Why Willingness to Change Determines Success in Recovery
By Michael Rass
Overcoming addiction to drugs and alcohol requires very dramatic changes in the lifestyle of the addicted person. These changes are not easy to achieve. Addiction is the compulsive continuation of substance use despite negative consequences.
Often, people with substance use disorders are adamant they cannot give up drugs and alcohol even though the negative consequences are destroying their life. It is rarely possible for anyone to achieve a successful recovery if they are unwilling to accept their condition and put in the effort necessary to overcome it.
Willingness can be defined as being eagerly compliant. It means doing something out of choice and not because of coercion. “Many patients go to rehab because they are externally motivated,” says Mandy Jack, clinical director at Lakeview Health. “That means they go into treatment because of legal issues, a spouse’s ultimatum, family pressure, or similar reasons. They are not in rehab because they really want to be there.”
Other rehab patients suffer from ambivalence. They may have a strong motivation to enter recovery and escape the pain of addiction while also retaining a strong desire to continue with the alcohol or drug misuse. This, however, gives the treatment team a chance to discuss the benefits of sobriety with the patient. He/She already knows that this is the only way forward but is simply too afraid to walk that path.
“We meet patients where they are and try to identify what goals they have coming in,” says Jack. “Their goals might not initially be the goals that we have for them. We take into consideration what they are willing to do so we can build on that. Working through the addiction treatment process—working through the 12 Steps—sometimes helps patients become more willing than they were when they arrived at Lakeview.”
Any kind of reservation is usually a stumbling block for recovery. “Sometimes, we have patients who say ‘Okay, I really don’t want to use opiates anymore, but I’m not sure that I’m willing to give up alcohol.’ This is a problematic attitude. At Lakeview, we’re working toward patients embracing complete sobriety without exception because we believe that is the only way to achieve a sustained recovery.”
When people become willing to embrace their recovery wholeheartedly, their minds become more open and receptive. They may now consider doing things that appeared objectionable in the past. Willingness means embracing positive change instead of fighting it—even if the change is difficult.
Being willing can also mean being prepared to tackle treatment the way your therapists and the members of your recovery fellowship are telling you to do. “So if everybody says to go into sober living and you don’t really want to but you’re going anyway, that’s an example of being willing,” says Jack. “Without that kind of commitment, their prognosis is very poor and relapse has a high probability.”
If a patient has not yet accepted that they have a chronic disease on which they will have to work for the rest of their life, the Lakeview team will still work with all parties involved to support such a patient as much as possible. “Sometimes, patients are never willing during their treatment; sometimes, they just come in and do their time,” says Jack. “In that case, we really have to focus on what we can still do for such a patient. We may not get to a place of surrender and willingness but what we can do is provide education and build a foundation, so if they ever become ready and willing in the future, they have that foundation and know what direction to take.”
If patients are truly willing to stay sober and overcome their addiction, they will do whatever it takes to achieve that change in their life. Recovery will become their priority. They are ready and willing to devote as much time and effort as it takes to rebuild their lives.