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  • Robert Schwebel, Ph.D.

The Revolutionary Question to Ask People with Drug Problems

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Instead of harping on the harm, get to the heart of the matter.

I would argue that asking about “likes” or reasons for the love of alcohol or any other drug is probably the most important question a counselor or helper can ask a person who has a drug problem. This is the exact opposite of the generally accepted approach, which is to begin discussions with a focus on harm, hoping to motivate change. The assumption is that if people knew about and fully grasped the extent of the harm from their drug use, they would surely quit. This, however, we know isn’t true. Usually, people with drug problems are substantially informed and alarmed about the harm. They continue using despite this knowledge; some of them requesting help and others not. What is most interesting from the helper’s perspective is: Why do people continue to indulge despite their knowledge of the harm? What is so compelling? To get to the heart of the matter, the truly revolutionary question is: “What do you like about drugs?”

Traditionally-trained counselors resist asking about drug benefits and consider it dangerous: “I don’t want to trigger or enable drug use.” First off, clients don’t need to come to a counselor to be triggered. That can happen anywhere, anytime. Triggers are all around them. The real challenge is helping them learn to deal with triggers. Second, helping people understand what they like about drugs – what motivates them to use drugs – is all about increasing self-understanding, which is something completely different from granting approval or encouraging indulgence. In fact, it is a very important part of the process of making decisions to change.

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