motivational interviewing

Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Treatment

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One of the biggest challenges people face when struggling with addiction is being motivated to take the first steps toward recovery and sobriety. After all, many people develop alcoholism or substance use disorder (SUD) by using substances as a way of coping. Giving up this coping mechanism can seem scary. Often people do not know how to deal with the issues that caused them to drink or use drugs in the first place. Furthermore, the disease of addiction can cause a person not to want to quit or have a pessimistic view about recovery. For this reason, Motivational Interviewing (MI) in addiction treatment can help provide the inspiration needed when starting a recovery journey. 

What Is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?

Dr. William R. Miller developed Motivational Interviewing (MI) while researching the treatment of “problem drinkers” back in 1983. Since that time, through continued research and clinical application of the principles of MI, MI has become a well-established, evidence-based treatment method for those with alcoholism or SUD.

MI is based on three core concepts:

  1. Therapy sessions are called interviews. These interviews are a collaboration between the individual and the therapist. 
  2. Each person is encouraged to establish their own goals to maintain sobriety. When people have this freedom over their addiction treatment, they are more likely to be motivated to continue to set and reach goals to stay sober.
  3. The underlying causes of addiction are not the focus of MI. Instead, MI empowers people to make changes to their lives by making them responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions. 

The Four Processes of MI

MI follows a patient-centric model to encourage people to set goals and work towards reaching them. It does this by using four processes: 


The Engaging process is where the therapist and individual begin developing a relationship with one another. The foundations of this relationship require the therapist to encourage the individual to work with them while building trust and rapport in order to create a comfortable setting. Doing so helps the individual start to develop goals and take steps needed to bring about change. 


The Focusing process is where the therapist guides the individual to work to identify which problems they want to address and which goals can help them overcome those issues. The therapist’s role is to listen and help the individual narrow their focus to do what is necessary to bring about change.


During the Evoking process, the objective is to uncover what motivates the individual to change. What motivates one person can differ from what motivates another person in recovery. As a result, everyone has their own motivating factors to bring about the changes they need to maintain sobriety. 


The Planning process occurs when the therapist helps the individual plan for the future. This process helps the person determine which coping mechanisms work best for them when they feel their resolve weakening. The therapist advises and guides the person without taking away their sense of empowerment. 

Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Treatment

MI in addiction treatment can be effective in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. It is equally helpful for people who have relapsed or have tried other forms of therapy but have not made much progress toward their recovery goals.

MI is even more effective when used as part of a complete addiction treatment program. This includes other forms of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and brainspotting. Incorporating other forms of therapy often helps the person identify the underlying causes of their addiction. In this way, they can deal with past trauma that may have led to their addictive behaviors.

The Limitations of Motivational Interviewing

While MI in addiction treatment can be highly effective, it has its limitations. For instance, MI would not be effective for someone experiencing a co-occurring disorder like depression. However, once the depression is effectively treated via dual diagnosis treatment, MI can come in to provide motivation toward maintaining sobriety.

Additionally, MI is ineffective in people who have problems focusing or distinguishing between “pros and cons” concepts. Therefore, attempting to motivate someone in these situations may not provide positive results.

Motivational Interviewing Addiction Treatment in Orange County

When you feel pessimistic or lack the motivation to overcome your alcoholism or SUD, Motivational Interviewing in addiction treatment presents a viable option as part of a complete addiction treatment plan. Ocean Hills Recovery offers personalized treatments that enable you to tailor your addiction treatment to fit your specific needs. For further information about MI and how it can benefit you in addiction treatment, feel free to contact us today.

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