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Thought Addiction

What is a thought addiction?

One of the strongest addictions, 1000 times more powerful and influential than any substance or drug that is known to man, is thought addiction. Throughout our day, each of us loses conscious awareness of our thinking and our mind wanders on its own.

We tend to take our thinking for granted. Not knowing it is our thinking which creates everything in our lives. But when we lose control of our thinking we can get caught in a dangerous looping of thoughts that keep us locked in our minds.

Not a lot is known about what we are thinking. Why? Because thinking is invisible. No one can see our thoughts, even us.

Even more surprising, little is known about thought addiction. Depressive thinking, obsessive thinking, negative thinking or suicidal thinking are all thought addictions. Thought addiction can majorly affect your health, both mentally and physically.

There are many symptoms related to thought addiction. Thought addiction can cause sleepless nights, anxiety, fear, panic, stress, digestive troubles, lower self-esteem, decreased confidence, failed relationships, tight muscles, hyper-awareness, hypersensitivity, and headaches.

Thought Addiction

All Addictions start with a Thought

A common experience that everyone has experienced at one time or another in his or her lives is when a song gets caught in one’s head. It seems to play and play no matter what he or she does. It seems that the song gets caught in an endless loop. They cannot get the song out of their head.

Well, the same is true with a thought. Thoughts can get caught in a constant loop. They seem to be powerful and take up residence in your head. What happens is you get overly aware of the thoughts and you can't ignore it. The thoughts could be good or bad. The thoughts seem to be very influential and have a life of its own. You become powerless and unable to focus, concentrate or stop the thought. The thought seems to be at the forefront of your consciousness all the time no matter how you try to stop it. You become overly obsessed either trying to stop them from looping or lost in their directions to do things you would not normally do.

Thinking one thought or set of thoughts over and over creates a mental habit. This is mental experience is called a thought addiction.

Addictions are activated by a Thought


Meaning of Thought Addiction

Thought addiction is a new concept but it follows the same rules and damaging relationship development as every other addiction process. Continuing to focus on any particular thought creates a habitual pattern that can wreak havoc on a person’s life. Little is known about thought addiction but it is the key element of any addiction. All addictions start with the development of a thought first –“I think I need…” “I want…” or I deserve….”

Thought addiction is a fact, a reality. It happens to you all the time even when you're not aware it is occurring. A constant remembering of tasks, obligations, and responsibilities are also a form of thought addiction.

Thought addiction is the beginning of all known addictions whether it is an emotion, substance or behavior. At first, the thought or set of thoughts works well helping you to subdue painful emotions or keep you in procrastination. But after a while, it takes over your life and ends in a toxic relationship.

Thought Addiction clouds a person's mind


What is a thought addiction?

Can a thought become addictive? Of course, it can.

By definition, a thought addiction is the development of a habitual thought pattern to one or more thoughts. Thought addiction is the returning over and over again to a thought that does not serve you. Simply a thought addiction is ruminating on one or more thoughts repetitively until it becomes a habitual thought pattern and drives behavior and emotions.

Thought addiction can consume you, damage you and can have lasting devastating results in a depleting the energy in every system of your body. An addiction to a thought produces a rapid and intense change in mood, emotional pain, mental disconnection from the present and a painful cognitive experience of resistance when there is an attempt to withdrawal from the thought or attempt to stop the thought. Thought addiction can drive a person to repetitively seek escape in another addiction to a substance, emotion or behavior. The escaping the thought into another secondary addiction will cause the person to get locked into another habitual pattern in order to bury the primary addiction to a thought. Meaning using another addiction to get rid of the primary addictive thought. Thought addiction is a hidden fact. Devastating effects can become very powerful and highly influential if ignored. Thought addiction is very real.

A thought addiction can also cause sleepless nights, anxiety, fear, stress, digestive troubles, boring or tense relationships, tight muscles, headaches and yes even death (suicidal thoughts)?

