The stages of change are a conceptualization that change is not a singular event; rather it is a series of steps someone progresses through.  The idea can be applied to any number of behaviors but it is especially helpful to view it through the lens of addiction.  Change is difficult.  People get comfortable with where they are at and it is much easier to stay immersed in that life, even if it is a destructive and detrimental one.  Learning more about how change comes about can be a helpful push in raising self-awareness and normalizing the recovery process.

Precontemplation

In this first stage the person affected by addiction does not see their problem and therefore does not have any consideration for changing.  Loved ones, coworkers, and health professionals may perceive the need for change but the person with the addiction feels safe with the status quo so they are resistant to recognizing the problem. They will most likely justify their behavior because they don’t see their actions as problematic.  The most viable option for others during this stage is to try to raise awareness about the risks of the problem.  The hope is that by expressing doubts and increasing education on the topic it will assist the person in becoming more self-aware about their addiction and consider changing.

Contemplation

If the person starts to consider change they have moved from precontemplation to contemplation.  The individual might start to notice that they have a problem but by in large they are still ambivalent about actual change.  They may be experiencing anxiety and avoidance about the idea of changing.  A common tool to address the ambivalence surrounding change in this stage is to write out or discuss the pros and cons about changing.  This may be enough to tip the scales for the individual if they believe the benefits outweigh the costs. Some people spend their entire lives in the contemplation stage because they do not see the costs as costly enough.  At the very minimum it will allow for a discussion about where the individual sees barriers to change.

Image Credit Found Below.

Preparation

This stage is evident once the individual makes a conscious decision to do something to change.  This stage is crucial and often overlooked because people jump right into action without realizing the energy and commitment it will require to change.  An effective preparation stage involves reaching out for help and researching worthwhile options of assistance.  It is essential to address the individual’s anxiety about change because during this stage the idea of changing becomes more concrete and it can be overwhelming.

Action

When the individual is ready to put their plan into place and pursue it they are actively working towards change.  This overt effort comes down to willpower and determination by the individual.  If the individual truly does not want to change they will revert back to an earlier stage, often contemplation.  Change is uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing but if the individual can receive proper support while addressing their addiction real change may start to come about.  It is important to recognize even the smallest of changes because seeing progress can be motivation for continued improvement.

Maintenance

The ongoing goal of this stage is to sustain the positive change in the individual’s life long term.  Change is fluid and therefore it is important for the individual to have an awareness of their triggers and subsequent coping mechanisms in order to address new challenges as they arise.  Acquiring new skills to avoid relapse is ongoing however relapse does still occur.  Relapse can be discouraging but it is not the end of the road.  No matter how spiraling the relapse may be a person can re-enter the cycle at any stage of change.  The knowledge and insight gained about the addiction is not erased in a relapse and therefore all is not lost.  Recovery is life-long and the path is not straight and narrow, there are detours.  It is helpful to continuously be mindful of one’s needs in order to not become complacent.  Working an active recovery program by staying connected with a sober network are good tools for achieving long term sobriety.

No matter which of the five stages you or a loved one are currently in, New Hope Recovery Center can be a resource and an agent for change.  Please call for more information 1-888-707-4673.

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center

Image Credited to: Adult Meducation. American Society on Aging and American Society of Consultant Pharmacists Foundation; adapted from DiClemente and Prochaska, 1998. Photo. <http://www.adultmeducation.com/FacilitatingBehaviorChange.html>

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