What are the Stages of Change?

At the University of Rhode Island, two researchers named Prochaska and DiClemente deciphered that there are 6 stages individuals go through and experience while seeking addiction, going through recovery and ultimately maintaining sobriety. These stages became a model known as “The Stages of Change”, which we base our individualized treatment plans on at Cliffside Malibu. This doesn’t end with the client – we use the Stages of Change to assess the family or loved ones of the person suffering from addiction. It helps us understand where they are in relationship to their stages of change, so that everyone can understand better where they are in the process.

This model addresses every stage possible that a person with substance use disorder will experience while on the road from deep addiction to long lasting recovery for a healthy, happy life. It involves many stages that could begin with complete denial and refusal all the way to the other side – lasting sobriety. It helps lead the way from transcending the problem to knowing exactly how to tackle it and recognize it in the future to maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.

How Does It Work?

The Stages of Change are heavily guided by therapy in order to be successful. It is critical to attend therapy to acquire the tools necessary to be able to maintain sobriety. There are many types of therapies that you may be included in on your road to recovery, such as one-on-one therapy, group therapy, family therapy and much more. Therapy and recovery options come in many shapes and sizes and we can assist in choosing what is right for you. All staff is kept up to date as to where the clients are along the stages of change, so that they can help them within the process.


Precontemplation is the first stage in the “Stages of Change” or “Transtheoretical” model of addiction as developed by Prochaska and DiClemente. The Precontemplation stage can also be known or identified as being simply “not ready” for any type of treatment or recovery. People in this stage have no intention to take action in the foreseeable future, and can often be completely unaware that their behavior is slowly ruining their lives.

How does someone feel in this stage?

While in the Precontemplation stage, people typically do not consider their behavior to be a problem, as their addiction is in the very early stages and they might not even realize that they are addicted yet. They are largely unaware that they are affecting their lives or others, and often place blame on others rather than themselves. Often times, people in this stage have not yet experienced a “rock bottom moment”, which are negative consequences of their addiction. They can also be simply unaware that their behavior is harmful due to the side effects of the substance of choice in their addiction.

The substance that people in this stage are addicted to is often looked at as a positive thing in their lives, giving them great pleasure and an escape, and they have not experienced any personal downfalls such as loss of relationships, jobs, career or any other major life changes that have come about linked to their behavior. However, once one or all of these negative consequences come to the surface they are then pushed into the “Contemplation” stage of the Stages of Change model.


In the Contemplation stage of the Stages of Change model, this means that the individual is simply “getting ready”. People are beginning to recognize that their behavior is problematic, and they start to look at the pros and cons of their continued actions.

How does someone feel in this stage?

While no formal decision to enter any type of recovery program has been made, the individual is now aware that their addiction is happening and that they might need to change, cut down, moderate or possibly even completely quit their addictive behavior. The reason this stage is called the Contemplation stage is because the word “contemplating” is defined as “look thoughtfully for a long time at”. Essentially, the gears are starting to turn and the individual is able to recognize their problematic behavior.

This stage a time when individuals start to receive information about the consequences of their addictive behaviors. They are more open to hearing about problems they have caused and start thinking about ways to remedy those situations. While this might not include a specific plan or approach, they are receptive to hearing about different ways that they can fix their lives.

How long does this stage last?

This stage can often last many years for many people. It is possible that individuals even bounce back and forth between here and the Precontemplation stage many, many times throughout their addiction journey. It is encouraged to give people in the Contemplation stage meaningful, loving talks with factual information rather than other confrontational ways such as conversations stemming from anger or frustration. Once the decision has been made by the individual to change and end their addictive behavior is when they are able to move into the Preparation stage.


The Preparation stage in the Stages of Change model can be simply defined as being “ready”. People are intending to take action in the immediate future, and may even begin taking small steps toward behavior change. They have moved forward with the decision to accept change, and begin preparing for how this will be brought about. It is important to weigh all options to ensure long-term success.

How does someone feel in this stage?

