Recovering from addiction is an arduous process that takes time and commitment. One must have a genuine desire to change. One must also be committed to the journey ahead in order to achieve addiction recovery. Discover what the stages of change in addiction are here.
Understanding the Stages of Change in Addiction
The “stages of change in addiction,” or the “transtheoretical” model, is a way to describe the process by which people overcome addiction. People apply this approach successfully when treating other behaviors that individuals want to stop engaging with difficulty in (for example, overeating). Yet, the stages of change in addiction are best known for their success in treating substance addictions.
The research behind this model began when scientists observed how people overcome their addictions. They noticed that individuals don’t necessarily need to be encouraged or prodded in order for them to change. They also don’t have anything against themselves and are ready for a new way of life.
People now know this idea as “natural recovery.” Natural recovery has led health care providers away from confrontational methods of addiction treatment and towards motivational approaches. This includes such therapies as motivational interviewing because it takes an entire person-centered approach rather than focusing on one extreme.
What are the Six Stages of Change in Addiction?
In their book, Changing For Good, authors Prochaska, DiClemente, and Norcross mention that there are six stages of change in recovery:
- Pre-contemplation stage
- Contemplation stage
- Preparation stage
- Action stage
- Maintenance stage
- Relapse stage
The more main stages are that of pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, and action. The maintenance and relapse stages are not always included but many times can be.
The stages of change in recovery are typically shown as a cycle or a sequence. However, it’s important to know that not everyone follows the six stages of change in a sequence. Many skip stages of change in addiction and recovery or repeat stages if they need to.
The Pre-Contemplation Stage
When you’re in the pre-contemplation stage, it’s as if all of your previous experiences are a clean slate. You don’t think that what’s happening right now will ever be relevant to how tomorrow goes. There will be more chances available later on and life and things can only get better from here.
In this first phase of change, people typically don’t consider their behaviors problematic. This is because they may or may not have experienced any negative consequences thus far. Or it’s possible someone could simply be denying the negativity associated with their behaviors.
As this stage continues to develop though, people will notice more and more negative consequences. Eventually, these negative consequences will push individuals into the next stage of change in addiction and recovery.
The Contemplation Stage
At this stage of change in addiction recovery, individuals are aware of the impact that drug or alcohol abuse has had on their lives. Thus, such individuals may be considering a positive change by seeking treatment. However, the contemplator is doing just that, contemplating. He/she might want to change but might not be ready to commit to it.
By the time someone reaches a contemplation stage, that person is often open to receiving information about his or her addictive behaviors and their consequences. That person may even be willing to try different strategies for controlling or quitting substance use without committing to one in particular.
Once people reach this point of openness, many will move onto the next stage in addiction recovery—the preparation stage. Others will return back again though before any changes have been made at all.
People can stay in the contemplation stage for many years. They may even move back to the pre-contemplation stage.
The Preparation Stage
The preparation stage is when people finally start to make plans to find resources for therapeutic interventions. They do this after finally realizing the liability of using drugs and alcohol and the impact it has had on their lives. Making plans mean making timelines or verbal/written agreements with themselves or with others.
Types of Planning During the Preparation Stage
There are different types of planning that can occur during the preparation stage of change in addiction recovery. These different types of planning include:
- Creating a plan to make specific changes. This could include cutting back on using substances or quitting use completely.
- Finding ways to execute the changes. People that try to quit using harmful substances may refuse to purchase substances as a way to stop temptation.
- Looking for resources to help assist the change. People that try to quit drinking may obtain gym memberships or join book clubs in order to occupy their time.
- Eliminating things, people, or places that could act as triggers. Triggers will often cause a person to relapse. By individuals removing those influences from their daily routines, they’re less likely to want to engage in harmful behaviors. This can often be the most difficult part of the preparation stage of change, but it’s necessary.
- Looking for support. Support can be many different things. This could include seeking addiction treatment. This could also include simply developing a list of friends and family that a person can talk to. Depending on the person’s level of addiction, having a more structured system of support may be more important.
Additional Preparations That People Need to Start the Journey of Addiction Recovery
Depending on each individual situation, there may be additional preparations that are needed to start the journey of recovery. In many cases, looking to help from a therapist or social worker can help direct someone towards how to make significant life adjustments in order to overcome addiction.
