Critical thinking (sometimes referred to as directed thinking) is purposeful, reasoned and goal directed--it is thought and knowledge and the relationship between them. To break it down more: the critical component is the evaluation that is most often agreed upon, and thinking is obtaining the desired outcome. An ability to plan, have flexibility, be persistent, and have the willingness to self-correct are the characteristics of critical thinking essential for the recovering addict.

Thinking critically cannot be spontaneous; we don't get up in the morning and critically think our way through brushing our teeth, because we do that by second nature or habit. Recovering addicts (I include alcoholics as addicts) bring many of his or her old behaviors into recovery with them, and spontaneity in the form of hasty decisions is commonplace.


In the interest of recovery addicts, I think the best definition for memory is the recall of the past which involves learning; however, Random House Webster's dictionary defines it as: "The faculty or process of retaining or recalling past experiences" (p. 449).

There are many mnemonic devices to aid memory. Acrostics are sentences created by words that begin with the first letters of a series of words. For example, "Every good boy does fine," is the music student's acrostic for recalling the notes associated with the lines of a treble clef staff--EGBDF. Another one--one that normal people (normies) might use when balking about drug addicts moving into the neighborhood, is NIMBY (not in my back yard). Rhymes and songs like the McDonald's song, "Nobody can do it like ___________ can." Or how about, twidle-lee dee twidle, lee dum, gimmy your dope or I'll get my gun. Just kidding. The loci system is a good one, which uses visual associations with locations you already know. The peg system is another, it employs key words represented by numbers; for example, one is a bun, two is a shoe, three is a tree. The phonetic system is similar to the peg system, but instead of words representing numbers, sounds represent numbers. If recovering drug addicts would employ some of these methods instead of reading about them and forgetting them like they did when they were in their addiction, they would inevitably improve their memory; however, unlearning long ingrained habits is difficult to do.

What we usually refer to as forgetting, is either the inability to recall stored information or the failure to store information in the first place. Recovering addicts, especially practicing addicts have what I call selective memory syndrome--that is, the failure to store information in the first place. The addict's attitude is--if the information isn't of any immediate use, then why make the effort to remember it?

Lucas (1990) explains a memory technique that he invented when he was a kid. He said that when he went places with his parents in the car, one of the ways he would spend time burning up excess energy was to look at signs along the highway; for example, he saw an oil company sign that read SHELL, then he wondered to himself what that word would look like in alphabetical order, and he came up with EHLLS (p xi).

Psychologist Gordon Allport showed subjects a picture of a white man with a knife holding up a black man with a suit. This picture was presented in a flash to test the accuracy of their eyewitness testimony in a situation in which racial prejudice might influence their perception. How our memory can be influenced by biases, prejudices, and stereotypes should lead us to question ourselves periodically. The same scenario, of course, could be substituted with a man in a suit holding up a younger man with facial hair, a bald head, and tatoos.


Revlin and Mayer (1978) tell us that, as people, we don't use the same psychological processes in finding conclusions required by the laws of formal logic or reasoning. Biases, prejudices and our emotions are some reasons why we're unable to do this. The notion of an irrational reasoner has been given reviewed interest as a result of the acceptance of categorical syllogisms into the social psychological literature as a diagnostic metric for assessing attitudes and beliefs. It is a frequent conclusion of such research with categorical syllogisms that the untrained reasoners are not strictly logical in their inferences and that they base their decisions primarily on personal knowledge and biases (p. 52).

Addicts can usually identify other addicts, and not only from the stereotypical observances such as shaved heads, tatoos, long hair, and/or their attire. Most addicts have a look that's in their facial expression, their walk--the way they carry ourselves in general. All the other stereotypical nuances may not be there, but an addict can generally recognize a fellow addict without them. Drug addicts are tricksters and are very adept at manipulation and persuasion; therefore, most of them don't believe they can be bamboozled (ya can't con a con). They're wrong about that because they're basing their decisions primarily on personal knowledge and biases. They doubt that the man with the ‘normie' appearance is capable of hoodwinking them, and you'll rarely hear them admit it when it happens to them. Let's have a look at some different types of reasoning given to us by Halpern (1989):

1. Inductive reasoning - If I have a situation where a statement has two premises, and the premises are logical, then I can find a valid conclusion through inductive reasoning (p. 126).

