Motivation for Change: Helping an Addict Break the Cycle

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Addiction can be an extremely difficult habit to break, but many things can help an individual stop the cycle of drug abuse and begin to recover: a loving support system, behavioral therapy, mutual-help groups, caring medical professionals. However, there is no substitute for motivation, the individual’s actual desire for change. As their loved one, you can help the person you care for stop abusing drugs aiding them in gaining their own motivation to quit.

Their Motivation, Not Yours

You may feel that it is very important for the individual to change and to seek treatment, but this is your motivation, not theirs. You cannot cause another person to feel the way that you are feeling or believe what you want them to believe, no matter how many times you tell them. Often, when a loved one is using drugs or abusing alcohol and we want them to stop, we tend to try to push our feelings onto them, but this does not work. It is important that the individual is able to be motivated themselves to change. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective,” but this is a last-case scenario once you have tried everything you possibly can to help the addict find their motivation for change. Instead, it is important to understand one essential truth first.

The Difficult Truth: Addiction Has No Logic

You may have told your friend, significant other, parent, or child many times how their addictive behavior is affecting their life––and yours. It is likely that you have tried to explain to them in several ways how difficult their addiction is on all of you:

  • “You’re going to get fired if you do not stop using.”
  • “Our marriage is falling apart because of your drug use.”
  • “You’re hurting yourself with your addictive behavior.”
  • “You’re hurting me with your addictive behavior.”

No matter how true these statements may be and no matter how many times you say them, your loved one may not see how logical and true they really are. Instead, they will continue to crave their substance of choice simply because they cannot stop. This is why appealing to their logical side will not usually help change their motivation the way we think it will, and in many cases, it will only cause them to become hostile.

Instead, it is important to use other approaches to help them find their motivation for change. And, once they do, they will often be able to break the cycle and end their dangerous substance use more effectively with the help of treatment and your love and support.

Staging an Intervention

Motivation for Change

It’s important to avoid blame during an intervention.

When a person is truly addicted, a simple conversation will not help motivate them to change their behavior. Instead, another type of tactic is needed. Staging an intervention can be a much safer and more effective way to get across how you and the individual’s other loved ones feel without causing a dangerous reaction. Many people hire a professional interventionist to help them plan a successful intervention, which can be extremely helpful. According to the University of North Texas Collegiate Recovery Program, “A substance use or addiction professional will take into account your loved one’s particular circumstances, suggest the best approach, and help guide you in what type of treatment and follow-up plan is likely to work best.”

One of the most important parts of staging an intervention is deciding what everyone will say before the event and asking every individual to stick to their talking points. This will avoid confrontation as much as possible and help everyone stay on mission. It is also necessary to speak in a way that avoids blame (instead using “I” statements) and staying clear of confrontational words and behavior. The point of an intervention is to help your loved one understand how their friends and family feel about their addictive behavior and to get them into treatment, but speaking carefully and avoiding blame can be extremely beneficial in any conversation with an addicted individual.

Creating––and Fulfilling––Consequences

In some cases, the intervention itself may not give your loved one the motivation to change, but this is why it is important to lay out consequences for them during the discussion. You must decide on a course of action, whether it is a type of treatment or for the individual to choose treatment for themselves. If the person does not do as they have been asked, you must then follow through with the consequences you have set. These could be a number of things, depending on the age of the individual and their situation with you, such as refusing to give the person more money or deciding to move out of your home with the individual or to avoid spending time with them until they have begun treatment.

It is important to remove yourself from a volatile situation because this is the only change you can truly generate. You cannot force someone to quit their addictive behavior, but you can step away. In addition, this may be what finally motivates your loved one to seek the help they need. If they finally realize they are losing you, or your support, it can help them understand the need for change.

Why Motivation Matters

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Motivation is key to change.” Though treatment is extremely beneficial and can help a person recover from addiction, many times, it is the person’s own motivation that helps them truly make a difference and change their behavior, even if they experience issues with relapse along the way.

It is important to sometimes let your loved one realize on their own how problematic their addiction is and how dangerous. By stepping back, you can help them see what they are giving up in order to continue using. And once they do realize that change is necessary, your support will mean so much as they begin their journey of recovery.