-Regulation

Self-regulation means making choices consistent with your values that ensure your well-being. It also means being able to manage your emotions so that you can be proactive and maintain a healthy quality of life. Often people who struggle with addiction have difficulty with self-regulation. This may show up as a difficulty in resisting impulsive behavior or an inability to manage feelings of anxiety.

2. Impulsivity

One of the noted characteristics of an addictive personality had been impulsivity. And while the term “addictive personality” is no longer used, this trait or characteristic remains common among many who have addictive disorders. Impulsivity means engaging in unplanned behavior quickly with little forethought about possible consequences or outcomes. While a certain amount of impulsivity actually may be useful when it comes to quick decision-making, higher levels may lead to poor choices with negative consequences. Research has shown a correlation between impulsivity and substance use. A person who struggles with impulse control has difficulty managing gratification. They would rather choose a smaller reward that will occur more quickly rather than wait for a longer period for a larger reward. For example, rather than wait until the end of the week to receive $100, they would rather receive $25 immediately.

3. Thrill-seeking

When people wonder about what an addictive personality is, the image of someone who takes a lot of risks often comes to mind. A tendency to engage in risky or thrill-seeking behavior has also been noted as a characteristic common in those struggling with addiction. This type of behavior occurs as a result of a need for a variety of novel and stimulating experiences. There also seems to be a close relationship between impulsive behavior and a high level of risk-taking. Plus, alcohol and other drugs lower a person’s inhibition, which may lead them to engage in dangerous behaviors they wouldn’t usually attempt. For example, they may engage in risky sexual encounters or drive while intoxicated.

4. Anxiety

While some individuals may throw caution to the wind and choose risky activities with little thought about consequences, others are overly cautious and prone to anxiety and worry. This high level of anxiety may make social interactions difficult and uncomfortable. Researchers have found that a struggle with anxiety is often among common personality characteristics of addiction. Sometimes people start using drugs as an attempt to self-manage or self-treat their anxiety, and then it becomes a full-blown addiction. Ironically, drug use can often increase anxiety, particularly when someone is experiencing withdrawal symptoms and craving the drug.

5. Depression

Many people with substance use disorder often struggle with other mental health disorders besides anxiety, including depression. Like those who try to self-treat anxiety, they may try to manage their depression by using drugs as an attempt to escape the discomfort and heaviness of depression. When someone is struggling with more than one disease at a time, it is called comorbidity or dual diagnosis.

Other mental health comorbidities are also often common in those struggling with addiction, including bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia. In addition, sometimes certain drugs can actually cause changes to the brain that can cause a person to be more likely to develop a mental illness.

6. Obsessiveness

Obsessive behavior or thinking means being unable to stop doing an action or thinking a thought, even when the obsession is negatively affecting the person’s life. For example, someone may feel like they need to wash their hands repeatedly or check over and over to make sure the doors are locked. It turns out that similar parts of the brain are activated in both obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction.

Someone struggling with addiction may constantly think about when they are going to have their next opportunity to get high or how they are going to get drugs. So as with other mental health disorders, a desire to find a way to manage obsessiveness may influence a person to start taking drugs, but it may also become worse once they are addicted as they obsess over getting the drugs to maintain their addiction and ease cravings.

7. A Tendency to Have Multiple Addictions

Often, someone struggling with a substance use disorder is also struggling with an addiction to one or more other substances, or they may also have a behavioral addiction. Research shows that this tendency to develop more than one addiction may be a combination of a genetic predisposition to addiction plus the social environment of the individual. For example, if someone has an addiction to alcohol, they may also have an addiction to smoking as these addictions often go hand-in-hand in part because of the social setting.

Do You Have Any Common Personality Characteristics of Addiction?

There is no such thing as an addictive personality, but there are certain characteristics that can increase the likelihood of addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with some of the common personality characteristics of addiction, there is help available.

Hopefully, you can find support in the form of caring friends or family. However, to effectively treat a debilitating mental health issue or conquer an addiction, it is usually important to seek professional help. This may mean reaching out to a mental health therapist or possibly an addiction counselor or addiction treatment center if you are already struggling with a substance use disorder or another form of addictive behavior.

It is possible to learn to manage anxiety and impulsive behaviors as well as to find treatment for depression and other mental health issues. Treatment may include talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as medication.

Getting Help for Addiction

If you’re struggling with addiction and want to stop using, an addiction treatment center can provide a comprehensive treatment plan under the guidance of a trained medical staff to encourage the best possibility for you to successfully recover from your addiction.

The medical team can provide a safe and supportive environment for you to detox with minimal discomfort and learn effective coping skills as part of your treatment plan. You will also receive counseling from trained therapists and have the opportunity to build a supportive social network with others who are also on their recovery journey.

Don’t delay seeking the help and guidance you need to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. Get the help you need today by calling The Palm Beach Institute at 855-534-3574 at any time. You also can reach us online 24/7.

Positive Thinking: Does It Help Fight Drug Addiction?

Positive thinking is in vogue. With self-help books, motivational speakers, and meditation apps touting the power of positive thinking, you may wonder if there’s something to the “can do” attitude. Does positive thinking really help you when it counts? Learning to think positively may be more important than you might think, especially when you are working toward lofty goals and changes for someone who is in treatment for substance addiction. Some people get their positive mindsets from things like inspirational quotes, empowering music, or even from speeches from videos featured on YouTube.

