confirmation bias and addiction

Confirmation Bias and Addiction

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

How to Recognize and Combat Confirmation Bias to Encourage a Successful Recovery Experience

In many treatment programs, the first step is the same and it’s the hardest part: admitting that there is a problem. People with a substance use disorder have a compulsion to continue in active addiction. This leads to a confirmation bias, which is a term used when a person seeks out information to validate the view they already have. People with a substance use disorder seek this information in their daily activities in order to find a reason to rationalize their problems with substance use. Read on to learn about common ways that confirmation bias happens, how you can recognize it, and how to combat it.

Common Confirmation Biases in Daily Life 

  • “This helps my job performance.”  In some cases, a person with substance use disorder may truly believe that what they’re doing allows them to do better at their jobs. This could mean working longer hours, communicating more openly with people, or even being more assertive.
    •  How to combat: Consider the consequences. The person with substance use disorder will make mistakes. Their substance use will take its toll on their body and mind. It’s not a sustainable way to do better at work.
  • “I need it to relax.”  People with substance use disorder often have deeper rooted issues that perpetuate their active addiction. Anxiety and depression can manifest as chaotic emotional issues and it will lead the person with substance use disorder to believe they can’t function without their addiction.
    • How to combat:  Substance use disorder can lead to worse emotional problems. The person with substance use disorder will keep building a tolerance, and they’ll need more and more in order to relax at all.
  • “I can’t stop right now because it will make me sick.”  This is something a person with substance use disorder will say when they’re close to admitting that they have a problem. This is a fear response and finding confirmation bias to validate it stems from fear of dealing with recovery.
    • How to combat: seek out support or, if the person with substance use disorder is a family member or loved one, support them. Let them know that they can do it, even if will be hard.
  • “I don’t have a problem. Everyone does it.”  This is a person seeking confirmation that many people around them have the same substance use disorder that they do. For someone in active addiction, that means that they’re not wrong or that maybe it’s not a disorder after all. They want to know that they’ll be okay just like everyone else if they continue on as they are.
    • How to combat: Remind the person with substance use disorder that it’s not about everyone else. What other people do shouldn’t dictate their lives, and they have to make their own choices for their health and happiness.
  • “This has never been a problem for me before. Why is it a problem now?”  This notion will have the person with substance use disorder seeking confirmation that they’re not doing anything wrong in their lives. They’ll want to know that active addiction doesn’t actually affect them or what they do and it never has.
    • How to combat: Point out the realities. Look for a time in the past when the person with substance use disorder had their life made more difficult by active addiction.

Offer Truth With Support

Whether a person is almost ready to enter recovery or still seeking out these confirmation biases, the truth can be difficult for them to hear, and that’s okay. The best way to make sure they’ll hear it is to offer these truths with your support. Talk about support during recovery and all the ways that they can find it at a Fresno, California treatment center. Call us at First Steps Recovery today at 844-489-0836 to find ways to support your loved one or find support for yourself.


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