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Practical strategies for making and maintaining change

Practical Strategies for making and maintaining change

Strategies for promoting change differ depending on the stage of change. Here are some simple tips for each stage of change:

Pre-contemplation ·

Even if you're not convinced you need to change, keep a track of your substance use. Write down when you use, what and how much you use, how you were feeling, where you were and who you were with. This will give you more information about the role of substance use in your life.

· Consider exploring your use to determine whether or not it is a problem, for example, take one of these short online questionnaires about your drug use. 

· Consider making an appointment for an addiction assessment.

· Ask a friend or family member how he or she feels about your substance use.

· If any of these activities do raise doubts in your mind, give yourself credit for acknowledging substance use may be a problem.


· Ask yourself, "What do I need to change?"

· Write down the pros and cons of changing your using habits.

· Think about what is most important to you (e.g. family, job, money) and how using affects this.

· Don't be discouraged if you're not sure about making the change, many people feel the same way.


·  Set a goal for change, such as a quit date or a target for cutting down the amount, frequency or route of use.

· Find out about the service available to you that will help and support you.

· Remind yourself regularly of the reasons you want to change.

· Try not to expect big changes and don't minimize the small changes.

· Get support from your friends and family.

· Think about your strengths and the support you need that will help you to change.


· Seek support from others, such as family, friends and key workers.

· Attend a programme or a self- help group.

· Avoid people, places and things that put you at risk of relapse.

· Explore other treatment options available to you.


· Be aware of your urges and temptations to stray from your goals.

· Continue to remind yourself of your reasons for changing.

· Rewards yourself for making the change that doesn't rely on another substance (e.g don't swap drugs for alcohol or vice versa).

· Consider attending a relapse prevention programme or self-help group.

Managing relapse

It can be difficult to reduce or to completely stop all substance use. It is not surprising then that people who do make these changes may return to using. Relpase can be discourging, it can cause people to feel vulnerable and weak and may make long-term change seem impossible.

When relapse happens think of ot as a temporary set back, learn from it, note the skills you used to make the initial changes and don't see relapse as a point of failure but rather see it as a situation for learning. Look for changes you have maintained, such as;

  • Using less of a substance or using less often
  • Positive lifestyle changes (not using at work/college etc)
  • Reducing or eliminating other high-risk behaviours.

What causes relapse? 

When considering the causes of relapse we use the term 'triggers' to relapse or 'high-risk situations'. Triggers can range from emotions (anger, sadness, fear etc). to withdrawal symptoms or unhelpful thinking patterns.

When relapse occurs this is the time to reflect and learn the triggers or high risk situations that contributed to the relapse. With these in mind planning to avoid relapse becomes more realistic.