Here is a trap that can be all too easy to fall into as a person in recovery from a substance use disorder.

Once an addict, always an addict.

In one sense, that statement is true. After all, a substance use disorder can be treated, but it cannot be cured. As a result, if you develop a substance use disorder, you will, in effect, always have a substance use disorder.

Be that as it may, the notion that you will always be an addict is a potentially harmful way to think about your situation and your recovery. The statement “once an addict, always an addict,” precludes the possibility of change. And if you believe you cannot change, you may find yourself simply giving into your urges and cravings

The Dangers of a Fixed Mindset in Recovery

This path to relapse we have described comes from having what could be called a “fixed mindset.”

A person with a fixed mindset believes that there are aspects of our personalities, talents, behaviors, and other characteristics that simply cannot be changed. When you think this way, it is easy to draw broad conclusions about what you can and cannot accomplish.

You might decide, for example, that you have no musical talent, and therefore you can’t learn to make music at all. You could determine that you will never be able to understand math, and so you decide not to pursue a career that would require some skills in that area. You might decide that your natural ability as a writer represents the full extent of the possibilities open to you, and as a result you don’t put in the work to get even better.

You could arrive at the conclusion like: once an addict, always an addict.

But shaping your day-to-day experience around a fixed mindset is not the only available approach to your life.

The Advantages of a Growth Mindset in Recovery

How would things be different if you adopted a “growth mindset” rather than believing everything about yourself is fixed?

Well, you might discover that with a little practice and a little less self-consciousness, you could, indeed, learn to play an instrument or to sing. You might determine that with some extra effort, you can, in fact, grasp the math concepts that have previously eluded you. You might discover that you can go from a solid writer to a really good writer by putting in the work.

You might determine that your status as a so-called “addict” is not permanent and that change is truly possible.

You can grow into a person who maintains your sobriety over time—and whose identity is much more rich and nuanced than can be captured by a single word or trait.

Making the Mindset Move from Fixed to Growth

So, how do you get out of the habit of seeing yourself as incapable of meaningful change? A good first step might be to remind yourself that change is always in progress all around us. Nothing in life stays absolutely the same for long. Those with a fixed mindset can have trouble rolling with the changes; those with a growth mindset embrace the changes as opportunities. Remind yourself that change is not just external to you. It is also central to your experience.

When you remember that change is not only possible but arguably inevitable, you provide a foundation for believing you can make meaningful, lasting changes in your own life. Yes, you struggled with drugs or alcohol and developed a substance use disorder. No, you do not have to give up any hope of getting and staying sober. 

Give yourself permission to embrace positive change, and give yourself grace as you work toward growth. It will not always be easy, but it will always be worth it—especially when it comes to embracing sobriety.

We Can Help You Out of the Fix of a Substance Use Disorder

We have noted that a substance use disorder cannot be cured but can be effectively treated and managed. The first step of that process is getting treatment at The Aviary Recovery Center near St. Louis, Missouri. We will see you through medically supervised detoxification. We will address co-occurring mental health disorders and provide resources and strategies for staying sober via our robust rehabilitation program. And we will provide a continuum of care that includes ongoing support in the early days of your recovery journey.

Along the way, we will encourage you to adopt a growth mindset—a mindset that will remind you that positive change is always possible and that you can make the changes necessary to build a lasting recovery free from drug or alcohol use.