Addiction to a thought is the first step in the formation of an addiction to another substance, emotion, behavior or another thought. Once sober from the secondary addiction, you are still left with the original thought that got into the secondary addiction. If not treated it will certainly cause a relapse of the secondary addiction.

For an example let’s look at how an addiction to smoking starts with a thought.

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The first set of thoughts or the hook is “I need smoke to relax” or “I will be more accepted by others” or “smoking will make me more social because everyone smokes”. Then from the understanding of why you began to smoke and the realization that you are addicted, you move into attempting to termination your smoking. Once the cessation of the smoking addiction is completed then one will still be left with the thought that originally started you to smoke if the thought is not shifted or changed. In recovery, if the thoughts, pre, and post, have not been dealt with, then it is possible that relapse is inevitable (for example: “I will fail at trying to stop”, “I cannot function without smoking” or “my addiction is different from everyone else”).

The first action to recover from smoking is to stop the behavior. Research has shown that nicotine is out of the body within the first 48 hours but it is the intense habitual mental connection or original thought of need that will cause a relapse, “I cannot reduce my stress without smoking”, “I will no longer be accepted” or “I will gain weight if I do not smoke”. Smokers can build new neural pathways and learn new behaviors and attitudes that can transform the way they see and react to life situations. This process of thought addiction can also be seen in the development of eating disorders, depression or contemplating suicide and so can the same transformation be accomplished.

So, in viewing recovery from any addiction, one should look at what is the thought that began the need for a substance (alcohol, exercise, illegal drugs, legal drugs, or food) or behavior (obsession, compulsion). Once sober you have to look at the residual pattern of thoughts that are left over. Therefore, it can then be concluded that the development and ensuing unhealthy or toxic attachment to a thought, is the cause of any secondary addiction to an emotion, substance, behavior or additional thought is the result of the original thought.

5 “Must Have” Tips on How to Have a Successful Thought Addiction Recovery

Is there hope? Yes, there is. You can recover from primary thought addiction and its symptoms as well as avoid picking up a secondary addiction.

First tip

Recognize the original thought that got stuck in your mind and started looping over and over. Admit that the recognized thought is a problem.

Second tip

Identify the emptiness, need or desire that the thought originated occupies (like acceptance, acknowledgment, social status or a belief that you are good enough). Accept why the thought became so important and the event that spawned it.

Third tip

Craft a new list of positive thoughts that you want to replace your negative looping thoughts. These positive thoughts should serve you positively and the path of your recovery.

Fourth tip

Repeat to each new thought daily. Once in the morning upon rising and once at night before you go to sleep. Commit to a strong personal contract of self-support and accountability.

Fifth tip

Create a realistic daily action plan to complete the 4th step with precise and doable steps. Each step should be specific objectives, measurable and timelined. If you follow through, others will see in you and you will feel the changes in 90 days. in order for you to see your success. Create a support community with your friends, family members, and peers.

Be extremely mindful of your commitments and responsibilities to complete your action plan that you developed. Have full mindfulness of the goals you set above for healing your thoughts. Shift your mindset to positive and you will be able to achieve the change you desire. Have faith and believe in yourself and you will gain command of your thoughts.

Successfully abating both the cause and the symptoms is not just a dream, it can be a reality.

Thought Addiction is real.


© 2011 Bill Tollefson


Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 24, 2015:

Dear Nadine May,

Thank you for taking the time to read this HUB. I so appreciate you sharing this HUB on your network. Very nice of you. I hope you read more.

Please follow me and I will follow you.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 24, 2015:


Thank you for following me. I look forward in gaining insight from you HUBs.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on May 24, 2015:

Many thanks for this very informative hub. That thought addiction is the beginning of all known addictions was a real eyeopener. I will share your post on my network.

d.william from Somewhere in the south on May 23, 2015:

You're welcome; i did click on the green follow button and see my name listed under others following you. Thanks.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 22, 2015:

Dear d.williams,

I went back and found two links to my HUBs. Thank you so much, I really appreciate you putting them on your valuable article.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 22, 2015:

Click on my new Dr Bill Tollefson in blue in the comment box above and that will take you to my profile page and at the top right there is a green button that says FOLLOW (###). Click on the green button and you will become a follower of mine( says unfollow after you click it. I have clicked your and I am on of your followers.


d.william from Somewhere in the south on May 22, 2015:

I just checked the hub and there two links of yours posted.

