Change Talk Predicts Change in Cannabis Use by Youth

Motivational interviewing is a therapeutic process that has been gaining popularity for the treatment of addictions. The mechanisms that are involved in motivational interviewing include transforming the way in which clients talk to themselves about their addiction. Although this method has been shown to be quite promising in adult clients, less is known about its impact on adolescents. Because teenagers and young adults represent a large percentage of people who have drug and alcohol issues, it is important to explore every avenue of treatment that may provide positive outcomes. Sarah W. Feldstein Ewing of the University of New Mexico’s Honor’s Program sought to determine particular components of motivational interviewing that would result in decreased drug use in a sample of teen cannabis users.

Ewing recruited 43 adolescents with a history of cannabis use for her study and had them record statements that supported change (change talk [CT]) or countered behavior change (counterchange talk [CCT]). The participants were then presented with cannabis stimuli while they listened to their CT and CCT statements. Ewing assessed the participants’ levels of cannabis use, drug related problems, and dependence prior to the intervention and 1 month postintervention. She found that the positive self-talk, the CT, had a positive effect on treatment outcome.

Specifically, the participants had lower levels of drug use when they were exposed to CT than when exposed to CCT. In fact, the CT statements that were designed to affirm adaptive behavior change stimulated memory and introspection activity that was evident from magnetic resonance imaging conducted on the participants. This increased activation was directly linked to increases in abstinence. Ewing notes that her sample was limited because it consisted mostly of legally involved, high-risk teens and believes that future studies should a broader participant base. She also thinks that the addition of a control group would further expand her findings. However, despite those limitations, the results provide evidence that motivational interviewing is a viable approach for adults and teens alike. Ewing added, “Together, these integrative data ultimately suggest the salience of CT during adolescent cannabis interventions.”

Feldstein Ewing, S. W., McEachern, A. D., Yezhuvath, U., Bryan, A. D., Hutchison, K. E., Filbey, F. M. (2012). Integrating brain and behavior: Evaluating adolescents’ response to a cannabis intervention. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029767

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  • Brandon.L


    September 11th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    I’ve had this happen to myself with cigarettes.Although I am completely free of any cigarette use now,it was different back then.At times I would be telling myself I will not smoke another cig and a couple of hours later I would pull one out of the pack and smoke it.If only the saner me could somehow communicate with the ‘present’ me,I would have quit that a long long time before I eventually did.

  • Grace


    September 11th, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    I would assume that a large part of this could be conversation centered around the good that this person is filled with rather than the stupidity of the choices that he is making by smoking pot. What I mean is you have to many times accentuate the positive, because even when you point out the negative in a way that is meant to evoke change for the better, sometimes all that is heard is the negative and that could make especially vulnerable adolescents more likely to continue their negative behavior patterns.

  • jason


    September 11th, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    I really don’t mean to sound so naive, but I guess that there’s no way around it. I have never given too much thought to teens using pot because wuite frankly I never thought that it would be that readily available and accessible for use. I guess that I have been quite wrong about all this time. I never used it as a teen so I made the assumption that no one did. But was I ever wrong. I know that my nephew and his friends have access to it all the time, but where they get the money I have no idea. I am concerned because I don’t think that at their age they understand all of the ramifications that this choice could have on their health for many years to come, not to mention that they could be looking at abuse and addiction issues in the evry near future. While I am glad to see that there are advances being made in te realm of treatment, I would hope that there is the same kind of push in the world of prevention as well.

  • Laura


    September 12th, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    No matter how much parents or anybody else tell until and unless the desire to quit comes from within it ain’t going to happen! So this method of changing how someone talks to himself sounds like a good thing. Instead of giving the person a message what is being done here is making him give the message to himself, am I right?

  • DollFace


    September 12th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    When you give teens something to believe in, mainly that they are good people who deserve more out of life than what an addiction to marijuana will give them, then I think that’s when we are on to something very special. Everyone deserves to be told that they are smart and valuable, and I would be willing to bet that many drug addicts have never at any point in their lives been told this in any way that remains and resonates with them. I think that many times they are trying to mask and dull their pain through the use of drugs. So why not teach them how to change for the better from a young age instead of waiting until this is a full blown adult issue? Teach them that listening to the fact that they are good and can make good choices will raise their self confidence levels and will hopefully give them the power that they need to say no to experimenting with drugs and the courage to stay drug free even when so many around them are not making these same choices.

  • masey


    September 12th, 2012 at 5:54 AM

    nothin can make an impact and make a change as much as and as easily as your own self.thats the truth of life and the quicker we understand that the better it is for us.there is only so much of a push that anybody else can give you,but you your own self are the driving force and when you know it you can do a lot more than you think yourself capable of.

  • Mallory g

    Mallory g

    September 13th, 2012 at 4:37 AM

    always believed that if you give a child something good to believe in then he will believe it
    give him the tools to believe in himself and you are helping to create a more positive world for him
    when he is able to say good things about himself and mean it then you know that you have done many of the right things for him

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