Overcoming addiction differs for many people. In a bid to understand how people get over their addiction and dependence on a substance, psychologists have crafted a theory known as the stages of change. Also known as the “transtheoretical model,” the stages of change approach can also be applied to other behaviors.

The stages of change is a unique model in that it’s neither pathological nor is it confrontational. As a result, it finds use with professionals who want to separate addiction recovery from those labels. Rehab and other types of behavior can use the stages of change as a way to shift gears into what the individual wants to do gradually.

Cyclical Models of Change in Addiction Treatment

The stages of change are, in essence, a cyclical model. People typically go from one stage to another, progressing naturally. However, it’s not uncommon to have people jumping back and forth between stages and even being in two stages simultaneously. The transtheoretical model looks at how people’s behavior changes and was based on research collected from “natural recovery.”

The result is a model that’s more person-centric and less drug-centric. The approach has garnered much praise and use in rehabilitation centers that see how powerful it can be to a subset of recovering individuals. The model also gives structure to the psychological changes that a person may go through as they move from addiction to wholly recovered. Using the model, practitioners can manage behavior, encouraging the positive and suppressing the negative.

Stages of Change in Addiction

What are Stages of Change in Addiction and Recovery?

What prompts someone to change? What motivates them to accept that change is necessary and guides them to fulfill that change? Change, especially behavioral change, is not a single decision but rather the result of several decisions that bring about real, lasting change over time.

The transtheoretical model looks at the different thought pattern changes a person goes through when deciding to change. Because of how the human psyche is, change can be a scary thing. During the process, a person may be in several different mindsets, each of which pushes them to change but at the same time erects barriers to that change.

Addiction and recovery require a person to make up their mind for recovery to happen. If someone forces a person into rehab, there will not likely be a change since the person’s mind isn’t made up. The stages of change explore that inner conflict and may drive a person forward or backward on the cycle, depending on how they resolve in the person’s head. The transtheoretical model can break down change into five stages:

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance and Recovery
  • Relapse

Each of these stages has its own importance in the process. They feed into one another and naturally shift the person’s mindset towards the next or the previous in the cycle. Let’s examine these stages in more detail to figure out what makes them unique and how they feed into a recovering person’s mindset.

Precontemplation and Stages of Change Addiction

Precontemplation is the initial state of being. At this stage, the person doesn’t see their behavior as a problem. For individuals who are addicted, this might come in the form of assuring others that they can “stop any time they want.” They don’t see their behavior as problematic to others and might not even consider others’ points of view. A person generally won’t recognize their behavior’s impact on their own life either and will constantly rationalize the negative fallout from their behavior.

People in this state are not receptive towards discussing their situation or how it can be helped. They don’t see that they need help and look at someone attempting to help them as intrusive or nosy. They tend to see their addiction as a positive habit linked to the feelings of euphoria that come from taking the substance.

Ways to Help Someone in the Precontemplation Stage

At this stage, there’s not much that an external person can do to convince them of their problem. Many people dependent on a substance remain in this stage throughout their lives since they don’t recognize that they have a problem. The people they hang out with might help them rationalize their behavior, making it even more impossible for them to initiate change in their lives.

Eventually, the realization hits that they have a problem. This might come from a life-changing event, such as an OD or losing a friend to the substance. However, it’s not always as dramatic as this. A person might become self-reflective and realize that they have a problem and may want to seek help to overcome it. When they get to this point, they change gears from being pre-contemplative and become contemplative about their change.

Contemplation and the Stages Of Change Addiction

Contemplation means to consider or to think about something. A person in the contemplation stage understands that they have a problem with their behavior and wants to change it. In many cases, contemplation might not trigger quitting a substance. Instead, it might be a look at how to moderate its use or compartmentalize it so that it doesn’t damage the rest of their lives. A person at the contemplation stage isn’t ready to get started with their recovery yet, but they’re less hostile about someone giving them information about the process. This mindset change is crucial to a successful recovery. A person who gets to contemplation has moved past a barrier in their mind that stands in opposition to accepting they have a problem. They may not want help just yet, but they are willing to see what the discussion of recovery can do for them.

Stages of Change in Addiction

Assisting with the Move of Contemplation into Accepting Treatment

The contemplation stage is a tipping point between moving into proper rehabilitation and slipping back into precontemplation. In this stage, a person is willing to listen to adequately structured ideas about moving from their current situation into something more acceptable. The crux of the matter is that this information shouldn’t be combative or push them into a mindset of blaming themselves for their actions.

The contemplation stage doesn’t have any particular period that it lasts for. Some people might remain contemplative about their change for years before they decide to move forward. A person who is constantly given uplifting messages and positive information about recovery and overcoming addiction will eventually consider leaving their addiction behind.

The Preparation Stage And Addressing Addiction Issues

Preparation is a huge step, and it may take some time for a person to get to this stage. In the preparation stage, one begins to consider actions that one can do to change one’s behavior. When a person is dependent on a substance, preparation can go a long way towards ensuring complete recovery.

