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What are the Stages of Change in Recovery?

stages of change substance abuse

Recovery from substance abuse and addiction requires transformative change. This means making changes from within, to become the best possible version of yourself. 

Everyone in recovery must embrace change at one point or another. In order to live sober, they must recognize that they need to change their lifestyle, their habits, and their ways of thinking. They must recognize what needs to change, and then find the motivation to make those changes each day. This is critical to a successful recovery. Without this motivation, transformative change simply cannot happen. 

Of course, change does not happen overnight. Recovery from addiction takes time. Changing deep-seated habits takes time. Change is a process that gradually unfolds. Many clinicians and treatment professionals believe that it unfolds in stages. Specifically, the “stages of change.”

The “stages of change,” also known as the transtheoretical model, was developed by researchers James Prochaska, Ph.D. and Carlo DiClimente, Ph.D and published in 1999. The model is still adopted in theory today. The “stages of change” paradigm describes the process by which people overcome substance addiction and change other unwanted behaviors. This model is designed to help clinicians understand where people are in the recovery process, and further help their patients move from one stage of change to the next. This is done using motivational and person-centered therapies.

The “stages of change” model is a theory often adopted by health professionals, but it is not the only way to describe the recovery process. Everyone experiences recovery and change differently. Some people want to change the minute they enter their drug treatment program. Some do not find a willingness to change until they are far into the process. Everyone will go through the stages of change differently. There is no sequence. Some people may jump in between stages, some may fall into more than one stage at a time. Everyone will move at their own pace. It is important that clinicians and patients recognize this, in order to help their clients make progress.

Below are the six, recognized stages of change in recovery from substance abuse:

  1. Precontemplation

During the precontemplation stage, the user is not thinking about change. Typically, this person has not yet been affected by any negative consquences of their drug use, and therefore has little motivation to make any sort of change. They do not consider their behavior to be a problem, and may even deny or resist any concern from friends and family.

Negative consequences, such as health concerns or broken relationships, can cause a person to want to change. As Martin Luther King once said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” When a person understands the potential negative outcomes of their substance use, they move into the next stage of change, according to this model. 

  1. Contemplation

When a user enters the contemplation phase, they are more aware of potential, negative outcomes of their substance use. They understand both the pros and cons of using, but still are not fully ready to make changes. While they may be contemplating change, they have not fully committed to it.

Clients in the contemplation stage are more open to advice and concern from others. They may be more open to hearing strategies to change their addictive behaviors. For people in these stages, motivational treatment approaches, such as motivational interviewing, can help to encourage the move to change.

  1. Preparation

Preparation comes when a user has decided it is time to make a change. They have made a commitment to change their addictive and self-destructive ways. They recognize there is a problem, and they are prepared to take steps to address it. This is the stage where clients start planning for their recovery. They may commit to attending therapy, meetings, or a formal drug treatment program.

  1. Action

In this stage, the person takes active steps towards change. They try new behaviors, such as attending a rehab program, but are not yet fully stable. They are in early recovery, and still struggle with cravings and a desire to use. They have made the move they have been preparing for, which is momentous, but are still early in the process. This stage of change requires the most commitment and energy. 

In this phase of recovery, individuals need support in executing their action plan. They are still learning and developing the skills to maintain a successful recovery. “Action” is the stage in which people often attend and move through a treatment program; the clinicians in this setting work hard to help clients develop the skills, the attitudes, and the confidence needed to stay healthy and sober long-term.

  1. Maintenance

The maintenance stage involves a continued commitment to change and to following through with the steps that were taken in the action stage. When a person reaches this stage, he or she has established positive, healthy behaviors that will become a part of their long-term recovery journey. These are often learned in treatment, but it is up to the individual to continue their commitment to this process.

Substance addiction is a chronic disorder, and recovery from addiction takes time. Much like other chronic diseases, like diabetes and hypertension, addiction requires ongoing management and active care. This is what the maintenance stage is all about – continuing to use the strategies that will maintain a healthy, sober life. This is not always easy, but it is possible.

  1. Lapse and Learning

Sometimes, people relapse or return back to drug abuse. This is a common part of the addiction cycle, but it is not always a part of the cycle. When a person relapses, it indicates there is a further need for change—specifically, a change in their treatment or action plan. The relapse stage is considered a stage of learning in that it gives one the opportunity to re-assess what did not work, what needs to be done differently, and then make changes to improve their recovery story.

The Stages of Change and Recovery at Turnbridge

In the beginning of this article, we spoke of transformative change—Change that happens within the person, in order to evolve and become the best possible version of themself. This does not mean returning to what once was. It does not mean going back to who you were before the drugs and alcohol. It means going forward and making changes to become a stronger, more confident person than you were previously. At Turnbridge, we encourage transformative change by helping clients overcome their demons, get to the root of their addictions, and develop the skills, the character, and the momentum to build a fulfilling, sober life beyond it. 

As the famous Socrates wrote, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” 

The Turnbridge program is approached in three phases, and structured into what we call Preparative Care℠. Here, the goal is not a return to life before treatment, but to arrive at the exceptional life beyond it. To facilitate this transformative change, we carefully cultivate our programs, practices, support staff, and residences to empower and motivate clients to change. We believe that the stages of addiction recovery must involve understanding the self, making changes within the self, and learning how to love the self so that one can live a healthy, positive, and productive life.To learn about the treatment programs at Turnbridge, please do not hesitate to call 877-581-1793. You may also visit us online to learn more about our gender-specific programs for young men and young women in recovery.