Motivation to change

motivation to change addictive behavioursGiven the fact that Life Works is dedicated to addiction treatment, it seems only natural to comment on the sudden and premature passing of the talented Amy Winehouse, who died unexpectedly in her London home on July 23rd. The exact cause of death remains unclear at this stage, but few dispute the fact that her longstanding drug and alcohol abuse was a contributing factor.

Given the fact that Life Works is dedicated to addiction treatment, it seems only natural to comment on the sudden and premature passing of the talented Amy Winehouse, who died unexpectedly in her London home on July 23rd. The exact cause of death remains unclear at this stage, but few dispute the fact that her longstanding drug and alcohol abuse was a contributing factor.



According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction kills about 570.000 people each year. Friends and family watch helplessly, as the addictive behaviours intensify and eventually leaves their loved one firmly in the grips of this devastating illness. Many of us perhaps hope that Ms Winehouse’s destiny will act as a wake-up call, a reminder to those in a similar situation, to seek treatment and avoid becoming one of this gruesome statistic.

Sadly addiction is above reasoning and it might be useful to remember that addiction, whether to alcohol, food, drugs or sex, serves a vital emotional need, apart from the obvious physical dependence. To the addict, the prospect of surrendering their addictive behaviours, - their coping strategy, feels so overwhelming, that hardly any logic thoughts are powerful enough to initiate this change. This is not to say that people do not recovery, but the motivation to do so is a rather complex one.

The model of change, as proposed by Prochasks and DiClemente (1986) usefully illustrates the cognitive stages that a person battling with addiction, will invariably experience in relation to their level of motivation to recover.

The six stages of change


Precontemplation:  At this stage the person is ‘acting out’ unaware of any problems potentially related to the addictive behaviour. In many cases the addicted person will find themselves at this stage for years, and will see little incentive to address their addictive behaviour.

Contemplation:  refers to the shift in the person’s awareness regarding the addiction. And this realization can cause feelings of guilt and shame and thus begin to weigh up the pro’s and con’s of continuing their addictive behaviour.

Decision: Based on the contemplation, a decision will be made to either carry on as before, or reduce the intensity of the addictive behaviour. Still, at this stage, some people introduce another addiction, and finally, some addicts stop the behaviour completely.

Active Change: This is the point at which the person will make lifestyle changes, and or/ seek active help from a specialized service, such a the one offered at Life Works.

Maintenance: This stage of the cycle is when the person has remained abstinent from use/behaviour and made the necessary changes to maintain this.

Relapse: A common reaction to giving up an addiction is the experience of cravings and the desire to start using again. Where this happens, relapse is recognized as part of giving an addiction up rather than a return to square one.

Hardly anyone will go neatly through this cycle, without experiencing a few set-backs. In fact, it is possible to move through this cycle over many years and it is equally possible to move through it in the space of a few seconds. Exactly what ultimately motivates a recovering addict to remain sober and maintain their sobriety, is impossible to say. However, those who do seek addiction treatment will necessarily increase awareness about their own behaviours, and whether or not they recover, the can never un-learn, what has been discovered while in recovery. In this way, much can be learned from a relapse that can help a person maintain recovery in the future. Hopefully, the death of Amy Winehouse can stimulate debate, awareness, and above all, motivation to change.

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