They are about half way down into the article.

I have not been active on this site for several months and there are many new features that i am still learning how to use. I can't find the button to "follow" you anywhere on your pages? I think i only clicked on the "follow" button for this article without realizing it was limited.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 22, 2015:

Thanks for your link to your HUB article.

I did not see a link to my article. Are you going to use my article as a reference?

d.william from Somewhere in the south on May 21, 2015:

I just updated this article today as it was not gaining any attention. I have clicked on "follow" your site and will look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

I am not a "trained" psychologist, but write from a common sense approach to things. I believe in realism, logic, and critical thinking instead of mysticism, fantasy, and religious ideas not based in reality.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 21, 2015:

Thanks so much. I totally agree with you. Thought enlightenment should be an objective for all.

Please check above and Follow me. I become on of your followers and have comment on one of your articles.

Also check out my Thought Addiction assessment HUB which would help your readers to see if they had a thought addiction and might need help to re-script their minds.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 21, 2015:

I agree with you. Please send me a link to your HUB on programming. I would love to read it.

Please Follow me and I will do the same.

d.william from Somewhere in the south on May 21, 2015:

Thanks. I will be happy to add this link as well. There can never be enough promotion of thought enlightenment in one's life. (emotional/psychological/spiritual)

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 21, 2015:

Dear d.william,

Thank you so much for your supportive comment on this HUB article on Thought Addiction. Thought addiction is a real addiction and it affects people in all walks of life and experiences. Yes thought addiction can be the result of brainwashing. Know that brainwashing comes in all kinds of forms from subtle to overt.

Yes it is okay if link my article to a HUB you are writing on deprogramming.

I have been working with survivors over 40 years to re-code their minds (reverse the effects of programming) and have a very effective self-help tool product, 30 Day Mind Challenge, to help anyone re-code their mind in one month. Here is the link

d.william from Somewhere in the south on May 21, 2015:

Great article. I enjoyed your thoughts on this subject. My life experience with thought addiction is primarily linked to the subconscious damages inflicted on this young mind via religious brainwashing as a young child. When one realizes that this religious 'brainwashing" is so infiltrative throughout our entire global society, it is little wonder why there is so much turmoil and hatred in the world today.

It was not until my mid 40's that i finally shed this baseless incorporeal burden of shame, guilt, and fear. Your article implies that "deprogramming" is the only way to overcome this thought additive emotional/mental burden that most adult mental disorders arise from.

I have written many articles on the base negative effects of teaching (any) religion to children before their age of reasoning.

I would like to place a "link" to this article on my hub about deprogramming if that is OK with you.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on September 17, 2013:

Lynn –

Thank you for the recognition and helping to affirm that Thought Addiction is real and can be caused by triggered and surfacing core beliefs. Problems in the mind does not come from damage to hardware issues (the brain) it comes from software problems. Software problems can be fixed with straightening out the underlying mind code.

I really appreciate your comment and time to read this article. Hope more read and learn.

Lynn on September 16, 2013:

Wow, so very nice to have a space/place to talk truth and healing. What a blessing that Dr. Bill continues to develop and share positive, life-changing skills. They have saved my life.

Addressing my core-beliefs in Dr. Bill's life-coaching sessions has been a huge help with my looping thinking. Fatigue and anxiety are decreasing as well. Struggle is becoming less of a life-style for me. The shifts are amazing and fun to observe in myself. Possibility is a daily happening now. If it were doable any other way, I would have found it by now. This is IT, awesome.

