Stinking Thinking

Means Addictive Thinking

For many years, the term stinking thinking has been used in AA and in other Twelve-Step organizations to mean all the thinking processes that support the disease of addiction.

Committee in the head

The committee (or the girls/boys) in the head are those voices replaying tapes from your past. Sometimes it seems so easy to get confused, with addictive thoughts and recovery thoughts going full blast and battling for dominance.


Denial is an outright rejection of what you know or suspect to be true. Alcoholics in AA have usually seen several examples of AA members who decide to have an occasional social drink, but wind up coming back after months of heavy drinking and frightening consequences. Yet through denial, they may think, “But it won’t happen to me.”


Giving excuses for your behavior is rationalizing. “Well, everyone does it. You would too if you had a mother like mine.”


With enough mental gymnastics, almost anything can sound reasonable. Addicts who get all wrapped up in theories of addiction or other intellectual subjects may have to beware of a tendency to think themselves into trouble.


By starting with some lies, half-lies, or other misinformation, you can build a fantasy world of delusion, which gets further and further away from reality.


People who overdramatize are called histrionic. The addict can use this process of making mountains out of molehills as an excuse to drink, use, spend, gamble, binge, purge, starve, or make other bad decisions.

Dichotomous reasoning

The process of making things either black or white, excluding any possibility for a middle ground, carrying everything to extreme — this is called dichotomous thinking.

Diet mentality

For eating addicts and other addicts concerned with weight management, diet mentality includes preoccupation with weight, weight loss, rigid food plans, ridiculous food plans, and other trappings of diets and diet clubs.

Checklist mentality

The idea that you can control your addictive behavior by “checking off” a list of prescribed actions, like attending a certain number of meetings each week, calling someone each day, doing this and doing that, is called checklist mentality. Everything we have mentioned may be useful in recovery, but checklist mentality is the subtle attitude that following the checklist will give you control of your addiction.

Recognizing Bad Thinking

Freedom from stinking thinking occurs gradually. At first you may be doing well just to recognize after you have gotten into the stinking thinking mode, but before you have done any real damage. Later you might catch yourself just as you get into it. Eventually, through good progress on your recovery, you will be able to avoid getting into it in the first place, or will catch yourself and modify the stinking thinking.

  • An alcoholic says to himself, “I could really use a drink right now.” Then adds, “Like a hole in the head.”
  • A bulimic thinks, “I ate too much for dinner — no, I really didn’t.”
  • A codependent says, “How long has it been since I went to a meeting?” Then adds, “Obviously I have been too long without one.”

Stinking thinking, see also: Abstinence, Aftercare, Attitudes, Celebrations, Chronic pain, Control, Crisis, Defenses, Delusion, Dichotomous thinking, Eating plans, Feelings, Habit & structure, Half-measures, Halfway house, Honesty, Judgment, Magical thinking, Moderation, Obsession, Paradoxes in addiction, Premenstrual syndrome, Priorities, Progression, Relapse & prevention, Relaxation, Sabotage of recovery, Sponsorship, Visualizations.

Updated 12 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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