If every person you have ever seen has a drug habit, you would use this evidence to support the conclusion that everyone in the world has a drug habit. Obviously you can't be absolutely sure of this fact. It's always possible that someone you've never met does not have a drug habit. If you met just one person without a drug habit, then your conclusion must be wrong. So, with inductive reasoning, you can never prove that your conclusion is correct, but you can disprove it.

2. Deductive reasoning - With this type of reasoning, you would begin with statements known or believed to be true (p. 128).

A simple example would be the statement, "all drug addicts use drugs," then you could conclude that Lynda, a woman you've never met, also uses drugs.

3. Syllogistic reasoning - In a nutshell, is deciding whether a conclusion can properly be inferred from two or more statements. One type of syllogistic reasoning is categorical reasoning, which involves terms that tell us how many, like ‘some,' ‘none,' and ‘no' (p. 128).

4. Probabilistic reasoning - is using information that we have to decide that a conclusion is likely true or likely not true. In everyday contexts, much of our reasoning is probabilistic (p. 163). Probably the most intriguing are the circle diagrams and the five rules of categorical reasoning (p. 131). A more comprehensive discussion and examples of syllogistic and categorical reasoning are beyond the scope of this article.

According to Halpern, much of our thinking is like the scientific method of hypothesis testing. A hypothesis is a set of beliefs about the nature of the world; it is usually a belief about a relationship between two or more variables" (p. 223). There are several methods of testing hypotheses: inductive and deductive methods, through operational definitions, independent and dependent variables, measurement sensitivity, populations and samples, and variability; furthermore, there are several ways to determine cause: isolation and control of variables, prospective and retrospective research, correlation and cause (which people frequently get confused), illusory correlation, validity, and reliability. I've learned to be aware of self-fulfilling prophecies in life as well as in learning to think critically. I am also quite convinced of the effectiveness of double-blind studies. In my previous life when I wrote and called in my own medical prescriptions (see my article Prescription for Addiction on my website @, I became familiar with double-blind studies while researching pharmaceutical drugs for my personal use. Through a double-blind study I found that propoxyphene (Darvon) is less effective for pain than plain Aspirin.

Decision making:

Decision-making can be stressful, and it isn't limited to the uneducated: Whenever there is a simple error that most lay people fall for, there is always a slightly more sophisticated version of the same problem that experts fall for. I didn't write scrips only for mind altering substances. I utilized my scam to provide prescription medication for my family. Obviously, a physician's expertise through experience would enable him to select more appropriate drugs than I did, even though I had a working knowledge of the Physician's Desk Reference.

Halpern remarks that the availability heuristic is a rule of thumb we use to solve problems (p.314). For example, when I read the question about whether there were more deaths due to homicide or due to diabetes-related diseases, and then read the answer (diabetes) and the reason why (the media), something clicked in my head. From now on I'll probably be more aware of the effects of publicity. The media being in our face so much with all the murder and mayhem, naturally homicide was my choice. I was also fascinated that the availability of information in our memory will frequently determine the alternative selected in a decision-making process. In early recovery, we need to go to meetings--a lot of them. When meeting time rolls around, sometimes we're faced with a decision--to go or not to go. Let's say the meeting I attended last night wasn't a very good one, but the availability of information in my memory from today concerns a money- making scheme. The alternative I select stands a good chance of being the one for money, even though I may not need money nearly as much as I do a meeting.

Many common myths inhibit recovering addicts from taking the essential steps for sound decision making; here are eight of them:

1. The future is a matter of chance or luck, so there's no use spending a lot of time and effort trying to make the best possible decision about something so trivial.

