How An Addict Really Changes. It's Probably Not What You Think

-By A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation CounselingWhat many people do not realize is that the extent to which we interact with an addict either motivates them to change or strengthens their resistance to change. In fact, the way we interact with individuals with addiction has shown to have a greater impact than the conventional methods of treatment themselves!1

An addict’s resistance during recovery is powerfully affected by how the people within the addict's life supports them, interacts with them and talks with them.2

When problem drinkers were randomly assigned to two different therapist styles (given by the same therapists), one confrontational-directive and one motivational-reflective, those in the former group showed substantially higher levels of resistance and were much less likely to acknowledge their problems and need to change. The addict's resistance patterns were predictive of unsuccessful long-term change.3

Similarly, researchers had therapists switch back and forth between common styles of interacting with individuals with addiction problems and a lesser-known method. These two styles demonstrated that an addict's resistance and noncompliance went up and down markedly with the therapist's own behavior.4

Researchers, Patterson and Forgatch stated: “People can dramatically influences an addict's defensiveness, which, in turn, predicts the degree to which the loved one will change." This is in contrast with the common view that alcoholics (or addicts) are always resistant because of denial.

People with addiction problems do not generally possess high levels of denial and resistance, but these things increase as loved ones and therapists improperly get involved.

An important goal in producing change, then, is to avoid evoking loved one resistance,5 and instead, employ lesser-known techniques that boost their motivation to change. Such a method does exist and continues to be supported by repeated research.

A first rule of thumb is never meet resistance head on. Certain kinds of reactions are likely to exacerbate resistance, back the loved one further into a corner, and elicit anti-motivational statements from the loved one.6

-A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling

About the Author

A. Scott Roberts is a counselor, author and outdoor enthusiast. He teaches and trains individuals to overcome barriers, and has taught people all over the world to beat their addiction long-term. He earned his Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling and is a certified rehabilitation counselor.

References:

1-2. Miller, W.R. and Rollnick, S. Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People to Change, 2nd ed. NY: Guilford Press, 2002.
3. Miller, W.R.; Benefield, R.G.; and Tonigan, J.S. Enhancing motivation for change in problem drinking: A controlled comparison of two therapist styles. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in press.
4. Patterson GR, Forgatch MS. Therapist behavior as a determinant for client noncompliance: A paradox for the behavior modifier. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1985;53:846–851.
5. Miller, W.R.; Benefield, R.G.; and Tonigan, J.S. Enhancing motivation for change in problem drinking: A controlled comparison of two therapist styles. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in press.
6. Miller, W.R., and Jackson, K.A. “Not listening” and “Listening.” In: Practical Psychology for Pastors. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice- Hall, 1985. pp. 31–59.

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