Change is Possible: 10 Evidence-Based Reasons to Have Hope Part 2

Last week, we introduced the first five evidence-based reasons to have hope from Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change, This week, we’re sharing the latter five reasons to be hopeful, based on empirical evidence and through the lens of positive communication and positive reinforcement. 

6. Different people need different options. 

There is no one size fits all for recovery. Inpatient and outpatient treatment; group therapy, individual therapy; anti-craving medications, psychiatric medications; treatment for dual-diagnoses; extended care facilities; sober companions; self-help support groups; spiritual and religious support… and others. The point being, that therapeutic support comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are more widely available and accepted than others, and some are backed by more evidence than others. 

The evidence we want to highlight is that giving people options helps get them invested in the plan of recovery. 

Similarly to black and white thinking, ultimatums do more harm than good. For over 50 years, addiction treatment has aimed at breaking through an addict’s resistance to treatment. Studies prove that this approach is not only highly confrontational and isolating to the substance user, but it actually increases resistance. You can learn more about treatment education and questions to ask providers in our previous blog, [link]

7.  Treatment isn’t the be-all and end-all. 

“You can be a positive influence and your loved one CAN get better, all without ever crossing the threshold of a treatment center, or a self-help group.” 

Did you know that 24% of people diagnosed with alcohol dependence (the most severe category of alcohol problem) recovered on their own within a year? People get better in a variety of ways, and your loved one may surprise you. This is all to say that treatment isn’t the end-all, be-all.  

How then, do people get better without treatment? For your loved one, they may find refuge in talking with a pastor, a parent, investing in an old hobby or developing new ones, or being more honest. For you, this might entail reaching out to friends, treatment for depression and anxiety, exercise and eating differently, and developing more self-compassion and self-care. 

This isn’t to say that if your loved one doesn’t enter treatment it will be easy, or that there is one answer that will fix everything. But the evidence shows us that the way people engage in sustainable, long-term change is through building a better life in ways that matter to the individual. 

8. Ambivalence is normal. 

Ambivalence can be defined as, a person that is motivated in two opposing directions at the same time.   

“I want to get better, but I also don’t want to.” 

“I hate the way drinking makes me feel afterwards, but I really like to relax with it after work.”

“I want to quit using, but I also can’t imagine dealing with life without using.” 

The outdated assumption about change regarding substance abuse is that people can’t be helped until they are willing to never use again – and yet, empirical evidence proves that this assumption is wrong. 

According to psychological theories of motivation, working with ambivalence is CRITICAL to helping someone change. Empirical evidence indicates that people can be helped long before they are certain [themselves] that they want to change. 

For most people, change happens incrementally, rarely in a straight line, is a process of weighing out the costs and benefits, and experimenting with what works, and doesn’t work. The gradual process of change continues until the problem has improved to the satisfaction of the one making changes. 

Recovery looks different for everyone: Moderation, Choice, and working with Ambivalence. 

“Evidence suggests that for some, moderation is a reasonable and viable goal” Respectfully, the word moderation is terrifying to families and friends who have witnessed their loved one lose control over and over again; and yet evidence demonstrates that for some people, moderation works in everyday life. 

For others, abstinence is better achieved when they are given a choice. Rather than abstinence being the only option, substance users often feel less resistance to change when they are given the choice to consider use again. In a treatment setting, someone may start with medication assisted treatment and wind up wanting and choosing abstinence. 

“When we work with ambivalence, we help people realize what it is THEY want to do and how to do it, and weigh costs and benefits and make positive choices that make sense to them.” 

When we understand and have compassion for ambivalence, people can better identify their own motivation and valuable reasons to change. 

9. People can be helped at any time.

 “What looks like unwillingness to change is often a defensive reaction. People with substance problems respond with significantly less resistance to kindness and respectful treatment.” 

Internal motivation for change occurs whenever the costs outweigh the benefits. From the outside looking in, family members and friends can easily see the costs outweighing the benefits long before the substance user. But remember, your loved one needs to develop their own internal awareness and motivation. Through this philosophy, it is not about negatively pointing out what they’re doing wrong, or letting your loved one “hit bottom”.  Instead, it is learning how to recognize, reward, invite and support changes for the better, and yes, beginning to allow natural consequences use of your loved one’s weigh on them. 

10. Life is a series of experiments 

What works for one parent or family, may not work for you. Unfortunately, there is no sure thing to guarantee change. Instead, think of yourself as a scientist: Rather than having all the answers, we encourage you to adopt an open-ended question, experimental approach to life. 

Observe, try, notice what works and what doesn’t, and adjust your strategies accordingly. Overall, be as willing to change as you want your loved one to be.

So, that’s it. These are your ten EVIDENCE-BASED reasons to be optimistic. To have hope. To not give up. To try. To fail. To feel. To give yourself permission to take care of yourself. To take off the black and white glasses, and live in the grey. To remember that there is hope in hell.  

The Ten Evidence-Based Reasons to Have Hope are borrowed from CMC: Foundation for Change and Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change. Written by Drs. Foote, Wilkens, and Kosanke with Stephanie Higgs.

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