I know that I am moving from surviving to actually being alive. There is a big difference in those words. Join the fortunate among us, who have had a deep loyalty to themselves. I know that, because we have made it to this place.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on July 19, 2013:

Thanks for your comment. Obsessive thinking is a form of thought addiction (TA). TA is a thought or set of thoughts that get stuck looping in a person's mind and no matter what they do the thoughts cannot stop. There is a technique that can change TA from an escape or blocking defense pattern into a positive thinking pattern. Hope you go forward and look at the Assessment. Hopefully the TA assessment questions will help you see the difference and be of benefit of you as a therapist but mostly help your clients to recognize that they are in an addicting pattern that is not serving them.

Thanks again for your time to read the article.

Deb Case on July 19, 2013:

The Thought Addiction reminds me so much me obsessive thinking. The thoughts in OCD that people think about wanting to rid them and feeling the anxiety to do so liken to compulsion. I often talk to clients about how to use thought stopping at the onset of the thought to use, but after reading some of the information and comments it dawned on me that maybe I should have them focus on a desired outcome like we do with PC in EMDR. One problem I might have is many of the clients I work with are seeking recovery, but have been unsuccessful in the past to achieve any substantial clean time; therefore, would have a difficult time seeing themselves not using successfully. I haven't seen the assessment tool yet, so I am looking forward to that.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on March 17, 2013:

Dear Bill, Thanks for liking my concept of Thought Addiction (TA). Please spread the word as TA is finding strength in the addiction community. Your comment means a lot to me because of your experience in the addiction field.

Bill Rohr on March 16, 2013:

I like the concept of thought addiction and your article.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on October 07, 2012:

Cathy - I want to thank for writing your comment. I am very passionate about helping people to finally heal their wounds. Yes addiction in one form or another touches everyone, and it is a thought that starts it all.

Thanks again to take the time to read my HUB.

Ms. Immortal from NJ on October 07, 2012:

Thank you Bill for a very informative hub. While I never suffered from addictions many of my loved ones have. (I take that back I think I might be addicted to coffee :o)

Addiction touches everyones lives in some form, it seems it is inescapable. It's nice to know there are caring and committed professional out there that can help.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on September 03, 2012:

AnneMarie - Thank you for reading this HUB and gaining knowledge from it. Really appreciate the kind words. Coaching is a new wave to healing and success and you are proof of it.

Dr Bill

annemarie on September 03, 2012:

Thanks for the article, Dr. Bill. You have really helped me in your coaching.

You have a LOT of wisdom,expertise, experience, and commitment. And you are kind..that means the world!


Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on February 26, 2012:

Abundant old soul - Thank you for your comments, appreciate it. Think, maybe a behavior is the result of a behavior?

Abundant Old Soul from united states on February 26, 2012:

Thanks for the info. I agree we somewhat control our thoughts. All we really control is our behavior. Maybe a thought is actually a behavior.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on October 31, 2011:

linda…..Thanks for your remembrance and your comments. Thought Addiction is a very useful way to avoid a lot of things in life except it can turn very powerful then one has to institute another addiction to offset the thought addiction which is out of control. Remember "a thought starts with and ends with a thought"

linda on October 31, 2011:

Dr. Bill, the idea that changed my thought addiction to suicide was when somebody, could have been you, maybe Gina asked me what I was avoiding when spending my time contemplating suicide. I had never thought about it like that before. I was using the planning of my own death to avoid thinking about my trauma. Now when I find myself going "there" I ask myself, "What am I avoiding?" And it completely derails that train of thought. Sometimes it makes me mad, ok, most times it makes me mad that I would use such an extreme measure simply to avoid thinking about something else. And what I find frustrating is I find that I use that distraction first of all without even thinking about it, and secondly to distract myself from rather innocuous thoughts. But I do catch myself, and have yet to go very far down that path! Thank you, Dr. Bill!!!

