Do Intrusive Thoughts Happen To Everyone With Mental Illness?


Recovery teaches us many lessons about learning to detach from our thoughts mindfully, practicing simply noticing them, becoming aware of them, and objectively observing them. We learn that our thoughts are not always our friends and have to be taken with caution. Mindfulness practices and therapeutic methods like cognitive behavioral therapy as well as dialectical behavioral therapy are instructive for removing the judgment from thoughts, because, they’re just thoughts. For example, those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but sober for many months, might suddenly find themselves planning a relapse, daydreaming about using, and thinking about drugs. Do these intrusive thoughts about hurting themselves and their recovery mean they are going to relapse or that they don’t want to be sober? They do not. The thoughts could mean there is something going on beneath the surface which is triggering euphoric recall for mind altering substances. However, it would be a stretch to say that suddenly experiencing such thoughts means they are “failing” in their recovery, aren’t “committed” to their recovery, or don’t “really” want to be sober.

Bustle explains, “While many people erroneously associate intrusive, repeated thoughts with a sign that someone is “evil” or “fixated” on causing harm to themselves or others- or worse, that someone’s thoughts or obsessions reveal their true, “evil” nature or humanity- the reality is very different.” Addiction is an obsession of the mind. As the article describes, “What we think about is often outside of our conscious control; indeed, for anyone who suffers from anxiety, we all know first hand how very true that is if we could turn our thoughts off, we would.”

Intrusive Thoughts Don’t Make You A Bad Person

Intrusive thoughts rarely lead to acting on those thoughts, as evidenced by people with obsessive compulsive disorder, most commonly associated with intrusive thoughts. Thinking terrible, horrible, awful, things is only made terrible, horrible, and awful by judgment. Thoughts of violence and revenge are manifestations of anger, rage, and suppressed emotions. Acting on intrusive thoughts is a much deeper problem and typically points to psychopathy or other severe psychiatric disorders. For such individuals, there are no mechanisms in the brain to separate fact from fiction. Intrusive thoughts can be uncomfortable and alarming, but most people are able to make a positive decision not to act on it.

Everyone Experiences Intrusive Thoughts

Just about everyone has suddenly caught themselves in a long train of thought in a far off distant corner of their mind they didn’t know existed. How could they think such things? Where could such a thought have come from? The mind is a volatile, creative, unpredictable place full of computations and associations beyond human measure. Intrusive thoughts can happen to anyone, with or without a mental illness.


We all struggle with our minds. Long term treatment plans can give you the extra care and tools you need to successfully recover and find autonomy in recovery. LEAD Recovery Center offers multiphase transitional care programs for men and women seeking extended care options after treatment. For information, call us today at 800-380-0012.