Catastrophic Thinking: Alcohol Isn’t Your Great Escape

Drowning our catastrophic thinking in alcohol won't make things better - it'll make them worse.

Cassie’s heart began to race. “Am I dying?” she thought. “What if I’m having a heart attack?”

Jeff’s wife was running late. He worried there had been a terrible car accident. Jeff pictured his wife lying all alone in a ditch somewhere, broken and bleeding.

Molly’s daughter loved to play softball. It was less fun for Molly. Before every game, she imagined all the injuries her daughter could suffer, and she couldn’t relax until the final inning was over.

Sound familiar? Does your brain go down similar disastrous paths? Cassie, Jeff, and Molly are catastrophic thinkers. If your thought patterns are similar, you might be, too. And that means you’re at a higher risk for abusing alcohol.

The Cost of Catastrophe

Catastrophic thinking is “ruminating about irrational worst-case outcomes.” It can increase anxiety and affect the way you react (or freeze you into inaction).

While creative writers may value an active imagination, for most of us, catastrophic imaginings aren’t helpful.

Frequently playing out the worst-case scenarios of any given situation causes anxiety. Left unchecked, this can result in a variety of mental health issues such as panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, and social anxiety.

To cope with anxiety disorders, many turn to substance abuse. In fact, about 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder also have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder. What they don’t know, however, is that substances actually make the anxiety worse, trapping people in a constant and frightening cycle of catastrophe.

Escaping Catastrophe

To avoid this cycle, catastrophic thinkers must take three steps:

  • Step #1:  Recognize it. If you’re thinking is catastrophic, you must first identify it. Label the thinking what it truly is – an irrational worst-case scenario.
  • Step #2:  Rethink it. Instead of dreaming up more disasters, identify best-case possibilities. Consider whether or not these are more likely outcomes. (Jeff’s wife is stuck in traffic…her meeting ran long…she didn’t answer the phone because she’s driving…this has happened multiple times before…the weather is sunny and clear, so the roads aren’t treacherous…etc.)
  • Step #3:  Remove it. Don’t discount your catastrophic thinking. It’s a dangerous road to travel, leading nowhere good. If you are a catastrophic thinker, it’s important to deal with it. You might need professional help to handle these thoughts. They may indicate other issues a counselor can help you work through. If you’re trying to stay on a path of sobriety, it’s especially significant. For successful recovery, you need to learn to manage these thoughts and develop healthier patterns of thinking.



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