5 Stages of Change and Addiction

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Most of us have known individuals who struggle with addiction at some point in their lives. Some seem to deny the problem, while others are aware but hesitant to make the necessary change, and some even make the progression from acknowledging the problem to ceasing the behavior. Recovery from addiction, whether it’s problem drinking or substance use, gambling, smoking, or sexual in nature, tends to be an experience unique to each individual. However, over the years researchers have identified some commonalities.

Choice House is a Boulder substance abuse recovery center and believes there are 5 stages of change and addiction.

5 Stages of Change and Addiction:

The Stages of Change model, published in the late 1970s by James Prochaska and Carlo Di Clemente, is a tool used to help determine how ready someone is to embark upon the recovery journey.

Also commonly referred to as a “transtheoretical” model, the stages help detail the process people go through when trying to overcome an addiction — and help treatment professionals better understand what factors are motivating the individual to change.

The model includes four main stages:

  1. Precontemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action

Although the stages are often discussed as a sequential cycle, realistically, people often move between stages more fluidly and some can even be in more than one stage at a time.

Precontemplation and Addiction

In precontemplation, the first stage, most people have yet to see a problem with their behavior. It’s possible that they haven’t dealt with any negative consequences due to their drug or alcohol use, or often, they’re still in denial that there is a problem at all. Those in the precontemplation stage tend to be uninterested in hearing well-meaning advice from concerned friends and loved ones. Eventually, the addiction behavior will negatively impact other areas of their life though, potentially propelling them into the next stage.

Contemplation and Addiction

During the contemplation stage, individuals start to consider changing their ways, whether that means abstinence, reducing the use of substances and other unhealthy coping behaviors, or simply better moderating the addictive behavior. Individuals in the contemplation stage may be more receptive to learning about behavioral consequences and even exploring different treatment options.

Preparation Stage of Change in Addiction

After thoroughly considering next steps, many individuals progress to the preparation stage, which is where the ideas formed in contemplation begin to take a more concrete shape. Like many aspects of life, preparation is critical in helping to ensure long-term success. The third stage challenges the individual to “make a recovery plan,” which typically includes defining how they want to change (drink or smoke less, reduce drug usage, quit entirely); how they plan to make that shift; putting support networks and resources in place, and minimizing triggers.

Action in Addiction Change

The fourth stage, action, is just what it says: the point of real change and a time that brings stress, pressure, and excitement. The action stage looks different depending on what action is being taken. For those who are just trying to cut back on their substance use, it can look remarkably similar to their average day, but possibly incorporating different coping mechanisms and more support than usual. For others seeking a more significant change, the action stage can entail an inpatient stay in a treatment center with clinical support from addiction specialists.

Maintenance and Relapse in Drug Addiction

Prochaska and DiClemente included two other stages of change in their model, maintenance and relapse, to reflect the continuum of recovery. During maintenance, individuals continue to work on their commitment to the ideas of the preparation stage and the lasting behavior change started in the action stage. After the maintenance stage comes relapse, a stage that today is understood as a common part of recovery.

Through research and open discussion related to the Stages of Change, both friends and family of those struggling with addiction as well as the treatment professionals gain a framework that helps ensure effective communication as well as a better understanding of what might motivate each individual to commit to long-term sobriety.

For those ready to begin making a change or continue to move through the stages of change and need support, Choice House in Boulder has substance abuse recovery resources. There are benefits in both long term treatment solutions or intensive outpatient programs. Either option is a choice. Contact us at Choice House to answer your questions about change at 720-577-4422.

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