Motivational Interviewing Therapy for Drug Addiction

Research has shown that certain therapies can be very effective for treating substance use disorders (SUDs). Motivational interviewing is one of these therapies, showing its ability to help people reduce substance misuse and stay in treatment.1,2

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance misuse or addiction, learning more about motivational interviewing for drug addiction may be helpful. This article will talk about what motivational interviewing therapy is, how motivational interviewing works, goals of this type of therapy, and how to find MI treatment.

What is Motivational Interviewing Therapy?

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a goal-directed, client-centered, and collaborative form of therapy where patients work to resolve their internal ambivalence about their substance misuse or addiction to promote effective change.3 Initially developed to help treat people with active substance use disorders, motivational interviewing has since evolved as a treatment effective for a wide range of both physical and mental health disorders.4

How Does Motivational Interviewing Therapy Work?

The root of MI is based in evoking a patient’s internal motivation for change.1 In order to do this, therapists lay the foundation by providing an empathetic, affirming, non-judgmental, and supportive counseling style, encouraging patients to feel more inclined to discuss possible changes rather than focusing on not changing at all.1 Therapists orchestrate sessions by applying a certain set of skills, known as OARS skills.

OARS skills are as follows:5,6

  • Open-ended questions – The therapist asks the patient questions that require an answer more robust than simply “yes” or “no”. This is done to invite the patient to share their story, rather than offering brief, uninformative answers.
  • Affirming – The therapist recognizes and validates the patient with positive affirmations such as, “You took a big step coming here today” or “That’s a good idea for how to avoid tempting situations”. This can encourage the patient’s self-efficacy and increase their self-confidence.
  • Reflective listening – The therapist actively listens to the patient, striving to make an informed guess regarding the underlying meaning of what the patient is discussing. The therapist then reflects their informed guess back to the patient, and by doing so, shows them empathy, respect, and acceptance.
  • Summarizing – At the end of the session, the therapist reflects all of the content that has been discussed back to the patient. This is different from reflective listening in that the therapist intentionally chooses statements and presents them in a summary to confirm understanding of the discussion on both sides and encourage further clarification from the patient if needed.

How Effective is Motivational Interviewing?

Research has shown that MI can be effective in promoting change in a variety of goal-related areas. One systematic review of reviews found evidence of positive outcomes in areas such as:7

  • Smoking cessation.
  • Short-term reduction in binge drinking, frequency, and quantity of alcohol consumption.
  • Promoting physical activity in people with a chronic health condition.
  • Reducing the extent of substance use in people struggling with substance misuse, dependency, or addiction.

The authors of the above-mentioned review indicate that MI seems to be most effective for stopping or preventing unhealthy behaviors, including those listed above.7 However, they also point out that more research is needed on MI’s efficacy, as many studies have examined its effectiveness only in combination with other interventions, have only examined its short-term effectiveness, or have had limitations in other areas.7

Motivational Interviewing for Substance Use Disorders

Motivational interviewing for for substance use disorders follows the traditional motivational interviewing structure as explained above, but instead focuses on a person’s motivation to change their substance use and related behaviors.3 It is a collaborative effort between the client and their therapist that aims to help the person become aware of their often-contradictory beliefs about substance use, helps resolve their ambivalence about substance use, and works to increase their motivation to change.3

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are many benefits for motivational interviewing for substance use disorders, including reducing alcohol and drug use, improving treatment retention in SUD treatment programs after detox, improving retention in methadone maintenance programs, and increasing engagement in HIV risk-reduction behaviors.3

MI can be used to help people struggling with SUDs as a stand-alone treatment or as a part of a comprehensive treatment program in combination with other therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).3  In fact, some evidence shows that MI may have increased benefits when combined with CBT, such as helping people maintain long-term behavioral changes.3

Motivational Interviewing for Addiction Treatment at AdCare

If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance misuse or addiction, or if you’re interested in learning more about MI, please reach out to AdCare at to speak to a caring admissions navigator. We can help you understand your rehab options and help you find an inpatient rehab near you. You can also learn about rehab admissions and find out more about our inpatient rehab in Rhode Island.

To get started right now, fill out our secure online to have your insurance verified with us.

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