Addiction Recovery: Why Improving Self-Efficacy is the Key to Lasting Change

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It’s easy to start a change, but it’s difficult to make it stick. If you’ve been to the gym in January and February, you have probably seen that fact first hand. New Year’s resolutions drive people to the gym in droves, much to the chagrin of regular attendees. However, as the year progresses, fewer people remain. Soon, it’s business as usual.

Making any real change is difficult and uncomfortable. Humans tend to gravitate toward habits and schedules as a way to live in the familiar. Plus, when we experience things that trigger the reward center in our brains, we crave more of that activity. From sugary foods to heroin, our brains are wired to make a note of all that trigger dopamine and endorphin release and crave them again. This can mean developing bad habits and even addiction. Resisting urges and cravings on a long-term basis means fighting against your own brain chemistry.

The best way to change your behavior is to first change your thinking. One of the most powerful tools in making changes, especially in addiction recovery, is self-efficacy. By building self-efficacy, you are more likely to resist the urge to relapse when faced with triggers and stressors that would have you revert to old habits.

What Is Self-Efficacy?

Self-efficacy is a general term that’s used in a number of settings. In the classroom, self-efficacy refers to a student’s belief in themselves. Teachers will often employ techniques to increase self-efficacy to improve their perseverance and motivation. The notion that believing in yourself is the key to change may sound like a cliche. However, in behavioral psychology, self-efficacy takes on a much deeper meaning, and the research shows that it’s the foundation for behavioral change.

The phrase was coined by Albert Bandura, a Stanford psychologist that studied the hypothesis that any form of behavioral treatment ultimately achieves change through altering self-efficacy in the 1970s. He suggests that increasing a person’s belief in their own ability to change will lead to many benefits including:

  • Making it more likely that positive coping behavior will be used
  • Increasing the effort expended in pursuit of change
  • Increasing the length of time you’re willing to expend effort
  • And perseverance through obstacles and drawbacks

In a 1999 paper on the cognitive-behavioral model (the model behind the most popular therapy for addiction), psychologist Alan Marlatt described self-efficacy as a person’s “mastery over their behavior.” Not only is self-efficacy a belief in yourself or in your abilities, but it’s your ability to resist relapse behaviors. The growth of this efficacy is essential to relapse prevention and achieving lasting sobriety.

Where Does Self-Efficacy Come From?

Throughout a person’s everyday life, they may experience things that increase or decrease their level of self-efficacy. Bandura identified four sources of self-efficacy that teachers and therapists use to help people take on challenges without giving up and stick with commitments. The four sources of self-efficacy include:

  • Mastery experiences. An experience in which you achieve success is the primary source of self-efficacy. When you achieve something, you are more likely to see yourself as capable the next time a challenge presents itself. Unfortunately, failures often do the opposite by tearing down efficacy. In behavioral therapies, you might learn to change negative thinking that focuses on failures.
  • Vicarious experience. Observing a friend’s achievement can also strengthen your beliefs in your ability. If sobriety or other goals seem too lofty to achieve, seeing someone close to your make progress or succeed can bring an astronomical challenge down to earth.
  • Verbal persuasion. Constructive communication and feedback can also boost self-efficacy. Addiction counselors, therapists, and support groups can provide encouragement that boosts a person’s efforts.
  • Psychological states. Your mood has a lot to do with your self-efficacy. Anxiety, depression, and frustration will erode your willingness to expend effort, while a positive mood can bolster your efforts. Because mood is so powerful, behavioral therapies often focus on healthy ways to handle the stress that might lead to a poor mood and ultimately, low self-efficacy.

Ways to Improve Self-Efficacy

Through addiction treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, you can learn techniques to increase self-efficacy so you can handle triggers and cravings when you encounter them. In your daily life, several practices can help boost your self-efficacy. Social scientists Howard Margolis and Patrick P. Mccabe determined several tips for improving self-efficacy for teachers to use with students who are struggling. Several are applicable in addiction recovery and, in one way or another, they are often used in treatment. These tips include:

Set Challenging but Attainable Goals

Since achievement increases self-efficacy and failure erodes it, set goals that are challenging enough to be meaningful and achievable enough to avoid likely failure. For instance, your goal shouldn’t be to go to a party where everyone will be binge drinking and do your best. In that scenario, you would be putting yourself in a high-risk situation that dramatically increases your chance of relapse. Instead, set a goal to go to regular support meetings, or to share your recovery story. Then, use achievements to your advantage when you face a new challenge. Remind yourself that you’re capable of success.

Surround Yourself with Dedicated Peers

Peer groups allow you to absorb a little vicarious self-efficacy. In classrooms, group learning and projects show students that they are capable of success based on the success of their friends. In recovery, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are helpful in relapse prevention for a similar reason. Inspiration and accountability can improve your ideas about your own ability. Plus, encouragement from mentors and peers can expose you to verbal persuasion as well.

Make Your Own Choices

In the addiction recovery field, it’s well-known that no one-size-fits-all addiction treatment works for everyone. People have different needs, and they respond to different methods. A treatment program should be tailored to your history, needs, and preferences. Being involved in your treatment planning can make you more invested and interested in putting in the effort to see it through.

Are You Seeking Help?

As you or your loved ones are dealing with addiction, remember that there’s no need to struggle alone. Call 855-781-9939 or contact us online and get connected with the addiction specialists at Arete Recovery. Our caring and educated team members will help navigate you to the proper care you need. Don’t delay; call now.

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