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Why are Addicts/alcoholics Resistent to Change?

Posted Nov 30 2008 12:15pm

Dear Dr Kathy,
I have been helping my alcoholic brother and his family for years, but no matter what I do, it never really helps, and nothing changes. “Why is it that people who need the help most, deny they have a problem and refuse to get help?” My brother’s life just goes from bad to worse. What can I do?
Thank you in advance.

Trisha in PA.

Dear Trisha, Your question is a loaded one and there is no one standard answer. I can only share my own experiences with you that might help you to understand a little more about the resistance to change.

1.We Enable Them. Most people KNOW they have a problem but as long as there are others who will enable them, there is no real reason to change. Sometimes being held accountable, setting limits, and allowing them to learn by their mistakes, is the best possible solution. When they get sick and tired of being sick and tired, they might make a decision to change.

2.It’s Just too hard To Change. Some people who are aware they have a problem, (i.e., a weight problem, an addiction of sorts, or the inability to handle finances or a bad relationship), try to get some help but it’s “just too hard to change.” Being familiar with dysfunction is believed to be safer than making a change.

3.Fear of Change. The “what if’s” kick in. What if things still don’t change, what if I lose everything, what if people talk, what will people think? When there is no guarantee of outcome, it’s a huge risk to try something different. FEAR becomes the dominant emotion that over-rides the desire to change.

4. Psychological Problems. Oftentimes there are psychological issue/s that are causing the dysfunctional behavior. For instance, an alcoholic doesn’t go to the bar the first time with the intent of becoming an alcoholic. More than likely it’s either a physical or psychological problem that causes him/her to go to the bar. It could be as simple as low self-esteem or social incompetence. It could be emotional pain, like a loss of some kind. It could be physical pain like a backache or tooth pain? The alcohol temporarily fixes the pain, so they go back to the bar again and again. The belief is, “alcohol is cheaper than a therapist or a doctor.” The alcohol abuse becomes the outward symptom of a much deeper problem. Now we have another problem…an addiction.

5.Addictions. Most addictions, (whether it be alcohol, drugs, food, gambling), is called a disease, which basically says, “I can’t stop this behavior once I start, I have NO control.” It’s been my experience that addictions are commonly started up to fill a void or to repress/avoid other psychological issues. It is also genetic if there is a history in your family. As the person continues to abuse drugs they develop a Neurological Disorder, which is a chemical disorder which creates the craving to use more drugs. For more information on this, read the following article at this link; (

6.Freedom of Choice. Some individuals are either not ready to change or choose not to change for various reasons. Teenagers oftentimes feel invincible and that “just trying” a substance isn’t going to hurt them. They may have a need to fit-in with peers and so they make some poor choices in order to feel a sense of belonging. Adults are just as easily swayed/manipulated into making poor choices. And, CHOICE is the one thing we can control.

7. Lack of Knowledge. Last but not least, people make poor choices because they don’t know about other options. “It’s the way I was raised and that’s how we always did it.” Counselors or mentors need to challenge the belief system and educate the client about problem solving and making better choices for their life.

I hope this has helped you understand a little more about resistence?

My prayers are with you.


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