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on October 20, 2011:

tigerblue72 - Real sorry for your loss and I know how bad that is. Thought addictions can be real useful as a barrier to unwanted thoughts of loss. My deepest regards

tigerblue72 from Southern Illinois on October 20, 2011:

Sad to say my addictions have gotten the best of me, i dont know how to stop right now but it is helping me block out all of what is going on here at the house with the loss of an unborn child, with which i had not mourned of my last one, i have two more weeks where i am before getting the help i do need. I just want too crawl into a whole and never come out.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on October 03, 2011:

markfrederick37 - Thank you for your comments. In my work with addictions, I have found that "every addiction starts with a thought. Thoughts precedes emotion and behavior". One of my HUBs is "Thought Addiction Assessment" which can help you understand more about the subject. Thanks again for your story and interest.

markfrederick37 on October 02, 2011:

Dr. Bill,

Today has been 2 weeks since used drugs or alcohol, or masturbated, which have cause great depression, loss of family and work. I have stayed clean but struggled with my ablilty to stay on task with me tools, and listening, especially with me ex. we will talk one night, come to an agreement, then 12 hours later the next day, form my own thought and stick to it, and be completly different then we agreed. Causinf frusrtation with both of us, then causing me a great deal of grief. Untill today with an in-law relative did a relize the thought adiction i have. It opened my eyes to what i have been struggling with of recent and beyond. I then searched the idea and found your site, it has been helpful knowing this is a problem. I relize how to fix it, but it is hard. How does someone start to find ways to think differently. I get confused on what hobbies i truly care about, and so on. Looking into support for this specfically, and can't wait for more proffessional advice and knowledge on the subject.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on September 21, 2011:

tigerblue72 - I honor you passion for self discovery. Taking back command of yourself will open your life. You are most the most important thing in your life. Keep moving forward. Transforming is possible.

tigerblue72 from Southern Illinois on September 21, 2011:

Thank You, I have found it very useful and will continue to do so. Which is why I have chosen to move to Florida to get the treatment that I have so needed for the past 20 years, too long in my book to go. I have found it the best place in the U.S. to go for this type of treatment that I require.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on September 21, 2011:

tigerblue72 - I am glad that you found this HUB to be useful and that you learned a lot. Believe me that the journey can be very positive, empowering and enriching. Understanding yourself is the path to health and success.

tigerblue72 from Southern Illinois on September 21, 2011:

It is a skill that I too must learn, and it will be a difficult road for me but am willing to take that journey to get to the point of trying to Fix myself. I shall follow your articles and clips of advice. It does help me understand myself some, still in the learning process.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on September 21, 2011:

tigerblue72 - Thanks for your wonderful comments. I have studied this subject a lot and the influence our thoughts have over the direction of our lives. Our lives are governed by the content of thoughts. The great thing is that there is hope for change. We do have the power to shift our thoughts. It is a skill that anyone can learn. Keep following for more information.

tigerblue72 from Southern Illinois on September 21, 2011:

This is not easy for me to admit, but after reading your article and seeing your clip, I now realize that I have a serious problem, not only with PTSD, but also have been diagnosed with Bi Polar disorder, Borderline Personality disorder, but I seem to be going in circles with all of this. I have moved from Massachusetts to Illinois and in order to break this cycle I need to get to Florida to get the proper help I need. I NEED TO FIX MYSELF !! I have read several of your articles, and realized it is time to break this cycle. Thank You

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on August 20, 2011:

I believe that TA is real. People drift into addiction with a substance or behavior to attempt to quiet the thoughts that have become habitual and overwhelming. The thoughts can be fear, abandonment, loss or disappointment. Break the cycle by shifting negative looping thoughts to positive thoughts. Empower yourself through mastering your own thoughts.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on July 20, 2011:

Dear Judy Lee, Thank you very much for your comments on this article. I am very firm on the fact that every addiction of any form starts and ends with a thought. You have proved that we your statements. When you are addicted to a substance, food in your case, it is also a thought addiction that leads you into a relapse and right out again and then only left with painful shame. Unfortunately not many professionals look at the power of thought addiction. I am glad this article made an impact on you. You are also right that it is the Action Plan that empowers. Thanks for appreciating me. Dr Bill

Judy Lee Thurber from West Palm Beach, Florida on July 20, 2011:

I've been pondering this for a few days now. At first it just washed over me - not much impact. Then I became aware of other ways I've used this idea, confirming that it is something that I have known for a long time but in other terms. For example, "As a man thinketh, so is he." and from AA, a bit of tongue-in-cheek advice: "Don't think, and go to meetings."

