• Nicole Arzt

Preparing For Growth: Understanding The Stages Of Change In Addiction Treatment




Anyone who’s ever been in recovery will tell you: change takes hard work and self-awareness. But what exactly prompts that momentum? What makes one someone finally feel ready to take that leap into the next step of growth?


Developed in the late 1970s, Addiction experts often cite the stages of change model when discussing sustainable recovery. There are several stages: let’s review them.


The Precontemplation Stage

You aren’t interested in even talking about change, and you certainly don’t want to take any action. Right now, you don’t even recognize the magnitude of your substance use.


Maybe you haven’t suffered from any adverse consequences at this point. Or, perhaps, your denial has rationalized such consequences as “not that bad.”Either way, many people in this stage still perceive their addictive behavior as pleasant, positive, or necessary. The idea of making a change may seem unnecessary.


This mindset can pose many challenges for loved ones. While they may see the issues for exactly what they are, the individual often reacts with defensiveness when someone expresses their concerns.


The Contemplation Stage

In this stage, you’re starting to recognize your struggles more and more. As a result, you’re also starting to think more about change. Maybe you have considered cutting down on your substance use. Perhaps you have attended a therapy session or support group.


However, at this stage, you may feel torn about what to do next, and you don’t want to commit to any single approach. You’re still struggling with evaluating the pros and cons of your substance use.


It’s no surprise that people may remain in this stage for a long time- several months or even years. They have insight into the problem, and they know they need to make a change, but they show limited initiative in making that change happen.


The Preparation Stage

The preparation stage occurs when you start moving from thinking to doing. For example, if you want to recover from substance use, you start identifying tangible solutions for making this change.


At first, the steps may be small. However, even the most modest actions can yield tremendous benefits. You may confide in your family about what’s really going on. You may start trying to reduce your use. You might start calling treatment centers or other addiction professionals for guidance and support.


Best of all? You start believing the change is worth it. You finally feel a sense of determination to build a new life for yourself.


The Action Stage

The action stage refers to the ‘working stage’ of addiction recovery. During this stage, dynamic change starts to happen.


For some people, this change requires adequate support and resources. For severe addictions, you may need to attend a medical detox or inpatient treatment. In other cases, you may need structured services through weekly therapy, coaching, or residing with recovery-oriented peers in a sober living home.


Everyone’s action stage will look different. That’s because recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Instead, you must find a path that works for you. However, most changes in the action stage include:

  • Strengthening insight.

  • Developing new coping skills.

  • Integrating techniques rooted in stress management.

  • Managing difficult emotions.

  • Learning how to live free from addiction.

The Maintenance Stage

The maintenance stage refers to holding onto the newfound changes made in recovery. People reach this stage at around six months after starting the action stage.


Maintenance can mean different things for different people. For some, it may mean remaining abstinent from mood-altering substances. For others, it means developing a working harm-reduction or management approach.


Regardless of the changes, maintenance represents an essential part of any recovery. Strong maintenance is usually one of the best indicators in measuring recovery progress.


Most people will agree that starting recovery isn’t the hard part: it’s upholding it. For these reasons, it’s essential to have a working relapse prevention plan. This plan will help you with your recovery if and when life starts triggering you.


The Relapse Stage

Although this isn’t included in the original stages of change model, relapse can be a part of the recovery process. You and your loved ones should be aware of the risk. With that in mind, a relapse doesn’t mean that you have failed in your efforts. It simply means that you need to adjust some or all of your recovery plan.


Furthermore, it’s important to distinguish the difference between a lapse and relapse. A lapse refers to a quick slip. You may regress into old behaviors, but you get back on track quickly. Relapse refers to more of a long-term, downward spiral. Not all lapses cause relapses, but any lapse can increase the risk of a relapse.


If a relapse does occur, it’s imperative to reach out to your support system. Your loved ones want to see you do well.


Understanding The Stages Of Change In Your Process

No matter where you are in your stages of change, The Resurface Group is here to support you. We understand recovery is challenging. We also understand the need for having connection, safety, and compassion during this time.


Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.



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