Isn't that something a practicing addict would think? Also, as I mentioned before, we bring a lot of our old thinking patterns into recovery with us, which is why there is such a high relapse rate.

2. Deadlines can't be changed.

3. Asking questions about an opportunity is asking for trouble.

This myth sounds rather ridiculous; however, especially in early recovery, our thinking is muddled and we're often overwhelmed.

4. Experts almost always agree. If you've asked one, you've asked them all.

Along with other defects of character, we often bring sloth into early recovery with us, so wouldn't it make sense to take the time and effort to do the research, rather than taking the word of one expert?

5. Consulting non-experts is pointless.

Who are you going to trust--a drug and alcohol counselor who is a recovered addict, or a normie with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology? If you're an addict, all that education that the Ph.D. is little comfort to the real world experience of the counselor.

6. If the members in your group of decision makers agree on the same choice without anyone dissenting, you can feel quite secure that it is a sound decision.

If it's a 12-step group, be aware that 12-step groups are not a hot-bed of mental health-- they're recovering too. Sometimes we need to challenge the status quo. When teaching college courses, I encourage my students to challenge the status quo--challenge even what I say (but don't get carried away), and challenge what's in text books. That is how innovation occurs. If we operate on nothing but present knowledge, then we stagnate.

7. If your opponents make unreasonable, exorbitant demands, there is no point in trying to negotiate.

8. Commitments are almost always irrevocable.

Don't make the mistake of misunderstanding this one. As long as we're not making a habit of breaking commitments, which most of us were when we were out there doing our thing, it's okay in recovery to break commitments if we give notice. It's not okay to leave people hanging.

All eight of these myths, as Revlin and Mayer (1980) point out, are difficult to discard because they are based on ideas that are sometimes valid (pp. 237, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 246, 248).

Problem Solving:

A tendency in problem-solving, especially with addicts, is to pick the first solution that comes to mind and run with it. The disadvantage of this approach is that you may run off a cliff or into a worse problem than you started with. A better strategy in solving problems is to select the most attractive path from many ideas.

If I don't have a clue how to plan, then it wouldn't do me any good for someone to tell me to plan a solution. If I can't think of any solutions, then how am I going to generate and evaluate any? Halpern (1989) gives us strategies can be used to help generate solutions. All of them won't work for everybody, but learning how to use different strategies can give us direction for problem solving. However, some of the these strategies don't lend themselves as solutions for recovering addicts, but others are self-explanatory. I'll give some examples.

1. Means-Ends Analysis - When a goal is not immediately attainable, we often need to take detours to break the problem down into smaller problems, called subproblems, each with its own goal, called subgoals (p. 373).

Let's say that a concerned parent wants to help their son get out of the pits of addictive despair. This isn't an easy task, so the problem needs to be broken down into a smaller problem-- say, learning about addiction. To solve this subproblem it will be necessary to set a goal--learn about dealing with addicts by going to Ala-non or Nar-anon, and work from there.

2. Working Backward - Whereas number one is a forward-looking strategy, sometimes it's better to plan your operations by working backward from the goal to your present or initial state (p. 375).

3. Simplification - A good way to approach problems is to strip away as much of the complexity as possible to reduce it to a simple form (p. 377).

When attending groups, say in a drug rehab, we're bombarded with solutions, techniques, and strategies to help keep us in recovery when we leave. We are told that we only need to change one thing--everything--but that's not going to happen overnight, so the best way to proceed is incrementally. Implement change slowly--one step at a time, and don't allow ourselves to get overwhelmed.

4. Generalization and Specialization - When confronted with a problem, it is sometimes helpful to consider it as an example of a larger class of problems (generalization), or to consider it as a special case (specialization) (p.380).

5. Random Search and Trial-and-Error - A truly random search would mean that there is no systematic order to which possible solutions can be explored. A trial and error search is best applied to well-defined problems with few possible solution paths (p. 381).

