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

Addiction is devastating. It can ruin careers, diminish physical and mental health, destroy relationships, and tear families apart. The power substances have over someone who is using is cunning and inexplicable – leaving those who love a substance user devastated and hopeless, feeling they have exhausted every option. 

In honor of National Recovery Month, we want to acknowledge that the above is true. We cannot diminish the devastation that addiction causes. But we can counter it with the undeniable fact that people can and do recover. In conjunction with Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change, we are sharing 10 evidence-based reasons to have hope. We’ve broken this up into two portions, so stay tuned for the other 5 evidence-based reasons to have hope, next week. 

“Families come to [us] every day with serious problems. Still, we are optimistic. We don’t mean that maybe you’ll be lucky, or that it’s no big deal. We are optimistic because we know change is possible.” – Beyond Addiction. 

  1. You Can Help.  You might read this, frustrated and thinking, I have tried everything I can possibly think of to help. We won’t argue with you. We know you have tried, and we commend you. And yet, the evidence is clear: the more involved families and friends are in helping a loved one struggling with addiction, the more it increases the odds of improvement and supports positive change: You have an impact, and you have leverage. 

    If you have been battling with addiction in your family for some time, you have probably heard the opposite- that help is harmful. ‘Helping’ has been used interchangeably with ‘enabling’ and ‘co-dependency’ – most likely leaving you confused, maybe even guilty and shameful. 

    Helping your loved one is not the same as enabling your loved one, and everyone’s limits are different. Helping your loved one means identifying what isn’t working (negative patterns) and replacing them with positive communication and positive reinforcement strategies.  

  2. Helping Yourself Helps
    It is not either/or. You are not choosing between self-preservation and their wellbeing.

    Through our philosophy, helping yourself, in turn, helps your loved one: When you take care of yourself, your capacity for patience and empathy grows. When you feel better about you, and learn how to take care of you, you can feel more hopeful about your life. 

    The evidence is clear: your emotional suppleness, physical and mental health, support and perspective on change contributes to your loved one’s. 

  3. Your loved one isn’t crazy. 
    People who use substances are not crazy, and they are not bad people. People who use substances do so because they get something they like out of it. 

    From your perspective, you might feel like their behavior is irrational and unwise. From their perspective, the behavior makes sense – and both perspectives matter. 

    Reasons for using are as various as the type of people who become addicted. To your loved one, it may make relieve their depression or anxiety. It might make socializing easier and be fun – whatever the reason, there is value in trying to understand [NOT condone] why people do what they do. 

    Evidence reveals that most people stop abusing substances on their own, without formal treatment or intervention: telling us that despite using substances, these people CAN make rational decisions. However, research also shows that the more someone is criticized, the more defensive they become. Thus it is less about “getting through” to your loved one, and more about the strategies in which are proven to lower defenses and get you on the same side, working toward a common solution.
  4. The world isn’t black and white. 
    The longstanding notion of addiction gives us two options: Recovery or Addiction. In the black and white view, there is only one view of recovery: complete abstinence, a 12-step program, a residential rehab – success, or failure. 

    Problems with substances vary and that matters.  Scientific evidence supports exploring psychological, biological and social factors that influence use. People who are given time and help to choose reasonable alternatives to use are more likely to make bigger changes and to continue those changes. 

    Here is your hope: Black and white thinking is actually a barrier to change, and this longstanding notion is not true!

  5. Labels do more harm than good. 
    Studies repeatedly show that people do not seek help because they expect to be pressured into one solution: identifying with a label of alcoholic or addict. What does this tell us? The longstanding stigma associated with the label of “addict” or “alcoholic” is a major roadblock to getting help. 

Labeling a loved one does not move anyone closer to recovery. Clinicians and researchers instead encourage saving your energy for more constructive problem solving: 

  • What effect is the substance use having in her life and yours? 
  • What will motivate your loved one to change? 

Think about these top-five reasons to have hope, based on clinical evidence, and stay tuned for the remaining five next week. 

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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