Of the more than 21 million people who are struggling with a substance use disorder, almost all of them experience challenges when it comes to getting help and maintaining their recovery. For example, some individuals are deep in their denial that they have a clinical problem with drug or alcohol abuse, prompting them to keep using rather than reach out for help. Others hooked on drugs or alcohol may be more apt to admitting their issues and seeking professional help to address their disease. There is much more to addiction recovery than what meets the eye, as simply stopping use does not make the disease disappear. It takes effort, dedication, and perseverance to make it through the several stages of change in addiction recovery.
The 5 Stages of Change in Addiction Recovery
So, what are the stages of change in addiction recovery? There are five specific stages that define the process of going from actively addicted to recovered, including precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. The one additional stage of change that can occur in some individuals is relapse, which can trigger the cycle of these 5 stages to begin once more.
The first stage of change is precontemplation, which occurs in those who are entirely resistant or skeptical of being able to stop using. Individuals in this stage tend to feel hopeless about their abilities to overcome the challenges related to their addiction and are unwilling to get help. Others in this stage may not even think that their behaviors are problematic because they either haven’t experienced any consequences of their use yet or are simply unwilling to accept their issues as being problematic. Eventually, however, individuals can be moved out of this stage after experiencing one or more repercussions of their use that cause them to think more about the severity of their situation.
Contemplating something simply means to think about something closely and attentively. Those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol often reach the second stage of change in their addiction when they become accustomed to the idea that their substance abuse is uncontrollable and that professional help is likely needed. That realization does not always lead to a phone call to a rehab center, though, as many people can remain in the contemplation stage for years. Even though they recognize that they have a problem that they cannot fix on their own, addicted individuals often hesitate to ask for help. In both the precontemplation and contemplation stages of change in addiction recovery, individuals are not yet seeking treatment.
Blossoming from the contemplation stage, the preparation stage occurs when the individual is ready to start putting together actionable items that they can work off of when ready to finally get the help they need. They have spent much time thinking about their addiction, going over the pros and cons of their use, and looking up helpful resources. Individuals begin thinking about what their personal change is going to look like (e.g. if they want to cut back on their substance abuse or stop use altogether) as well as determining how they are going to go about taking those actions. Also specific to this stage is the individual’s efforts to begin putting in place supports that will help them accomplish their recovery goals, such as through friends, family, and addiction specialists.
Reaching the action stage means that an individual is actively beginning to make the changes necessary to curb or end their substance abuse. For many people, the action stage begins in the company of healthcare professionals, such as at a detox center or a treatment program. Some people, however, begin to make changes at home independently while utilizing the support of their loved ones and/or community resources. The amount of effort that was placed in the preparation stage can set the scene for how quickly the action stage is carried out. This is because the action stage is usually quicker and more effective when more effort and detail occurred during preparation.
The maintenance stage is reached when the individual has effectively stopped abusing drugs and/or alcohol and is actively working to remain abstinent from use or better controlling their use. At this time, individuals are also working to maintain positive, healthy behaviors as opposed to ones that emerged most profoundly during the period of time in which they were actively abusing substances. Maintenance can range in difficulty for each person, as making the effort to maintain long-term recovery takes significant attention and focus.
There is one stage of change in addiction recovery that does not always occur in all individuals — relapse. Relapse occurs when someone who has stopped using or has curbed
their use has gone back to their substance abuse and addictive behaviors. Those who relapse use drugs and alcohol over and over, as opposed to just one time. Relapse is part of recovery for everyone, as it is something that everyone is either working to prevent or experiencing. It is common for those who relapse to begin the stages of change in addiction recovery from the top prior to finding their way back into their sobriety. It is also common for individuals to pick up the pieces of their relapse quickly if they have the right supports in place to do so, keeping them from going through this entire cycle again.
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