However, the problem with inspiration is that it’s fleeting. After seeing an inspiring photo on Instagram, the fuzzy feelings will begin to wear off after 10 minutes, and it won’t mean much when you are in the trenches of resisting relapse. Instead, learning how to think positively can arm you to overcome thoughts that may otherwise encourage you to give up or give in.

What Is Positive Thinking Exactly?

Before you consider the benefits of positive thinking in addiction treatment, it’s first important to look at what the term positive thinking actually means in psychology. Psychology professors Michael Scheier and Charles Carver extensively studied the power of positive thinking and wrote a paper in 1993 that described how positive thinking is characterized in psychology.

They said, “…positive thinking in some way involves holding positive expectancies for one’s future.” They go on to point out that expectancies affect behavior, and that your expectations greatly influence your behavior. People tend not to do things when they truly believe they will have a bad outcome.

Expecting positive things will come from your actions won’t necessarily help you achieve success the first time. However, it can help you persist when things don’t go your way. When treatment is harder than expected, when cravings linger after treatment, and if you have to dust yourself off and try again after a relapse, thinking positively that you can achieve lasting recovery can help you keep moving toward your goal.

Marlatt’s Model

In a way, thinking positively is a big part of the cognitive-behavioral model that’s one of the most common types of treatment used in addiction rehab facilities all over the world. Psychology professor Alan Marlatt developed a relapse prevention model that shows the different paths you can take when presented with what he called a “high-risk situation,” or a situation that challenges a person’s commitment to a behavioral change.

In recovery, a high-risk situation could be someone offering you a drink or having a craving after a stressful day at work. A relapse doesn’t start the moment you decide to take a drink or drug; instead, it starts with your response to a high-risk situation. Depending on the situation you’re in, positivity can go a long way in helping you respond in a way that prevents relapse.

In fact, negative emotional states represent the highest rate of relapse, according to Marlatt. Anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, and boredom can often be triggered by negative thinking or a negative response to a challenge in your life.

Effective Coping Skills

Coping is your response to a high-risk situation, whether good or bad. According to Marlatt, your coping response to a high-risk situation is a critical factor in determining the outcome. For instance, if you come home after a long day at work and feel the urge to drink to relieve stress, an ineffective coping response might be to tell yourself that you are too stressed out to resist the urge. Negative thinking leads to poor coping skills and a decrease in self-efficacy, or your level of self-control in high-risk situations.

Positive thinking may facilitate more effective coping skills and lead to a better outcome. As an example, imagine you are at a party, and someone offers you a drink. That would be considered a very high-risk situation. Processing the situation by thinking, “I don’t need or want a drink. I’ve resisted before and I can resist again,” may be a more positive coping strategy. Your resolve is strengthened by a rise in self-efficacy.

Not Giving In to “Stinkin’ Thinkin'”

Stinkin’ thinkin’ is a colloquial psychological term used to describe thoughts that lead you to believe something bad will happen, you will fail, or that you are generally a bad person. In other words, it’s a specific kind of negative thinking that causes stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. One example of stinkin’ thinkin’ is something called catastrophizing, and it also happens to be a clear example of negative thinking. Catastrophizing is assuming disastrous consequences will come out of one, relatively small bad experience.

For instance, if you are late to work, catastrophizing would be to assume your boss will fire you, you’ll fail to make rent payments, and then you’ll be homeless. In your mind, one moment you’re five minutes late and the next, you’re living on the streets. Stinkin’ thinkin’ increases stress, anxiety, and depression, and lowers your self-efficacy.

Positive thinking can help you avoid stinkin’ thinkin’ when a situation triggers negative thoughts. If you employ positive thinking when you are late to work, five minutes late may be just that. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be fired and there is nothing to suggest that it means you will be homeless.

Can Positive Thinking Ever Be Bad?

If positive thinking influences relapse prevention in such an advantageous way, is there any drawback to this kind of optimism? Well, it’s important to note that positive thinking alone may not always lead to positive results in recovery.

In fact, if positive thinking means thinking that your actions will have positive outcomes, there is at least one clear example of an adverse effect of positive thinking. Positive outcome expectancies of negative behavior can actually lead to relapse in some cases. Marlatt notes that some drinkers have positive outcome expectancies for their drinking, failing to see the potential negative consequences.

In the party scenario, when someone offers you a drink, negative positivity (if you’ll excuse the oxymoron) would be thinking, “I can have one drink, and everything will be fine. I won’t go into full relapse.” Some people in recovery report having positive outcome expectancies about trying a different drug, because it wasn’t their drug of choice when they became addicted. It’s important to have realistic expectations and a positive outlook.

Positive thinking can be a vital tool for addiction treatment and recovery, but it’s not a replacement for treatment. If it’s not used wisely, it can even contribute to relapse. The world isn’t sunshine and rainbows. You’ll have to live life on life’s terms, and that may mean you’ll experience stress and disappointments. But positivity means realizing that you are capable of overcoming challenges, not living as if there will never be challenges.

Do You Need Help?

Maintaining a positive outlook is no easy task, especially when battling an addiction. But that’s where The Palm Beach Institute comes into play. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or dependence, call us at The Palm Beach Institute at 855-534-3574 to learn more about your addiction treatment options. You also can contact us online to speak with a call representative to learn what treatment methods work best for you.