Self-Efficacy in Recovery

The Importance of Self-Efficacy in Recovery

What Is Self-Efficacy?

Self-efficacy theory relates to the belief that a person must believe in their capacity for change to have the capacity to achieve the steps toward lasting sobriety and recovery.1 It is a common misconception that when a person chooses recovery, it is only the addiction to a particular substance that they are breaking.

In reality, to achieve sober living, a person must use self-efficacy to challenge and change their behaviors, beliefs, thoughts, and habits that originally led to their addiction and to those that supported it.

Self-efficacy is not something that everyone inherently has, but it is something that can be learned through positive reinforcement. Self-efficacy theory teaches that a person with high levels of self-efficacy will be able to overcome setbacks, hurdles, and mistakes easily and will view them as learning experiences toward bettering themselves.

For those who have low levels of self-efficacy, recovery can be difficult as they may not believe that they are capable of achieving recovery. They may also take any mistakes to heart as personal failures which in turn causes discouragement rather than viewing them as missteps and learning opportunities.

Why Does Self-Efficacy Matter in Recovery?

Self-efficacy is an integral part of the recovery process as it is linked with self-control. For the majority of people, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-control are all learned as children through social learning theory.

Social learning theory has examples in everyday life, but the most common and effective example is how children learn and mimic the actions of those that have an impact on their lives. This method includes friends, family members, and even people on television.

Through social learning theory, children that are exposed to positive role models develop positive traits and have a greater sense of self than those who are exposed to negative role models.

Different Sources for Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy theory was first proposed by Albert Bandura in 1977.3 According to this theory, six different sources create higher levels of self-efficacy in recovery. These include:

  • Performance accomplishments (based on one’s own successful or unsuccessful experiences)
  • Vicarious experiences (seeing another person we trust succeed or fail a task)
  • Verbal persuasion (Influential people expressing their belief in a person)
  • Imaginal experiences (Imaging the desired outcome of a task before performing it)
  • Physiological states (Associating a mindset with a perceived outcome)
  • Emotional states (Positive or negative emotional states significantly impact a person’s self-efficacy in recovery)


A person’s perception of themselves, their abilities, and their outlook on life all directly impact their self-efficacy in recovery. To achieve the best results and to optimally achieve a sober living lifestyle, a person needs to improve their self-esteem, self-control, and self-efficacy throughout treatment. These traits are often achieved with the aid of a therapist, support group, or friends and family members.3

What Causes Low Self-Efficacy?

Several factors contribute to a person’s lack of self-efficacy throughout their life. One of the primary factors is a history of failure or perceived failure. Even if a person is accomplishing the tasks that they set out to, if their achievements are belittled, reduced, or disregarded by a person they consider influential, then they will believe that they have failed.

If exposed to this mentality of not being good enough, a person will begin to believe that anything that they do is destined for failure. This belief leads to a low sense of self-efficacy. Other significant factors that contribute to this feeling are:

  • Feeling of nervousness before a task or a fear of failure.
  • Lack of motivation to complete a task or begin one due to a history of failure in similar situations.
  • Lack of honesty toward oneself and others in one’s perceived ability to complete a task.
  • Becoming complacent in a situation and accepting that as the best that a person can achieve due to fear of future failure.
  • Struggling financially can lead to feelings of low self-efficacy as a person may believe that they are not capable of making more or worth making more money.
  • Fear of commitment because of past failures.
  • Lack of communication about one’s struggles, beliefs, or personal feelings that may be hindering their potential for change, recovery, or betterment.

How to Increase Self-Efficacy in Recovery

Some of the most common forms of positive psychology that are used to help people who are undergoing addiction treatment are:

Overcome Obstacles in Recovery 

Beginning recovery can be a difficult process, particularly if you do not have a solid support system immediately. By working with a therapist and support groups that can help support you when you have setbacks in your recovery, you can learn how to overcome and weather them. Eventually, these setbacks will become less frequent, and with each success, your belief in yourself and your abilities will improve.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms  

By learning new ways to handle the feelings of temptation healthily, a person will feel empowered when they are approached with challenges to their sobriety. They will be able to make good choices with the knowledge that they have. .

Building and Maintaining Positive Relationships  

An integral part of maintaining and achieving sobriety is having a support system that a person can rely on that can help them when they need it. In addition, by seeing peers succeed in their recovery in the long term, a person will believe that they can achieve the same success with similar resources and opportunities. This is why support groups are an integral part of recovery.

Focusing on Mental and Physical Health   

Being physically active and in shape can help give a person a goal to work toward throughout their recovery as well as helping them feel better and more empowered daily. Focusing on their mental health is also extremely important as making sure that they are in a positive state of mind regularly will help them from relapsing due to anxiety or depression.

Other Methods for Maintaining Sobriety

Self-efficacy alone may not be enough to maintain sobriety, although it is an integral part of the sobriety process. Some other methods of helping a person maintain sobriety include : 5

  • Support Groups
  • Positive Distractions (such as picking up a new hobby or skill)
  • Separating from Risky Relationships or Situations (cutting off people who refuse to seek recovery or who refuse to support a person through theirs)

Resources

  1. https://www.rehab4addiction.co.uk/resources/self-efficacy-addiction-recovery#:~:text=Self%2Defficacy%20has%20been%20defined,addiction%20itself%20that%20needs%20tackling.
  2. https://www.apa.org/pi/aids/resources/education/self-efficacy
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3179802/
  4. https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/BanEncy.html
  5. https://www.familiesfirstindiana.org/recoverytips?locale=en

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