The preparation stage can be thought of as a checklist, with the recovering person making a note of the things they will need to help them on their journey to recovery. They accept that it may take some time and will probably not be a pleasant experience at some junctures, but it’s all part of bettering themselves. Some examples of what a recovering person in the preparation stage might consider are:

  • What sort of change should be made: Is it a complete break from the substance or simply cutting down on its use and impact?
  • How to facilitate this change: How much should they cut down by?
  • Get the necessary resources for help: Research comes in at this stage. If a person chooses one particular method of overcoming addiction, they should look at the potential options for that method. For example, if a person is looking at detox, they may want to examine the different detox facilities to determine which one offers the best place to break their dependence.
  • Remove triggers that could lead to relapse: A trigger is a reminder of negative behavior that could make it difficult to overcome addiction. Triggers lead to cravings, and removing them can be instrumental in achieving one’s recovery goals. Triggers can be a particular location or person with whom the addicted individual consumes drugs. It could even be something as simple as a hidden stash that the addicted person may rely on when things get too rough for them. Getting rid of those triggers can help keep a person sober through the long term.
  • Develop a support network: Some people have friends and family that they can rely on, but this isn’t always the case. Some recovering persons have alienated their friends and families during their addiction and may need to develop new support networks to help them. Rehab centers like Pathfinders Recovery offer support groups that can serve as both a point of accountability after therapy and a support group. Alumni programs can also serve this purpose, giving a recovering person a non-judgmental place to recover from addiction.

Find the Best Treatment Options in the Preparation Phase

Preparations will go well beyond this limited scope. They may encompass whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is better for the individual and where they will spend their recovery time. Recovery depends on having the proper support in place and knowing how they will approach the process.

Many rehab centers, including Pathfinders Recovery Centers, offer clients a chance to discuss what they might need before entering rehab. During the first session at a recovery facility, the patient is welcome to ask about the process and what they may need. Once a person has completed preparations, they can shift into the new stage of change.

Stages of Change in Addiction

The Action Stage and Seeking Treatment For Addiction

At the action stage, the focus is on change, using the tools that the person has at their disposal. While the action stage can be stressful, proper attention at the preparation stage will make it a lot more bearable. For most people, the action stage is where they enter the detox or rehab center. These centers have trained professionals that will guide the patient on their road to recovery and give them the necessary support to overcome their addiction.

If a person isn’t inclined to quit altogether, the action stage focuses on helping them manage their behavior and cut down on the things that may impact their lives. In such cases, a person might look at alternative stress control methods.

The action stage doesn’t necessarily need to happen in one massive step. It’s more common for a person dealing with addiction to have the action stage happen in small, gradual phases. Depending on the depth of planning in the preparation stage, these steps can feel immense, giving the recovering person more impetus to complete their treatment.

Identifying and focusing on different, healthier ways of coping with stress is ideal for facing the action stage. Replacing undesirable behaviors with desirable ones is the most viable route to take to overcome addiction.

Maintenance Stage: How To Maintain Your Recovery

Maintenance is, as it says, a way of maintaining the change instituted in the action stage. The preparation stage sets the stage for the maintenance stage, as the recovering person has a solid set of goals that they want to accomplish. They will uphold the behaviors they developed during the action stage, typically reducing their intake of the addictive substance as much as possible. The maintenance stage may be one of the longest stages to go through, and it’s common for individuals to lose their drive to continue after some time.

Steady, constant progress is easy to see in the previous stages, but there’s less feedback that the process is working at this stage. At this stage, complacency sets in, making it even more challenging to continue.

Another element that impacts the maintenance stage is when the stresses of life catch up to a recovering person. When this happens, a person might slip and fall back into the old coping habits they’ve developed, causing their addictive behavior to retake hold. One of the methods that we use at Pathfinders helps by replacing the coping mechanism with different behavior. Alternative strategies can be crucial in keeping sober during the protracted maintenance stage.

The Relapse Stage: Relapse Prevention Best Practices

While the relapse stage is included in the transtheoretical model, some professionals prefer to leave it out. However, in doing so, the professional denies that a person might not be successful in their recovery the first time around. Recovery is filled with many small slips, and one of them shouldn’t mean the end of all the stages that went before it.

Maintenance is the goal, but this can sometimes be difficult to achieve since addictive behavior is hard to change. Recovery is different for everyone, but knowing what to do to prevent or recover from relapse is as essential to the model as any other stage mentioned. There’s no guaranteed way to avoid relapse, but the best way to deal with it is to accept that we all make mistakes. These mistakes are just a chance to refocus and recondition yourself on the road to recovery.

Pathfinders Recovery For Clients In Every Stage Of Addiction

Pathfinders Recovery Center is dedicated to seeing our clients succeed in their recovery goals. With a professional staff, a courteous environment, and individual focus on each of our patients, we believe in offering you the best in care. No matter which stage of change you’re in, we’re open to helping you. Give us a call today to plan out how to get from your current stage to the next one. We’ll be waiting to hear from you!


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  • (877) 224-0761
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