Module 9: working with young people on AOD issues: facilitator's guide

3.1 Understanding change

Page last updated: 2004

The change process

Change can be easy or difficult depending on what it is that we want to change and what that change might mean in the broader context of our lives. Personal or lifestyle-related changes such as giving up smoking, leaving a relationship or deciding to get up early in the morning to exercise can be far more difficult both to achieve and sustain.

We know that smoking is linked to lung cancer or that we should exercise more in the interest of good health but knowledge alone is not enough to achieve behaviour change, especially when it comes to lifestyle changes. We can be ambivalent about change, that is, we can have strong reasons for making change and strong reasons against making change. It is important to note that ambivalence is a normal human condition and it is central to decisionmaking in relation to change.

Natural and assisted change

Having acknowledged that many changes require a significant effort, it is also true that change can happen naturally. In fact it is possible that most change in drug-using behaviour, for example, has always occurred outside of formal treatment. This type of change seldom happens overnight, but rather involves the slow process of change that also applies to those who receive treatment (Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross, 1997). Many of those who naturally recover also experience lapses back to drug use, as do those who receive treatment.

Remember that most young people do not have established patterns of use. However, natural change occurs often in young people and as workers we should assist them with this process.

Key features of natural change

The common ingredients of natural change are:

Overhead transparency

  • finding a new reference group to identify with and belong to that does not have an AOD focus

  • finding (or rediscovering) a purpose in life and activities that are not compatible with heavy AOD use (which is often related to the previous action)

  • dramatic and humiliating events associated with AOD use Top of page

  • 'maturing out' from heavy use in which heavy drug use has gradually been replaced by other priorities, commitments and obligations

  • developing new personal relationships that are not compatible with heavy AOD use or trying to salvage existing relationships (responding to pressure from family and friends to give up)

  • financial and/or legal problems

  • health concerns

  • work problems

  • advice from friends and families

  • pregnancy.

Optional exercise – Self reflection journal

Brainstorm/writing exercise, group activity

Ask learners to recall 'one thing' that they have changed in their life. It could be related to health, exercise, relationships, employment, etc. Learners should reflect on the whole process – from start to finish – and describe their reasons for implementing the change and how the change was achieved.

They may wish to share the major steps in small groups, or as a whole group.