Understanding the Stages Of Change

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu

Change can be overwhelming as it often requires a person to venture into uncharted territory. It is essential to recognize that making a lifestyle change is not a linear process. It is not always as simple as cutting out unhealthy behaviors or no longer spending time with people that make you feel inferior. Changes in behavior happen gradually over time with persistence and commitment to change itself.

The same idea applies to the process of addiction recovery. A person can rarely commit to sobriety by merely deciding never to drink or use drugs again. Addiction recovery is a process that requires the identification of underlying problems that led to initial substance use, managing triggers and cravings and fostering healthier coping habits for emotional distress. However, an individual will likely go through significant ambivalence before they are ready to truly commit to change.

The Stages Of Change is a transtheoretical model (TTM) that describes how an individual may go about the process of change in their life. This model is one of the most commonly used clinical and theoretical frameworks in the field of mental health and can be applied to a range of problem behaviors, including the process by which individuals overcome addiction. By understanding the stages of change, an individual will be able to better reflect on where they stand in their recovery journey.

Understanding the Stages of Change as a Cycle in Addiction Recovery

The stages of change are often depicted as a cycle as individuals tend to go through these stages in sequence. However, individuals may skip stages, go backward and even find themself in more than one stage at any given time. It is important to recognize that viewing the stages of change as a sequential model allows individuals to understand better that the process of change is gradual and not linear.

The following stages will be described through the lens of addiction recovery:

Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation

Pre-contemplation is often the first stage of change for many people. However, it is rare when an individual consciously labels themself as being in this stage. A person in the pre-contemplation stage typically does not view their substance-using behavior as problematic and sees no need for personal behavior change. This seeming lack of proper insight could be because they have not yet experienced the consequences of their behavior or have limited awareness of what their substance use is doing to themselves or others.

A person in this stage may be deemed unmotivated or unwilling to change. Frequently people in this stage may be in complete denial of how their substance use is negatively impacting them or others and may defend their actions as a result.

Stage 2: Contemplation

Contemplation is characterized by increased personal awareness and acknowledgment of substance-using behavior and associated consequences. Still, contemplation involves ambivalence and indecisiveness, which may cause an individual to remain stuck in this stage. People in this stage may be more open to receiving education and advice about navigating their problematic behaviors without committing to change.

Stage 3: Preparation

The preparation stage involves a person fully acknowledging their substance use as problematic and committing to overcoming it. A person that moves into this stage is actively preparing and planning the kind of change that they need to make in their life. They will likely gather information about their symptoms, condition and even local treatment resources for when they are ready for action. Appropriate preparation is necessary to prevent relapse.

In many cases, individuals in this stage may need to prepare based on their circumstances. They may need to find a safer place to live or locate a more financially stable career. Treatment facilities and community resources can significantly aid in assistance during the preparation stage. Adequate preparations will set the tone for a successful treatment and recovery journey.

Stage 4: Action

The action stage requires intentional change. A person in the action stage interacts with a treatment program or other treatment resources like detox, therapy or counseling. They are actively working through their triggers, cravings and other problematic behaviors that have been prolonging their substance use by leaning in on their support resources and finding healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.

The action stage may involve a complete and total life change or gradual steps over months or years. It is essential to understand that it will take patience and commitment to navigate life without substance use, even if social support and coping mechanisms are helpful. Staying diligent and motivated throughout treatment will set the tone for long-term recovery success.

Stages 5 and 6: Maintenance and Stability

The maintenance stage involves upholding intentions created during the preparation stage and staying engaged with long-term treatment resources. This stage can become problematic when stressful life situations happen or once a person has been in recovery for an extended period of time. The goal of recovery may lose its intensity after a person remains sober for several months or years.

Maintenance is possible when a person is committed to learning new and improved ways of coping with stress as their lifestyle changes.  It involves re-evaluating personal reasons for change, considering potential triggers for relapse and staying engaged with aftercare programs.

Stability is another long-term stage that acknowledges recovery as a lifelong process. Finding stability in coping mechanisms and treatment resources allows a person to maintain long-term sobriety. Stability is achievable when built upon proper preparation, action and maintenance stages.

Cliffside Malibu is an addiction recovery treatment center that utilizes the Stages of Change in treatment. We understand that change can be intimidating; however, we believe that you are deserving of a life of sobriety. To get connected with our treatment facility or learn more about the stages of change, give us a call today at (855) 403-5641.