It can be tough for loved ones to understand why anyone could choose to remain trapped in addiction. It would be obvious that the person is suffering, so why would they want to put up with this if there was a path to freedom. The reality is that staying the same can feel easier than making any type of change. There is also the problem that it is common for those caught up in addiction to feel ambivalent about recovery.
What Does Ambivalent Mean?
To say that somebody is ambivalent implies that he or she is in two minds about something. In the case of addiction, the person may feel they should give up drinking or using drugs but also hold on to the hope that the ‘good days’ will return. The person in this position may be committed to the idea of getting sober but if they secretly hope (or not so secretly) that they will be able to drink again in the future then it would mean they are not fully committed to sobriety.
One of the signs that a person is being held back by ambivalence is that they tend to use the word ‘should’ a lot. They know they ‘should’ try to stop drinking, but this is never going to be enough to motivate them to actually make the change. When it comes to dealing with addiction, the word ‘should’ is almost the same as saying ‘not going to’.
The Dangers of Ambivalence in Addiction
Ambivalence is dangerous for people addicted to alcohol or drugs because:
- it can mean they never develop strong enough motivation to break free of the behaviour
- even if they do manage to stop, their lack of commitment means they are at high risk of relapse
- if a person isn’t really interested in recovery, it can be incredibly hard to help them
- it means the individual will be living a life that is far less than ideal
- it means family will continue suffering due to the addictive behaviour
- the individual will be living a life that is far less than what they deserve
- addiction usually involves a downwards spiral; this means that by remaining trapped in addiction, the person will keep on suffering more and more.
Ambivalence towards recovery is part of the overall denial of addiction. The mind can play tricks on people, and the individual may be obsessed with the idea of the good days of drinking or drug using returning (even if these days were not actually as rosy as the person remembers them). Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the person becomes convinced that things will improve if they just hold on.
How to Break Free of Ambivalence
Spending time with an addiction therapist or counsellor can help individuals overcome the ambivalence that is keeping them stuck. This type of professional can encourage the individual to really consider their situation and the dangers they are facing if they do not change. A therapist can also use tools like motivational enhancement or motivational interviewing to get the person motivated.
Below are some other ideas for how individuals can overcome ambivalence so that they can build a better life in sobriety:
- spend time around those who have already built a strong recovery
- listen to stories from those who have managed to build a good life free from addiction
- learn about the real dangers of continuing with this behaviour (changes in the body mean the good days are highly unlikely to return)
- listen to motivational speeches or read motivational books
- think carefully about what you really want from the future.