Drug Induced Cognitive Biases

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Drug Induced Cognitive Biases

The topic at a glance

  • Cognitive biases act as filters on the way we perceive reality, and they can lead to distorted thinking and poor decision making.

  • Common cognitive biases for those of us with addiction problems include: status quo bias, negativity bias, and confirmation bias.

  • Therapy and approaches like mindfulness and CBT can help us begin to recognize our cognitive biases and begin overcoming them.

What Are Cognitive Biases?

Many of our problems in life arise because our way of looking at the world differs from how things actually are. Cognitive biases are a common cause of such conflicts with reality. These biases change the way the brain processes information and lead to distorted thinking and poor decision making.

Substance abuse is not only toxic for our bodies but also for our brains. Drugs alter the way we perceive reality and it means we become more susceptible to cognitive biases such as:

Attentional Bias

Attentional bias occurs when we our brain habitually favors certain types of input. A good example of this is the way regular drug users are far more aware of opportunities to score than an average person – e.g. such individuals can arrive in a strange city and almost effortlessly spot a drug dealer.

This type of attentional bias can be a real problem for those of us caught up in addiction because we are far more aware of addiction triggers – i.e. we become hypersensitive to drug using cues.

Attentional bias also impacts our memories so that we end up with a romantic view of substance abuse despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Status Quo Bias

The status quo bias means we are willing to accept the way things are rather than risking the uncertainty of change. Even if addiction is causing tremendous suffering for ourselves and other people, we can still feel more comfortable ‘with the devil we know’. The status quo bias is believed to occur because the brain is biased towards the fear of loss rather than the positive possibilities of change.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to filter information in such a way that it supports our current beliefs and worldview. It is what allows the addicted brain to gather information to support the behavior (build a case for it) while ignoring any information to the contrary.

Pessimism Bias

It is common for those of us who develop addiction problems to also have a history of depression. Pessimism bias is one of the ways we become susceptible to bouts of depression. It refers to the way the brain can filter information so there is an exaggerated expectation that negative things are going to happen.

Negativity Bias

Negativity bias is when we are much better at picking out the negative aspects of life than we are the positive ones. It can mean that even though there are lots of nice things going on in our life, we can be so focused on the negative that we decide things are unsatisfactory

How Mindfulness Can Allow You to Uproot Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases will continue to have a negative impact on our life for as long as we are unaware of them. The goal of mindfulness is to understand your mind and during this process you can begin to discover the patterns of thinking that are getting in the way of your happiness.

Other approaches such as therapy, counselling, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help us recognize and overcome these cognitive biases.

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