Having Trouble “Staying Stopped”?

Posted on January 18, 2016

Refuting Your Excuses
by Michael Edelstein, Ph.D.

“It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” ~Mark Twain

Excuses Stopping? Easy. “Staying stopped?” Not so much.

Have you ever had thoughts like these?:

“I can start tomorrow”, “I really need a drink”, “I’m too tired”, “I’ll just have one”, “This is how I have fun with my friends, it’s not hurting anybody,” “It’s too hard to quit.”

“Excuses” are statements we sometimes make to ourselves that make our addictive behavior seem reasonable.

In other words, we use excuses to justify behavior that we know is harmful. These excuses are destructive. They block, interfere, or sabotage our goals of addiction recovery and more. We may be so practiced in thinking these excuses that they have become automatic. We may not even be aware that we’re making these excuses unless we pay close attention to our thoughts.

“Refutations” are statements that disprove or weaken an “excuse.”

“Refuting Your Excuses” is an exercise for learning to pay attention to our habitual excuses and to evaluate them logically. Is the excuse true? Does it make good sense? Is it helpful?

How to Refute an Excuse:

1. For a recurring or current excuse you use, create a list of 5 to 10 meaningful refutations – – statements that disprove the excuse you are using.

2. Write these refutations 3 times a day for at least 30 days until they are ingrained in your thinking.

3. Whenever you have the urge for alcohol, drugs or other addictive behavior, identify the thoughts that make “using” seem reasonable. Then refute these excuses.

Your Excuse: What’s an excuse you tend to often use? (example: “It’s ok to drink or get high right now because it’ll be the last time I do it.” )


Your Refutations: Create a refutation for the excuse written above by circling or adapting phrases from the list shown below. It might be helpful to combine negative (e.g, #1) and positive (e.g, #2) refutations in your list.

1. I’ve used this excuse hundreds of times. It hasn’t worked before and it won’t work now. It always has led to the next time.
2. I’ll feel better tomorrow if I don’t drink or get high today.
3. This “time” could mean losing my job, ruining my career or destroying my relationship.
4. How many days is this one going to last?
5. I don’t HAVE TO indulge this “last time.”
6. I’m lying to myself, pure and simple.
7. I can change this statement to: “No more times!”
8. I’ll be better off now and better off tomorrow with: “No more drugs or alcohol!”
9. Since I choose to use, I can choose not to use.
10. If I choose not to use, the discomfort I’ll feel will be temporary, not forever.

Do you have additional refutations to suggest? We love to hear them, just use the comment section below.

9 thoughts on “Having Trouble “Staying Stopped”?

  1. Tom H

    Paula: Have you seen Marc Lewis’s book Biology of Desire? It goes right to the chemistry you are talking about.

  2. Craig C.

    Giving in to my compulsion to drink doesn’t last for me just one day, and the anxiety and remorse I will feel is terrible. Alcohol has robbed me of my relationships for too long. For my own sanity, I need to stay stopped and it might as well be now!

  3. Joe

    I just want a logical way out. Have done empirical searching. Learned a lot. MISS MY BRAIN. Know this is in the “mind”. Meaning, habitual thinking ect…

  4. Jessy J.

    It’s easy for me to “self fail” as I call it. Because i can try to get and stay on track but not knowing what my coping mechanisms are just lets me know that “it can’t be done”. It’s easy for me to change my mind about my sobriety and just relapse. But if someone else was here to ask me if I’m doing good and remind me of the bad consequences that will happen if I do is a lot easier for me. I find it that guidance, direction and instructed order is what works best for me. Thank you.

  5. Belle

    This is excellent because it is clear that every relapse or lapse or whatever we choose to call it happens because we listen to some inner voice that tells us it’s okay to drink (or use or whatever). I call the voice my “Negative Wizard”.

    I do not believe we are intentionally “lying” to ourselves when this happens. I believe addiction is a very strong chemical demand within our brains that trigger a thinking pattern that allows us to talk ourselves into drinking again. The chemistry, once all readjusted and normalized, loses its forcefulness in its capacity to direct us back to drinking, although even after long abstinence it can still do so in the face of sufficient disturbance or stress.

    It is then that I really have to be on guard and work hard against my “Negative Wizard” in my head who will try to convince me that I can handle it. I think I shall make a booklet for myself of vignettes from when I’ve had this phenomenon occur and showing what the negative results have always been. Reviewing my past history in this way may be very helpful because one of the things our little Negative Wizard also does is help us forget how bad it was!


  6. Paula

    Done exactly the same myself. Think I can have just one drink and it always leads to more, next day I feel remorseful and terrible. I managed to go 12 months, so I know it can be done, but once you fall of the waggon it’s so much harder to get back on.

    1. Belle

      Yes, that is so true Paula. I felt so defeated and just said “What’s the use?!” which of course only justified drinking again. I have too many loved ones relying on me to let myself go that route, and that’s my biggest motivation to keep on trying.

  7. David M

    This is spot-on for me right now. I had 30 days sober and then relapsed over the holidays, one of too many times when I’d gotten through acute withdrawal and then slipped back into my alcoholism. Thanks for sharing this, I need it today.

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