I could recognize my addictive thoughts (currently pertaining to eating), but I was at a loss as to how to become un-addicted to them. Then I noticed a cute little raw bar across from my bank yesterday, and thought how nice it would be to have lunch there. I remembered my last experience with raw bars and how I find it impossible to eat raw oysters without a pitcher of beer to wash them down. Now it has been a long time since my last beer, so I just said to myself, "Well we won't be thinking about that now, will we?" ... and I didn't! I changed the subject on myself. In that moment, I realized that I CAN un-addict myself to addictive thoughts - obviously - because I have. My boundaries are firm when it comes to addictive thinking regarding alcohol.

Today I was trying to recall the times in my life when I have not thought addictively about food. I always had something else to occupy my mind - a man - work - children - even times of spiritual growth. I'm not sure if I thought about those other things addictively, but I didn't fall back to thinking of food (due to boredom or some other emotional trigger) as long as I had the other things to think about. So as I got in my car this afternoon for the 1 hour drive home, I paused and asked myself what I wanted to think about that didn't involve food. I do realize once I have the thought, then I'll probably have the action being the good addict that I am. So I put in a cd about changing my work life to something more productive and satisfying. Next thing I knew - I was home - no drive thrus. Success!

So the key to changing any behavior is planning ahead for the productive alternative - being prepared. That old adage "if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail." Funny - I say that to people all the time. So glad I'm listening finally. I'd be happy for any other suggestions. I truly appreciate you Dr. Bill.

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on June 14, 2011:

Thanks to both hypno genius and Wysley for writing good comments. Let's empower people to think the way they want to toward success.

wysley on June 14, 2011:

Great article on the powerful impact thought addiction can have. Very insightful and much needed information.

hypno genius on June 14, 2011:

Very good thats why in my hypnotherapy sessions i change the patients thought and from session one eg they are now a non smoker and with that thought they are if they want to be ,

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on June 10, 2011:

Dave - I celebrate you being symptom free and willing to advocate for others.

dkanofsky from Bethalto, Illinois on June 09, 2011:

Thanks for your info. I too have had experience in the field of depression. I've suffered from it for 48 years, so I've got some pretty good personal experience with this mood disorder. Thanks to years of therapy, medication (which I still take) learned social skills, and support groups I have been virtually symptom free since 2007.

I've made it my goal to become a peer advocate for those with clinical depression and I currently write on the topic as well.

Thanks once again for sharing this information.

Kindest regards,

Dave Kanofsky

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on June 09, 2011:

David - Thanks for your comment and the read. After being a therapist for over 35 years and have moved to Life Coaching I would say Life Coaching is more effective because it is a holistic approach. Read this HUB article to get any understanding of Depression - I hope you pass this on to others.

dkanofsky from Bethalto, Illinois on June 09, 2011:

Thought addiction is very evident in depression, especially in clinical depression. I refer to these thoughts as "stinkin thinkin" and can be extremely debilitating.

In your opinion which therapy is best for clinical depression?

Thank you for sharing such an informative hub.

Kindest regards,

Dave Kanofsky

Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on June 08, 2011:

Thanks for your comment. Thought addiction is real. Many are suffering silently. Every addiction starts with a thought. This is a fresh look at a possible reason for high relapse rates. New approaches and ideas are needed, because addiction to a multitude of substances and issues keep increasing. Maybe it is the thought addiction that keeps people attached to a devastating relationship that does not work anymore.

Debra Cornelius from Georgia on June 07, 2011:

Never heard it termed 'thought addition' but totally agree breaking the negative thoughts is a huge step in changing negative behaviors, or habits. Great hub!

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