When life presents you with a compromising situation that goes against your core beliefs or values it can be stressful. This situation is defined as cognitive dissonance and may present itself as part of your struggle as you work through the process of recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. At Casa Nuevo Vida we know how important it is to strengthen your mental health. Our well-trained staff is prepared to guide you through the process.

What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance revolves around the process of making decisions and how those decisions ultimately make you feel. If your decision is based on what you feel is expected of you rather than what you believe or feel is right, then you may struggle with the outcome.  Your response to the situation creates more stress as you find a way to balance what you feel you should do versus how the situation is actually being handled.

Examples of circumstances where cognitive dissonance may occur include: 

  • Moving to a new location for a loved one: Even though the move is not your choice you sacrifice and make adjustments in your lifestyle for their benefit. You justify the sacrifice of living further from family and friends so that they can reap the reward of a better job, better pay, better environment.

  • Committing to a regular exercise routine: Join a gym and focus on eating the right balance of foods. There are days when you justify to yourself the fact that you are busy enough at work to skip going to the gym after work. You struggle with this decision until you finally make yourself commit to a regular routine of working out.


  • Scheduling regular dental checkups: Regular, preventative check ups are the best way to head off any major dental issues. Your experience with a dentist that you saw as a child has caused you to put these appointments off. You feel that you do not have any current dental issues so you rationalize that there is no need to make the appointment at this time.

All of these situations bring on mental stress as you fight within your own head as to the reasons for your decisions. Your final decisions may be brought on due to external pressures or pressure that you put upon yourself. Cognitive dissonance causes you to blindly believe whatever it is you want to believe rather than what you feel is right.

The Story Behind the Cognitive Dissonance Theory

The cognitive dissonance theory was proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957. Festinger studied a situation that arose in a cult, and from his findings, he proposed that people want and need to feel mentally balanced. He declared that the need for this balance causes some people to make decisions that go against their own beliefs, values, or attitudes.Causes of Cognitive Dissonance

The study of the cult members revolved around their belief that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood. Even though the flood did not take place, the members who were strongly committed to the cult declared that there was a positive outcome due to their faith and commitment to the cult. The members of the cult who were not as enamored by the cult’s lifestyle felt foolish in their belief that a flood was imminent.

Festinger’s theory stated that if we do not feel the mental balance then we become uncomfortable enough to begin to justify our decisions for our actions. Our final decisions may not be appropriate or in line with our own beliefs. This is what then causes the increase in our mental stress.

The Effect Cognitive Dissonance Has On Behaviors and Attitudes

Our behaviors and attitudes are greatly affected by cognitive dissonance. Our brains are in a constant state of decision-making. At times we feel the need to rationalize our decisions. Other times we make adjustments and attempt to avoid things that make our decisions feel worse. 

Attitudes change when you are faced with a situation in which cognitive dissonance occurs. Feelings of anxiousness, guilt, and shame are high on the list. These changes can create further problems in the way you make other decisions in your life. 

Behaviors are affected by cognitive dissonance in these ways:

  • Hiding your actions or beliefs from others
  • Avoiding conversations concerning the topic or event in question
  • Rationalizing your actions
  • Ignoring the facts or research on the topic
  • Avoiding advice from professionals such as doctors

The Causes of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance Be ResolvedCognitive dissonance forces you to try to rationalize the behaviors or decisions that you make to those around you. The areas that may cause cognitive dissonance to occur include forced compliance behavior, decision making, and effort.

Forced Compliance Behavior

Forced compliance behavior takes place when you are placed in a situation where you have to make a decision that is against your beliefs. The private, internal conflict or struggle that happens makes the decision hard.

Decision Making

Generally, the act of making decisions in a typical day can create cognitive dissonance. You may deal with this decision-making process by making your final decision look or feel better than it really was. You then also find more negative aspects of the decision that you did not choose.


Throughout our life, we are told that anything that causes great effort to achieve is always worth the time spent. There are times that your effort does not produce the outcome you expected or wanted. Cognitive dissonance causes you to justify all of the effort put forth and causes you to believe that things turned out for the better.

Cognitive Dissonance and How It Is Related to Addiction

cognitive dissonance treatmentAddiction to drugs or alcohol can create a lot of internal conflicts and cognitive dissonance. The justification for the addiction is constant. Your desire and craving for the addictive substance are so strong that your reality is distorted.

An addict’s brain works in different ways than others. The abuse of drugs or alcohol is justified as a way to resolve the problems that are taking place in their personal life. These defense mechanisms from substance abusers are common:

  • Denying the use of drugs or alcohol 
  • Rationalizing the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Minimizing the amount of drugs or alcohol being taken

Cognitive dissonance creates a world for the addict where they can rationalize their need for the substance. The elevated sense of denial that takes place in an addict’s life is evident. This denial and rationalization are what they rely on to justify their continued bad choices.

An addict’s thought process also makes them feel that it is “okay” to be addicted for various reasons such as:

  • Life is too hard without drugs or alcohol
  • The belief that the addictive substance is really not harmful and any information saying otherwise is not true
  • The responsibilities of life are too much and you can’t meet the expectations

Can Cognitive Dissonance Be Resolved?

While it is true that cognitive dissonance causes stress and anxiety it can also provide a reason for you to make personal changes. For those who are battling drug or alcohol addiction, cognitive dissonance is used as a coping mechanism. It is what helps you justify and make sense of your abuse of your drug of choice.

If you always have a rational explanation for the choices that you are making then cognitive dissonance treatment may be necessary. It is time to evaluate and create a plan that allows you to become aware of the way you process decisions. These decisions can be the difference between staying sober or having a relapse.


Through cognitive dissonance therapy, you will learn how to rethink ways to handle situations. The goal is to allow yourself to make rational decisions based on your true beliefs and values. You need to feel that your perspective is valuable and that you can base your decisions without being judged.

Why Choose Casa Nuevo Vida?

Casa Nuevo Vida, located in Los Angeles, California, provides a sober living program that allows you to rebuild your life in a safe, comfortable environment. We are the step that you need in order to feel confident in transitioning to an independent lifestyle. Our staff will provide the support system to make this happen.

Therapy continues at Casa Nuevo Vida with counseling and group meetings. You will also have the full-time support of the other residents around you. These residents are people like you. People who have also made a commitment to remain sober. This approach and dedication to remaining sober can make a huge difference in your future.

Don’t Wait, Contact Us Today!

Rehabilitation can take on many forms. Choosing the right facility and program that furthers you or your loved one’s chances of sobriety is key. Our goal is to provide you with a solid, strong base to build your future on. Contact us today to learn more about what we offer at Casa Nuevo Vida.