Module 9: working with young people on AOD issues: learner's workbook

3.1 Understanding change

Page last updated: 2004

The change process

Change is something we are all familiar with. It 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. In the work context we adapt to a changing environment and make adjustments constantly, often without even realising it. We learn new policies, procedures and ways of doing things. Other, more 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 interests of good health but knowledge alone is not enough to achieve behaviour change, especially when it comes to lifestyle changes. We can also 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.

Even if we do manage to achieve some change, whether naturally or assisted, we are still susceptible to some slip-ups. After all, it is through our mistakes that we can learn where we need to put our efforts if the change is to be maintained in the long term.

Remember that most young people do not have established patterns of use. However, where use is established, it is important to draw on the lessons from the research on natural change to assist our efforts to help young people change their AOD-use patterns.

Key features of natural change

The common ingredients of natural change are:
  • 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) Top of page

  • dramatic and humiliating events associated with AOD use

  • '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.