For example, if an individual works a job that fuels that person’s substance abuse habits that person may want to now quit. Also, a person that lives with family members that influence addictive behaviors may want to make drastic life changes. Making such life changes is not easy, and it requires a strong support system.
The Action Stage
This is the step in addiction recovery where the plan is put into action. Usually, this is the start of an inpatient or outpatient rehab program, attending AA or NA meetings, or talking to counselors. The action stage is considered the most difficult in the recovery process. However, a good amount of preparation can help make the action stage less stressful.
The most important steps during the action stage require individuals to learn how to cope with stress, triggers, and other psychological factors that influence addictive behaviors. This means taking the addiction treatment process seriously and working hard to understand how to change.
While in accredited addiction treatment programs, individuals will have access to lots of resources and specialists. These resources and specialists are to help people in the action stage understand what’s necessary.
People in the action stage are motivated to succeed and have found the support they need to do so. They will continue on in their recovery paths with the goal of achieving a drug and alcohol-free life. This stage of change n addiction recovery lasts approximately three to six months.
The Maintenance Stage
Sustaining healthy habits that were learned through the treatment phase is called the maintenance stage of change in addiction recovery. The maintenance stage requires individuals to stay away from drugs or alcohol. It also requires that individuals avoid triggers that could lead to addictive behaviors.
People in the maintenance stage of change in addiction recovery should keep a list of goals and hobbies to keep them focused. Due to the fact that substance use disorder is a chronic disease, the risk of relapse is always present. By the time individuals are in this stage of addiction recovery, they’ve already learned the tools and skills needed to maintain their recovery and are mindful of relapse.
The maintenance stage is one of the most difficult stages of change in addiction recovery. At some period during this stage, people may start to think that there’s no harm in taking their feet off their gas pedals for just a little while. Such thinking comes with consequences though.
The old ways of coping with stress and mental health issues return. Therefore, it becomes challenging for people to upkeep their strength without feeling like they’re going through life all by themselves.
This is why it’s important to not only to find healthy alternatives for coping with stress and mental health issues. By learning alternative coping strategies during periods of intense stress, individuals can mitigate their risk of relapse. Otherwise, the temptation to abuse substances again may win out.
The Relapse Stage
This is the stage of change in addiction recovery where people with substance use disorders no longer feel threatened by their substance choices. This lack of awareness can cause individuals to believe that they no longer need to be on guard against triggers. Individuals in the relapse stage of change in addiction recovery may believe that they’re strong enough to face their addiction triggers.
Relapse often happens though. That doesn’t mean that a person can’t wake up and start fresh the next day back in the maintenance stage. The process of change depends on the person.
Some people may need to find new addiction treatment programs. Others may need to reevaluate their decisions and make life changes to avoid exhibiting addictive behaviors in the future. Every person’s struggle with addiction is different. Thus, the way that people go about the different stages of change in addiction and recovery will vary.
Where Are You At in the Stages of Change in Addiction Recovery?
Sometimes it takes several relapses to understand the importance of professional addiction treatment. Struggling to make such a significant change in life on one’s own doesn’t have to be the answer.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance addiction and would like to explore treatment options, feel free to reach out to us here at Florida Center for Recovery (FCR) today. Florida Center for Recovery offers addiction treatment with specialized therapies for individuals 18 and older through private inpatient rehab services.
Established in 2002, FCR is a medical detox and rehabilitation facility providing comprehensive therapeutic programs to treat addiction and its underlying related mental health conditions. Our addiction treatment programs here at FCR offer variable lengths of stay, which allows each of our rehab patients to anchor the recovery behaviors that they need for lasting change.
For more information about our rehab programs here at Florida Center for Recovery, you can visit our online Florida-Center-for-Recovery-Booklet for a better insight into our diverse comprehensive therapies. You can also contact us over the phone or by web message on our website.
Dr. Balta is the Medical Director at FCR for more than 10 years. Dr. Balta is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Certified Psychoanalyst. As well, as having Psychiatric Training at The Albert Einstein School of Medicine Psychiatric Residency Program In New York City and Psychoanalytic Training at The William Alanson White Institute in New York City. While working in New York City, gained funding Grants for the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders from SAMHSA , HRSA and the City of New York.