Change is something we can seek or try to run from, but it’s an inescapable part of life. Circumstances change, and we change too, as we adapt to them. Our bodies and brains are in a constant state of flux as we grow and mature.
People begin using drugs and alcohol for many reasons, but sometimes it’s because they want to change something about themselves. Maybe you feel like alcohol makes you less anxious or that certain drugs make you more comfortable in social situations.
The problem is that the changes you want often come packaged with some you don’t. There are unintended consequences and unwelcome alterations to your personality and your circumstances. Treating your addiction can change your life and unveil the truest and healthiest version of yourself.
Your personal history may influence whether or not you want addiction to change you. Perceptions of who you were before drugs and alcohol, how substances changed you and who you want to become may affect how you receive change. Researchers have learned that people in substance abuse treatment generally fall into one of two categories.
Maybe you had a healthy, happy childhood and a strong positive sense of your identity before addiction took over. If that’s the case, you’re likely to feel that your substance use disorder robbed you of that. You probably hope that treatment will help you regain your social standing and a positive view of yourself.
On the other hand, you may have grown up feeling isolated and unhappy about your place in the world. Maybe your substance-using friends provided you a sense of belonging you couldn’t find anywhere else. If that’s the case, you’re likely to have more ambivalence about entering treatment and you’ll need to prioritize finding a new sober support system in recovery.
Stages of Change
No matter which category you find yourself in, you’ll undoubtedly pass through the same stages on your recovery journey. Although changes in circumstances can come quickly, behavioral and thinking changes are usually incremental and more of a process than a single event. Researchers have identified stages of change, and quality treatment centers build on that knowledge. Practitioners can help patients recognize where they are and move forward in the process.
The primary stages of change that people experience as they move through addiction recovery are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation and action. Maintenance is often included as an additional stage, and some also acknowledge that relapse isn’t uncommon and is another stage for some people.
Although the process is presented as linear, in reality, you may jump around between stages or be in more than one stage at a time. In general, however, people tend to move from not thinking a change is needed, pondering it, planning for it and making it happen.
- Pre-contemplation – In the first stage, pre-contemplation, people aren’t thinking about how to change a behavior because it doesn’t seem like a problem. They may not have fully recognized the negative consequences or believe the negatives outweigh the positives.
People in this stage need information and perspective. Maybe they need to learn the long-term physical consequences of substance abuse. Sometimes they need information that links drug or alcohol use with a mental or physical health condition they already experience.
Even if people in this stage aren’t convinced they’re hurting themselves, they may be moved by learning how they’re hurting others. It can help for friends and family members to gently and lovingly explain how their loved one’s substance use affects them.
- Contemplation – When people enter the contemplation stage, they begin to think about the possibility of modifying their behavior in some way. They aren’t completely convinced that it’s necessary, but they’re open to considering it. There’s a degree of ambivalence, but also a willingness to learn about various treatment or behavior modification options.
As in the pre-contemplation stage, becoming more aware of the negative consequences of continuing their substance use patterns can help. Practitioners and loved ones can help them clarify their values and see the discrepancies between them and their behavior. It can also be beneficial to hear others’ stories who’ve overcome addiction and how much better their lives have become.
- Preparation – Preparation is the stage of actively planning to change behavior and generally involves making practical, logistical decisions.
When people are in the preparation stage, they need information on treatment options. They need to be able to see how treatment can work for them and fit into their lives. It can help people not feel alone in the process and know there will be help available to take the steps they need.
- Action – In the action stage, people put their plans into place. Behaviors are changed. There may be some trial and error involved as people learn new skills and find the approach that works best for them.
People in this stage can be encouraged and celebrated, but it also helps when those around them have a degree of patience and do not expect overnight miracles. Just as people may need help seeing the negative consequences of substance abuse, they can also need a little help seeing the positive aspects of recovery, especially in the beginning, when the journey is challenging, and their brains are still healing.
- Maintenance – People in the maintenance stage have committed themselves to do what’s necessary to hold onto the gains they’ve made. They’ve developed new skills and new thinking patterns. They’ve put safeguards in place to help them succeed.
Friends, family members, and practitioners can help people in this stage to avoid relapse, by modifying their own behavior to prevent introducing relapse triggers. People can also encourage their loved ones to develop healthy habits by doing things with them, such as exercise or activities related to a new hobby. Practical help, such as providing childcare or transportation to support group meetings, can be very beneficial.
Change is a Process That Builds on Itself
Although you’ll ideally enter substance abuse treatment with a strong desire to change some aspects of your life, this isn’t always the case. A degree of ambivalence is very typical, and fortunately, that doesn’t mean that treatment will fail.
In a publication entitled Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that treatment for substance abuse doesn’t even need to be voluntary to be effective. How you begin the process, and in whatever state of mind, you’re likely to find that experiencing the benefits of treatment gives you the motivation to continue the recovery journey.
Whatever you want to change or leave alone, it’s helpful to remember that addiction treatment isn’t like surgery where something is done to you but is more like working with a physical therapist to recover from an injury. It’s collaborative and cooperative.
In substance abuse treatment programs of quality, patients and clinicians work together to develop goals and decide how to reach them. You’ll gain insights into your behavior and learn how to manage your emotions and your cravings. However, it’s up to you to put what you’ve learned into practice and use your new skills consistently until they become habitual.
Treatment Can Change Your Circumstances
Substance abuse treatment can change you by changing the way you think and interact with the world. It can help you learn new ways to manage challenges and find joy. As you do, you may find that your circumstances begin to change, too, often in significant ways. Changed circumstances may include improvements in your finances and relationships.
Addiction costs money, and escaping from that burden can free up resources for other things. Costs related to substance abuse include what you spend on drugs or alcohol themselves, of course, but there are many additional costs you may not have fully considered. Some examples are healthcare costs, both for acute needs, like treating overdoses and substance-related injuries, and expenses related to treating chronic health conditions that are caused or worsened by substance use. There may also be legal expenses, such as paying lawyers, court costs or bail.
Some financial costs are harder to quantify. Has your substance use cost you a job or a promotion? Do you overspend and buy things you don’t need when you’re under the influence?
Maybe you eat out more because you aren’t up to cooking, or you need to spend more on transportation services because of how often you can’t safely drive.
Addiction treatment can also improve and change the nature of your relationships with friends and family members. Although you may have friends you party with, you undoubtedly also have people in your life who worry about your drug or alcohol use and who may have been hurt by things you did when you weren’t fully yourself.
In a worst-case scenario, substance use can lead to violence, and treatment can address it. Studies have shown that the prevalence of intimate partner violence is two to three times higher before substance use treatment than after it.
Will substance abuse treatment change you? It can help you change in many positive and significant ways if you let it. If you or your loved one needs help, we’re here for you. Call us today at 1.844.675.1022.