The Value of Motivational Interviewing (MI) for Addiction Recovery

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Many people with substance use disorder (SUD) struggle to commit to lasting abstinence and associated behavior change. Too often, such ambivalence keeps individuals from participating in treatment. Fortunately, client-focused addiction treatment centers work to meet clients where they are. A variety of treatment approaches can help clients address and overcome the obstacles that are keeping them from committing to lasting behavior change. One very effective approach is motivational interviewing (MI).

Pathways Recovery Center is a client-focused addiction treatment facility. We are dedicated to meeting clients where they are in their journeys with substance abuse. We offer MI, in addition to other valuable therapeutic approaches, to encourage clients in finding their own motivations to overcome SUD and other types of addictions.

Why Is Behavior Change So Complicated?

Contrary to what many people believe, lasting sobriety involves more than ceasing alcohol and drug use. It requires an individual commitment to lasting behavior change in their life.

Of course, committing to lasting behavior change is easier said than done. Behavior change can be complicated and frustrating. It requires an individual to address habitual patterns of behavior. At the same time, the individual must replace those behaviors with ones that are unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable. As you can see, it is important to remember that behavior change is a process that takes time.

The Five Stages of Behavior Change

Many factors are known to influence behavior change. However, one model in particular has been recognized as effective in explaining the stages of change. This model is known as the transtheoretical model (TTM). More often, it is referred to as the Stages of Change Theory.

Its five stages are:

  1. Precontemplation: Characterized by no motivation to recognize problem behaviors or consider future behavior change.
  2. Contemplation: Characterized by awareness and acknowledgment of problem behavior as well as a consideration for future behavior change.
  3. Preparation: Characterized by planning to interact with treatment and other resources to commit to lasting behavior change.
  4. Action: Characterized by abstinence from problem behavior and a willingness to receive assistance and support to enable lasting behavior change.
  5. Maintenance: Characterized by total abstinence of problem behavior for longer than six months as well as increased confidence in the ability to sustain positive behavior change long-term.

The Stages of Change is a popular model used in addiction treatment. This theory can help individuals recognize where they stand with regard to potential behavior change. Understanding this can help them determine their next steps. According to the source quoted above, “The ultimate goal of TMM is to create an action plan that will assist in preventing relapse and maintaining sobriety.”

The source also emphasizes that behavior change is rarely linear. This is why most individuals in recovery will experience recycling of the stages on their journey. People may seek treatment multiple times before they achieve lasting abstinence from alcohol and other drugs.

Addressing Relapse

Some treatment facilities consider a sixth stage, relapse, as part of the Stages of Change. The concept of relapse is common and must be discussed and normalized throughout addiction treatment and recovery. When an individual is in recovery, the potential for relapse always exists.

In other words, it is essential to recognize that relapse does not equate to failure. Rather, relapse can be considered an opportunity to reevaluate an individual's treatment plan as well as their motivation to change. A relapse autopsy can help clients make the most of this opportunity. Additionally, MI can help individuals rediscover their desire for behavior change and help them make commitments to enable lasting sobriety. 

What Is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?

According to a publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Motivational interviewing (MI) is a collaborative conversation style intended to strengthen someone’s motivation and commitment to change and willingness to accept treatment.”

MI is a person-centered treatment approach. It is designed to limit potential confrontation between a client and therapist and a client and themself. Through MI, confrontation is replaced with collaboration, which is essential for achieving lasting behavior change for a client.

For individuals who may be ambivalent about committing to sobriety, MI can be incredibly beneficial for motivating behavior change. In therapy sessions, individuals can expect to feel validated through empathetic responses provided by the therapist.

With MI, clients and therapists work together to:

  • Identify personal goals for change
  • Acknowledge where the client stands among the Stages of Change
  • Address any obstacles that are keeping the client from transitioning to the next Stage of Change
  • Develop a plan of action to help the client achieve their goals for change

MI for Addiction Recovery

In a systematic review and meta-analysis of MI, published by the British Journal of General Practice, MI was found to be an incredibly effective treatment approach for a range of behavioral problems, including addiction. The studies and documents they reviewed showed that MI outperformed traditional advice-giving in nearly 80% of the studies.

Researchers have proposed several causes that may explain the effectiveness of MI for addiction. The aforementioned article pinpoints characteristics of MI that may increase its effectiveness. For example, MI:

  • Relies on identifying a client's core values, acknowledging how their current behavior does not align with their values
  • Elicits change from within a client, rather than imposing change outside of the client
  • Is designed to clarify and resolve ambivalence and to identify potential benefits that may result from behavior change
  • Highlights that readiness to change is not a personal trait, but rather a product of interpersonal connection and interaction
  • Recognizes the value of a strong therapeutic alliance 

Every individual's journey to sobriety from substance abuse and SUD is unique. Individuals should not feel guilty for their hesitations to commit to abstinence. After all, the effects of their substance abuse have changed their brain. This is why MI is an invaluable psychotherapy style for addiction treatment. It offers an opportunity for clients to face their ambivalence surrounding abstinence with guided support and evidence-based methods.

Sobriety requires making a commitment to lasting behavior change. Since behavior change is complicated, treatment facilities can utilize the Stages of Change model to help clients understand the obstacles keeping them from change. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a treatment approach that can help individuals address their ambivalence and commit to lasting behavior change. Pathways Recovery Center is an addiction treatment facility that is dedicated to providing the most effective treatments for substance abuse to clients seeking recovery. Within our residential treatment program, we offer a wide range of therapeutic modalities and approaches to meet clients exactly where they are at. If you or a loved one is seeking recovery, call us today at (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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