motivational interviewing for substance abuse

Addiction can have rippling effects on a person’s life and wellbeing. Almost every aspect of a person’s mind, body, and life can become consumed by drug use. Fortunately, there are several different options for addiction treatment. One of the key components of addiction treatment is therapy. One of the more commonly used types of therapy is motivational interviewing for substance abuse. 

Many times, those who have been consumed by drug addiction may find the idea of quitting intimidating. Sobriety in itself may feel unobtainable. This can negatively impact a person’s motivation to quit using drugs. Regardless of other negative consequences like health, financial, social, and other problems. Sobriety may feel like a distant and unrealistic goal. However, with professional support and motivational interviewing, this goal becomes both realistic and achievable. 

Motivational interviewing focuses on promoting certain goals and encouraging motivation in drug addicts. While it may seem like a simple premise, motivational interviewing (MI) can be extremely effective for addiction treatment. Typically, sobriety is the given goal and a person is supported through their journey towards this goal. Motivational interviewing for substance abuse can also be used with other therapy methods as well. MI is just one of many therapy options offered at North Jersey Recovery Center.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing as a technique has been around for decades, dating back to its discovery and development in 1983. Through much effort and research, it was found that motivational interviewing was not only a personality trait but a mindset. With the right technique and guidance, a person can adapt to this mindset of goal-oriented encouragement. This is how motivational interviewing for substance abuse is the most effective. 

Motivational interviewing has the main goal of setting goals and motivating the person to change their destructive behaviors (centered around drug use). Motivational interviewing is much different from your typical behavioral psychotherapy for addiction. This method uses interviews during the first sessions. These ‘interviews’ are a collaborative effort between the therapist and the addict. During this phase, a person can make their own goals, rather than having a therapist give the ideas or establish the goals. 


By setting their own goals, individuals will more likely feel a sense of control over their own lives. They receive motivation to continuing pursuing their goals. This is a very valuable idea and is a key factor in reaching long-term sobriety. This is a drastic change from the typical idea that a therapist will be in control of a person’s action and recovery methods. Motivational interviewing for substance abuse makes sure the person is given autonomy and control over their goals and responsibilities. Once a person has adapted this mindset they are more likely to stay consistent and motivated to stay sober and clean of drugs. 

The Four Main Processes of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is different from other forms of therapy like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in the sense that underlying causes and traumas are not the main focus. MI can take place during inpatient treatment or before recovery as well. Motivational interviewing for substance abuse can be highly effective when used with other therapy methods as well. It is seen more as a therapeutic tool to help addicts identify and set goals (while working towards them).

Motivational interviewing uses four main processes to help the person in their efforts. These include:

  1. Engaging – Creating a tight bond between the therapist and addict (getting to know them and creating a respectful relationship)
  2. Focusing – Creating a shared idea about what will be the main focus in the person’s recovery
  3. Evoking – Understanding and identifying the addict’s personal arguments towards change
  4. Planning – The person is willing to make a change and will plan out how they’ll reach these goals

Each of these works to create a set plan while motivating the person to pursue their goals on their own. Motivational interviewing for substance abuse works differently from other therapy methods in that it allows the person to pursue their goals willingly. Let’s take a look at each of these processes concerning motivational interviewing for substance abuse.


One of the most vital parts of the motivational interviewing process is to establish a respectful and strong bond between the therapist and the person. Since both the therapist and the addict will be working together, it’s essential to build trust before the process begins. Counselors will be emphatic as they collaborate to create goals for the person. It is important to make sure that the person knows they are in control of their recovery from the beginning. In this regard, the counselor makes sure there is no power dynamic between the two of them. Conversations about change may occur during this phase but the main goal is to create a trusting relationship. 


In certain cases, a person may enter into treatment with a goal already set. This could be through the honest realization that they need change or perhaps it is mandatory by a judge/family due to alcohol– or drug-related crime. While the recovering individual may have a broad picture of their goals they may not have a set plan or direction. This is where focusing comes into play during motivational interviewing.

Focusing focuses on determining what is important to the person and what they want to get out of treatment and recovery. This is then the topic for the next few sessions to help a person realize their desire to change. It is important for the counselor and the person to agree upon a set of goals. However, it is crucial to have the person identify and create a set of goals themselves. This process may take some time depending on the case, while it may take a few weeks, there is no rush or pressure to do so. 


Evoking is the next vital part of the motivational interviewing process. This component uncovers a person’s personal motivations and reasons for the change. After focusing on a goal, the counselor will help address the individual’s reasons as to why they want to recover. This requires a close examination of the person’s personal desires and internal motivation.

Speaking on the subject of change while bringing out the person’s arguments and motivations for recovery makes motivational interviewing unique. During the evoking stage, the counselor will push towards the importance of change while building the person’s confidence. It is a collaborative process that can truly help someone identify their reasons for change and recovery. 


The final stage of motivational interviewing for substance abuse is planning. Planning is one of the most crucial parts of the process and can help set a person up for long-term sobriety. It is a fact that most people will not be in treatment centers for their whole lives, they will eventually move away and transition back to a normal life. Planning helps a person develop techniques and knowledge to avoid relapses and downfalls in their lives ahead. Techniques can stem from coping mechanisms to knowing who to contact when things get rough.


At this stage, the counselor will go all-in making sure that the person is ready to take on life’s stresses and potential triggers. However, the counselor will follow the goal of making sure the individual stays in control of their own desires and motivations. Sometimes the hardest part for recovering addicts is knowing where to start or how to set a functioning plan. This is where the counselor can step in and guide them without ‘taking the reins’. 

Motivational Interviewing for Substance Abuse

Motivational interviewing for substance abuse cases are extremely effective. This treatment method can be especially useful in cases where a person has tried recovering and has failed in the past. Motivational interviewing for substance abuse is also useful if other therapy options like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) didn’t have great results. These instances can damage a person’s motivation to get help, however motivational interviewing can help a person find their motivation and confidence. During MI, a person holds themselves accountable and continues pushing themselves no matter how difficult.

In cases where a person has relapsed in the past, they may be numbed to the true severity of relapse and its effects. This can make someone lose motivation and can ultimately increase their chances of relapse down the line. MI helps a person find their desire to change and motivates them to pursue these goals closely. Motivational interviewing can work in combination with other therapies and, in some cases, medication-assistance as well. 

Start Your Journey Today at North Jersey Recovery

Motivational interviewing for substance abuse is just one of many treatment methods available at North Jersey Recovery. If you are new to recovery or are returning, we will be by your side to guide you and support you no matter what. The road to recovery can sometimes seem far away but it is reachable and possible with the right help. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction or substance abuse, we’re ready to help. Contact us today to learn more about our services and addiction treatment methods.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.