There are many things that an individual would need to plan and think about while in this stage. There are a lot of questions that someone in the Preparation stage may have, and it can be a confusing, stressful time while trying to plan all of these things out. These things can include:

What kind of change is being made? Does the individual intend to cut down, reduce, or quit use completely?
How will I make this change? If the individual chooses to cut down or reduce use, how do you intend on doing this and by how much? When will it begin?
What resources do I need? This can include anything that you may need to cut down on cravings, such as nicotine patches for people who want to quit smoking. It also may include more information and guidance on types rehabilitation options available and how they may be able to afford it.
What triggers do I need to get rid of? A trigger is a reminder that helps cause cravings and make it difficult to maintain sobriety. Triggers could include a great many things from owning drug paraphernalia and it being readily available to you, to toxic people in your life who are causing you great stress and could cause you to use to alleviate the stress. If you’re addicted to alcohol and you live near a liquor store and walk by it everyday on your way home, this could be a trigger and it would be beneficial to take a different way home or think about relocating entirely.
Who will support me? Individuals who have decided that they need help are often ashamed and don’t want many other people in their lives to know. This is especially true if they have been in the Precontemplation stage for a long time, denying their problem existed and staying steadfast. However, it is almost impossible to go through addiction recovery alone, and often times when done alone, it can lead to relapse. You will need a support system, whether that is a sober coach, friends, family, a counselor, social worker or a fellow addict in recovery who understands what you are going through.

Once the necessary preparations have been made and thought over, the individual is ready to move onto the Action stage.


When an individual has entered the Action stage, this means that they have made specific efforts in modifying their problematic behavior, or in acquiring new healthy behaviors.

The Action stage is very important, as it is the focus for everyone attempting to overcome addiction. This stage is where the “action” happens – all the behaviors are changing, their lives are changing and all habits are changing. This can often be looked at as a very scary and stressful time, but once all preparations have been made it can also be an exciting, hopeful time for individuals who are looking to make real, lasting change.

How does someone feel in this stage?

The Action stage often begins with detoxification of the substance the individual is addicted to. This can be done with trained professionals onsite to support you with counseling, medications and other physical and emotional needs they will have through this process. Detoxification is the action of tapering down, or even cutting off, the addictive substance. Unfortunately, this often comes with a slew of physical side effect such as nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, fever and more. However, with great preparation and a great support system, getting through this process is possible and can be successful. After this, the individual will continue with therapy and working through the deep-rooted issues of their addiction.

Since this stage is very stressful and sometimes can lead to relapse, it is important to prepare for coping with this and having a support system in place to be able to move forward successfully into the maintenance stage.


Individuals in the Maintenance stage are people have been able to sustain action for at least six months and are actively working to prevent relapse. This stage is simply continuing with the tools learned in the action stage taking effect in their real lives. This means upholding the intentions made in the Preparation stage and the behaviors and tools learned in the Action stage.

How does someone feel in this stage?

This, of course, means that the individual will remain abstinent from addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol. It also means recognizing the potential to move on to other problematic behaviors such as compulsive gambling, shopping, sex, overeating, undereating and much more. It is learned to recognize these behaviors and learn that change has been made to overcome them.

How does someone feel in this stage?

Often times people in this stage feel a sense of success. They believe that since they have overcome their addiction for a set amount of time and think that they have it under control, that they are then able to indulge without going back to the way it was before. They think that they can “treat” themselves and be able to overcome it. This can be especially true if not all triggers have been removed in the Preparation stage, and tools learned in the Action stage get ignored. That is why it is important to remain abstinent to have a long-lasting successful recovery. It can be considered that the Maintenance stage never ends! It is an ongoing process for life to ensure that old habits, behaviors and problems stemming from addiction never resurface again.

About Cliffside Malibu

At Cliffside Malibu, we believe the Stages of Change are essential to recovery. Recognizing where you are in your path, what to expect for the future and knowing what is to come next can help alleviate a lot of worries about the unknown. When you enter Cliffside, we work to find where you are in the Stages of Change and help guide you through your journey.

It is the policy of Cliffside Malibu to ensure that all individuals who present with chemical dependency issues are assessed for the appropriate level of care. We strive to provide continuum of care including medically supervised detox, residential treatment, day treatment and outpatient services. Services are provided to individuals with a primary diagnosis of substance abuse and/or alcohol addiction. Individuals seeking treatment are assessed by qualified staff to ensure program criteria are met and that each individual admitted is placed in the appropriate level of care for treatment. The program is designed and structured for individuals who are in need of a supportive environment in order to maintain Sobriety.

For more information on Cliffside Malibu, visit cliffsidemalibu.com