How Addiction Happens, How Change Happens, and What Social Workers Need to Know to Be Effective Facilitators of Change

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During the last two decades, neuroscience research has proliferated examining brain mechanisms that explain why some people are compelled to pursue drugs and alcohol. The findings suggest that addiction is independent of pleasure, and that drug seeking can be triggered outside of conscious awareness (Berridge, Robinson, & Aldridge, 2009; Goldstein et al., 2009; Kalivas, Volkow, & Seamans, 2005). The observations and conclusions from this research can be used to advantage in treating addiction. The use of social psychological principles, in the context of motivational interviewing, offers a platform for taking advantage of these new insights. After a brief sketch of the latest understanding of the physiological forces operating in addiction, the author examines those ways to interact with substance dependent clients that promote change without provoking resistance in this article. Action plans are later described that can supplant automatic, addiction-induced behaviors (Gollwitzer, Fujita, & Oettingen, 2004). Mechanisms such as building coping skills are discussed, that help in maintaining new behaviors. Some of these mechanisms are efficacious because they bolster the brain's self-regulatory capacity (Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007; Littrell, 2010). Thus, for every step in the change process, from resistance to change maintenance, validated guidelines for altering the outcome from addiction will be provided.


This article was originally published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work. Copyright 2011, Taylor & Francis. It has been linked to the original published version at the request of the author.