Research suggests that an initial positive encouraging message may be all you need to change your substance abuse habits. In fact, the stuff that comes later – the actual program of recovery and follow up material may not matter at all. This is according to a study done by some of my absolute favorite researchers, Mark and Linda Sobell. The Sobells have been studying what they call “natural recovery” or “self-change” for a long time. Their basic finding (which has been replicated by other researchers) has been that 75% of people recover from substance abuse problems on their own, without treatment or 12-step involvement. They’ve also found the major factor reported by these self-changers to be “cognitive appraisal” – which is a fancy way of saying that these substance abusing self-changers weighed the pros and cons of their behavior, decided in favor of quitting (or moderating use), and proceeded to successfully quit or moderate.The Sobells did a study called Promoting Self Change (PSC) back in 1996 (I). They recruited heavy drinkers with a newspaper ad, and split them into 2 groups:
- The experimental group filled out a questionnaire, and was then sent full personalized feedback, cognitive exercises, and pamphlets with information about alcohol abuse.
- The control group answered the questionnaire, and received pamphlets which they could’ve gotten anywhere. They received no personal feedback, and no cognitive exercises.
one possible explanation for why PSC participants changed their drinking behavior when they saw the ad is that while they had been thinking about changing their drinking (motivational tension), like many people in the general public they did not know or believe that problem drinkers do not have to enter treatment in order to change. Thus, seeing the ad functioned as a catalyst (i.e., trigger) to implement a self-change process.
- Harald Klingemann, Linda Carter Sobell, Promoting Self-Change From Addictive Behaviors, Practical Implications for Policy, Prevention, and Treatment. Springer Science + Business Media, New York, 2007