The first thing to know about preferences is that to prefer anything is to think it's a better option than some other options you have. That is, a preference isn't based on what you think about something in isolation; it's based on how you think it stacks up in comparison to other things. This point cannot be stressed enough: you will not change a preference by looking at one option in isolation. You must include a comparison to other options. In the realm of substance use, this means that simply looking at the costs and benefits of some drug is not enough to make you not prefer it. We prefer things over other things.
To make this point clearer, let's look at an example of owning a motorcycle. Let's say you were getting bored with your current motorcycle; you've had it for years, and it's been needing repairs lately. But you love that old machine; many memories of trips through the mountains were made on it; you had some really good times. So, you spend a day making a list of the costs versus the benefits of owning that particular bike. Still unsure of whether to sell it or not, days drag on as you compare the list. A week later you go for a ride on the old machine and you pass by a motorcycle dealership. You see the new models that came out this year. Suddenly, your bike looks and feels really dated in comparison. The many benefits of the newer bikes catch your fancy, and you drive home knowing you'll go back to the dealership to make the trade. What happened?
You preferred the benefits of the new bike to the benefits of the old one. This point is crucial: once you saw that new paint and chrome, the costs of owning the old machine didn't really factor in on the choice to get the new bike. Think about that. The costs involved with owning "old-reliable" were almost forgotten when in the presence of new chrome and deep unscratched paint. What actually motivated the change was the bright new motorcycle sitting next to the old one; the choice was suddenly quite easy to make. When change is motivated by a pursuit of happiness by comparing the benefits of various options, progress and change are the natural outcomes.
This idea of comparing the benefits of various options should not be confused with replacing substance use habits with say, a hobby, or working out, or meetings. This replacement theory will be covered in detail later on in this chapter, but it needs to be said right away so you don't go down that dead end path. Replacing a substance use habit with a hobby, or working out, or support meetings, or any one of these kinds of activities, is ineffective because of the motive behind such replacements.
In the motorcycle analogy, the new bike was chosen for its benefits; it's as simple as that. In a replacement scenario the intention is not primarily to seek the benefits of going to meetings or working out; but rather to distract oneself from doing what you like to do, which is to use substances heavily, by going to meetings or working out. In contrast to this, the reason the individual picked the new motorcycle was not to distract himself from the old bike; if he did, that would be strange wouldn't it? Whenever people try to distract themselves from something they still prefer, like heavy substance use, this clearly shows that they still prefer it. So as you move forward it is important to be honest with yourself about how much you prefer substance use as a starting point before seeking alternative beneficial options. Replacements fail if people still prefer to use heavily; in contrast being motivated to seek the benefits of a new option and moving on from an old option naturally works.