A random search for addicts usually means grasping for straws, which isn't an option that addicts should take. However, a trial and error process is within the grasp for addicts, and one that is self-explanatory.

6. Rules - Some kinds of problems, like series problems, depend on rules. Once the underlying principles are established, the problem is solved (381).

My example is very simple. If I am continually going to jail (a series of events) for violating the law, then I need to stop violating the law. Of course, if the problem is drug and/or alcohol oriented, then the problem is compounded, and a few other rules are in order.

7, Hints - Hints are additional information given after an individual has begun to work on a problem (p. 382).

8. Brainstorming - This one is fun--a method for group problem solving (p. 385).

9. Contradiction - This method works by showing that the goal could not possibly be obtained from the givens, since it is inconsistent with the givens (p. 386).

Whereas the description given above is vague, this simple example isn't. It's the problem of finding out if it is snowing. If you're indoors and a large overhanging roof prevents you from looking up, then look down to solve the problem.

10. Restate the Problem - This is a useful strategy for ill-defined problems. In well- defined problems, the goal is usually explicitly stated in unambiguous terms that leave little room for restatement (p. 386).

Recovering addicts often ask "How can I save money?" They shop in discount markets, cut coupons out of the newspapers, cut back on gas, and spend their weekends at home rather than going out. Suppose you restate the problem so that it becomes, "How can I have more money?" Their solutions then change to things like, getting a higher paying job or moving to where rent is cheaper.

11. Analogies and Metaphors - Mythology and fairy tales have been assisting the human condition for hundreds of years (p. 387).

We can draw on alchemy for this one. The prima materia (primal material) in the alchemical vessel has to be destroyed (killed) before the transformation process can start taking place. Think of the old addicted self as the prima materia that has to be killed, and the new recovered self as the finished product. For more on this, go to my website @ and read An Approach to Recovery Using Alchemy and the Twelve Steps.

12. Consult an Expert (p. 389) - Self explanatory

Creative Thinking:

The notion of unusual or unique, and the notion of good or useful, is what is involved in creativity. It always involves judgement, and people may not agree on which actions or outcomes deserve to be labeled creative.

Not all creative people are alike either, which makes defining creativity a challenge and assessing it a monumental undertaking. The traditional psychological definition of creativity includes two parts: originality and functionality. You can't be creative unless you come up with something that hasn't been done before. The idea has to work, or be adaptive or be functional in some way; it has to meet some criteria of usefulness. There is a distinction to be made between creativity (lower case c) and Creativity (upper case C): creativity, which is often used as an indicator of mental health, includes everyday problem-solving and the ability to adapt to change. Creativity, on the other hand, is far more rare. It occurs when a person solves a problem or creates an object that has a major impact on how other people think, feel, and live their lives. Mere creativity implies basic functionality. Creativity is something for which we give Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes.


Braham, Carol C. (Ed). Random House Webster's Dictionary. (1998). New York, Ballantine Books.

Halpern, Diane F. (1989) Thought and knowledge. Hillsdale N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Ass.

Lahey, Benjamin B. (1989) Psychology: An introduction. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm C. Brown.

Lorayne, Harry and Lucas, Jerry. (1990) The memory book. New York: Ballantine Books.

Revlin, Russell and Mayer, Richard E. (1978) Human reasoning. Washington D.C.: V.H. Winston & Sons.

Wheeler, Daniel D. and Janis, Irving L. (1980) A practical guide for making decisions. New York, The Free Press.

Author's Bio: 

After 40 arrests, five formal probations, four country jail sentences, and a prison term (as a result of chemical dependency), I turned my life around. I was released from prison in Dec 1989, and have been clean and sober since. I started at Barstow College in Feb 1990. Received my AA degree in '92 from Barstow College in Barstow, CA; BA in '94 from Chapman University in Orange CA; MHS in 98 from National University in San Diego CA, and finished with a Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA in Feb 2004. I have taught as an adjunct instructor for Park University and Barstow College. I can be contacted through my website