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Working Through Ambivalence in Addiction

Written on July 5, 2022
Working Through Ambivalence in Addiction

Ambivalence in addiction is not only common, it’s one of its defining features. Whether addiction is to substances or to behaviors, ambivalence towards recovery and healing is one piece of addiction that is particularly hard to manage.

How Ambivalence in Addiction Recovery Presents itself

Before we dive into the interconnected relationship between ambivalence and addiction recovery, we should first ask ourselves, what exactly is ambivalence? While there are many definitions of this emotion, it’s best thought of as indecision. It’s like being unable to choose a restaurant for dinner. This indecisiveness or hesitancy to make a choice can often lead to procrastination, anxiety and making an “easy decision” or no decision at all.

Ambivalence is often accompanied by procrastination, especially when having to make a big decision.

Ambivalence in addiction recovery can inhibit or prolong a person from receiving the help they need. Things like work, family life or financial instability are common reasons people use to justify not seeking help. These reasons can keep someone in a cycle of addiction and inaction.

Additionally, ambivalence towards recovery is typically created from fear of losing someone’s “fun side.” People with alcohol use disorder often report they are scared that they won’t be as much fun to be around if they stopped drinking.

One of the last and main connections between ambivalence and recovery is a neurochemical imbalance. A lot of addictive substances tend to heavily influence dopamine systems. Dopamine is typically responsible for feelings of pleasure, movement, feeling energized and more.

Dopamine depletion often occurs in the first few months of recovery and in some cases, one’s brain may never be able to naturally produce dopamine normally again. The resulting effect can create ambivalence across all aspects of one’s life including the ability to participate in a sober lifestyle. For this reason, people tend to be incredibly vulnerable to relapse in early recovery and struggle to maintain a lifestyle that will support long term sobriety.

Fortunately, there are several steps people can take to help them work through ambivalence and sustain sobriety.


Working Through Ambivalence in Addiction Recovery

One of the most common features for anyone struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) is a desire to change. But what happens when this desire to be sober is met with resistance and ambivalence? It’s often very difficult for people to snap out of this state of uncertainty but not impossible. Below are several homeopathic and therapeutic approaches to thrive in early and long term recovery.

Mindfulness exercises help people bring attention to their actions. Over time, people can begin to holistically rewire their brains to work through difficult moments through consistent exercises, especially during times when they are most resistant to physical activity.

Secondly, there’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). This therapeutic modality helps people work through diametrically opposing thoughts by using distress tolerance and mindfulness based practices. DBT is great for people who know they need to be in recovery but are still ambivalent about taking the appropriate actions.

Lastly, Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a great tool for helping therapists resolve ambivalent emotions in their clients. This practice can help cultivate new habits through compassionate listening and short term actionable steps.

If you or someone you love is struggling with uncertainty around their addiction, our team can help! Contact us today to learn more about our treatment approach toward ambivalence.