The first step in recovery is admitting that you have a problem; the second step is having the willingness to accept or get help. For many people, recognising that they are engaging in bad habits is not difficult, but finding the motivation to address their addiction can be tough. This is especially true for functioning addicts, who, even if they think they have a problem, don’t find it serious enough to seek treatment. So what exactly motivates an addicted person to recover?
How do People get Motivated to Recover?
Addiction is a lifelong illness, so in recovery, there are two parts to motivation one to enter recovery, and one to remain in recovery. Having the right motivation is a key aspect in overcoming addiction.
In order for motivation to be real, you must find the benefits of recovery to outweigh the costs. On top of that, you need to genuinely believe in it.
One of the most powerful vehicles for the road to recovery is intrinsic motivation. This means that you are motivated to do something for yourself and yourself alone. For example, you want to quit alcohol because your liver is showing signs of damage from drinking, and you want to improve your health for your own sake.
Studies show that people with intrinsic motivation are most likely to overcome their addiction because it is stronger and more lasting. People who are threatened or forced into treatment are probably destined to a less successful recovery.
For some people, having an external factor is necessary for motivation. This can be anything that matters to you, such as a significant other, career, or even self-image.
If you find a role model, or someone you don’t want to disappoint, this can be a great motivational factor. For example, if you are a dad, you may want to be a better person for your kids.
Losing Things That Matter
Some people don’t take their addiction seriously until they are confronted. A spouse may ask for a divorce, or a boss may hint at being fired. While threats and ultimatums can lead to a less successful recovery, for some people it is a wake up call.
If you are a family or friend of an addict and considering issuing an ultimatum, try to avoid threats, especially as they may backfire. Feelings of shame and blame rarely motivate an addicted person to recover. Instead, try to convince them that they should seek treatment on their own terms. Instead of “I’m filing for a divorce unless you stop drinking”, explain the potential consequences. Try, “Your drinking is impacting my well-being and our children’s development. Will you consider getting help?”
Many people with addiction have low self-esteem or are not happy with some aspect of their lives. If you feel dissatisfied with your life, an unexpected show of support may be just what you needed to seek treatment. You may be surprised that your family or friend want you to get better for your own sake, but you should be open to accepting the help when it’s offered. A supportive environment can be one of the strongest foundations for lasting recovery.
The Promise of a New Future
In certain situations, you might be motivated to get clean by an unexpected life event. A sudden change that can potentially transform your life for the better can be inspiring. For example, you may have a child on the way, or you may have been accepted into your dream university.
The opposite is true as well. You may be confronted with a wake up call due to your addiction. For example, you may have suffered an overdose, had a run-in with the law, or lost a lot of money at a casino.
A Tragic Event
Wake up calls can also happen on a larger scale. Perhaps one of your parents just passed away, which makes you rethink your life. Or you were diagnosed with lung cancer after smoking for decades. Maybe your actions impacted on someone around you. You may decide to change after one event that brings you clarity on your addiction.
Small or medium-scale tragedies can help people realise that they are in trouble, or the guilt from it can motivate them to change. However, this is not always the case. In some situations, the stress or guilt is only temporary, and before they know it, are back to their old habits.
Rock bottom refers to a situation where you realise that you cannot go any lower, and there is no doubt that something needs to change. The definition of rock bottom is different for each person – for example, you may overdose once and want to change. For others, even if they overdose, after a few days to recover, they can just start using again. Ultimately, rock bottom is when you realise that you are at a dead end, and have no choice except to get clean.
Why do people get demotivated?
Just as there are many reasons that motivate an addicted person to recover, you must also consider the other side. In order to maintain recovery, it is important to recognise the pitfalls that might wait for you.
Having unrealistically high expectations about treatment can lead to a near-immediate loss of motivation in recovery. You may think that you just need to detox and then you are done, but it is just the first step. Or you might find that treatment is more challenging than you thought, and taking longer than expected. If this is the case, you may be tempted to give up.
Anger and Emotions
Going through therapy can cause past problems to resurface and force you to deal with your underlying issues, which isn’t easy for anyone. This may cause you to get angry with yourself or with others around you. Powerful emotions can trigger you to give up and return to your addiction.
If you are not adequately prepared for living a sober life after treatment, you can easily fall back into bad habits. This is why continuing care is so important, and most good rehabs will provide this as part of the cost of treatment. Before you complete treatment and return back to your normal life, you must be prepared for stressful situations.
For example, what if you go to a party where everyone is drinking? What if you get into a confrontation with your family? You must have the adequate coping skills before you leave a treatment programme.
Many people associate relapse with failure: this is not true. Emotional or mental relapse is quite common, and commonly happens when you romanticise your past use, and forget all the negatives that came with it. A physical slip can happen as well, making you question why you ever tried to get better in the first place.
Relapse is a fact of addiction – all the good reasons that motivate an addicted person to recover may not be enough. But don’t fear – relapse is a part of getting better, and can actually strengthen your longterm recovery. It can even be motivating for some, inspiring them to try harder next time.
Tips to Motivate an Addicted Person to Recover
It can be challenging to find and keep motivation during recovery, but it is crucial in the long run. Here are some tips to helping yourself or someone you love find motivation to seek treatment:
List the Pros and Cons
Remember, a key motivating factor is that the costs must outweigh the benefits. Therefore, take the time to make a list of all the pros and cons of maintaining the addiction.
Meet Other People
Go to a meeting, read stories about addiction and recovery, or look up inspiring quotes. These can serve as a warning for those who have not hit rock bottom, and as a reminder for those in recovery to never go back.
Ask for Support
Support can be a major motivating factor for people. If you need help, your friends and family will likely help you find the strength you need to get better. Having the right support will also help you believe in yourself.
Imagine a Better Future
Create goals, and think of what your life will be like once you quit. Perhaps you’ll stop spending money on drugs and use it to travel the world instead. Create both short and long-term goals so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Finding Motivation After Treatment
Motivation is just as important for those who have completed treatment and are currently in recovery. To maintain a positive outlook, remember to celebrate the small achievements and don’t forget why you’re here in the first place.
Recovery is a long-term journey and will take time and effort. That is why little successes need to be celebrated. Acknowledge each day you’ve been sober, and make sure you are reminded of it every day. Over time, you’ll see how far you’ve come and that will motivate you to keep going.
Always remind yourself what motivated you to get into treatment in the first place. Remember your dreams, your failures, your fears, and keep inspiring items out as a reminder. If you have a role model or person you don’t want to disappoint, keep a photo of them close by. If your motivation is to see the world, sign up for a travel newsletters, or start planning a vacation once you reach your sobriety goal.
Most importantly, no matter what got you into treatment in the first place, find a reason to do it for your own well-being. At the end of the day, no one impacts your life more than yourself.
Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | July 27, 2021