Stages of Change in Addiction

Feb 17, 2020 | Addiction, Substance Abuse

Just like other health issues, Addiction and recovery have a process that can be tracked and followed. Knowing about this process is helpful in determining where an individual is in that process, what can be expected next, and if progress is being made in the process. When examining addiction with yourself in mind or possibly the concern for a loved one it is important to remember that no two situations are alike and the circumstances from one individual to another can vary widely. Therefore, the information on the Stages of Change in Addiction is meant to be a guidepost to help the individual track progress in the journey of stepping out of the downward spiral that often comes with chemical dependence.

In the process of trying to understand how a person becomes addicted, sometimes it is better to start from the point of how the individual will get better or improve on their situation. Understanding the reasons why upfront is not as important as understanding where a person is in the addiction cycle so that intervention in that cycle can begin which initiates the healing.

The Pre-contemplation Stage

The Pre-contemplation stage is often called denial. In this stage, the person has no concept that there is a problem. The individual does not see a problem in their actions nor the need for correction. This lack of insight is often frustrating for the loved ones of the person who is lacking self-awareness since the situation seems so obvious to those around them. In the pre-contemplation stage, the negative consequences may have begun for the person using mind-altering chemicals in an abusive way. Once these negative consequences begin then the person may strive to find out why it is happening. There are other parts of this phase that may be exhibited such as the person acting as if they are the victim of the problem and that their substance use is their only coping method for their unfortunate reality.

The Contemplation Stage

After the Pre-contemplation stage, the person may begin to see that there is a problem with their actions. This recognition of a problem may be a minor admittance or minimalization of the circumstances. This recognition indicates that the person has progressed to the contemplation stage of recovery. In this stage, the person will start to notice the cause and effect of their actions. Even though they begin to admit that their substance use causes problems, individuals in this stage often remain defensive of their actions and are reluctant to stop using. This can be the longest part of the process. Individuals may remain in the contemplation stage for years as they try to decide if they are willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary to fix the issues. Individuals in this stage often convince themselves that alcohol and drugs are the only relief that gets from their circumstances. Negative consequences may have to get larger and larger before they become willing to actively pursue change.

The Preparation Stage

Once a person has developed more of an understanding of their circumstances, they then can move on to the preparation stage. In this stage, the individual is examining what can be done about their problem. The individual will look for solutions, talk to others, and do research to find what options are available to halt the progress of the negative consequences and progression of the addiction. In this stage, the person may look for self-help groups, go to the internet and research addiction, talk to a person they trust for advice and then consider taking the advice and or recommendations they have found. It is not uncommon for a person to progress to this stage and then have a period of moderated alcohol or drug use in order to convince themselves that there is no further need for help. This usually just ends up prolonging the misery and allows the addiction to continue to develop.

The Action Stage

The next stage is the action stage of change and it is this stage that gives the most comfort to the loved ones of the alcoholic or addict. In this stage, the alcoholic or addict has decided to do something about their problem and will seek help from others. This help may come in the form of therapy, inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient rehabilitation, alcoholics anonymous, narcotics anonymous, or some other therapeutic options. Once a person enters this stage, they can improve their daily lives by learning the coping skills necessary to live life without drugs or alcohol. In the action stage, the person does not change by saying they will change; they change by the action shown in their daily activities. In this stage, a person may discover talents they were never aware of and begin to show interest in new things or revisit interests in old passions. This is the stage that can be the scariest for those in addiction. Each day has its own challenges and those challenges must be met with confidence and hope of success. Many will go back from the action stage to the preparation stage as they stumble in trying to get a foothold in their new sobriety. A person can go from the action stage back to the contemplation stage and again back to the action stage in a matter of one day. For this reason, it is important to have support from those who are familiar with addiction. A strong support network can help the alcoholic understand the steps that are necessary for transformation and can help them develop the tools they need to continue forward without overwhelming fear of setbacks.

The Maintenance Stage

The final stage of change is known as the maintenance stage of recovery. In this stage, the person usually has found a foothold in recovery and abstinence from their drug of choice. In this stage, the person is seeking professional help and following recommendations or has been to a self-help group and become familiar with their program. The person may enlist others who are sober to help them progress in their program of recovery. The person may also seek out help from a medical professional or therapist who understands addiction. In this stage, the person finds new hope for themselves and their future. This stage can be maintained by continuing to do the things necessary for sobriety. Also, this stage can be the foundation of a new way of life where the benefits of sobriety become the new reward for sobriety which increases their commitment to maintaining a life of sobriety.

The stages of change may vary from person to person and situation to situation; however, as a general guideline, they have some consistency. Seeking help to navigate these stages is usually the best way to plan for success and maximizes a person’s opportunity to have the life they envisioned.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.