Recovery requires a total lifestyle change, but for a person or loved one of someone who is considering treatment or is early in recovery, a life free from addiction may feel like a million miles away, especially if you’re unsure what to expect throughout the process.

Decades ago, alcohol use disorder researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente created the six stages of change, also known as the transtheoretical model, that offer insight into how treatment works and how recovery is achieved.

There are six main stages of change in addiction recovery: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination. Although people can move through these stages in order, it’s also common for people to go between stages, forward and backward, or be in more than one stage at a time. However, observing the stages of change as a sequential cycle helps to visualize how change occurs, as well as how addictive behavior can be treated and managed.

1. Precontemplation

In the first stages of addiction recovery, a person usually does not consider their behavior to be an issue. Perhaps they’ve not experienced any adverse consequences as a result of their behavior, or they’re in denial about the severity of their behavior and the consequences they’ve experienced.

During this stage, a person’s addictive behavior is generally positive, maybe even pleasant, and hasn’t led to any negative consequences. At this point, they aren’t interested in hearing advice to quit or being told about potentially harmful side effects. A person with addictive behaviors who is not yet contemplating change can be grouped into four categories:

  • Reluctant precontemplator: They lack awareness of their problem, as well as the motivation to change.
  • Rebellious precontemplator: They don’t want to let go of their addictive behavior because they don’t like being told what to do.
  • Resigned precontemplator: They’re so overwhelmed by their addictive behavior that they’ve given up hope for the possibility of change.
  • Rationalizing precontemplator: They think they have all the answers and have reasons why substance use isn’t an issue for them.

2. Contemplation

Contemplators have realized that they have a problem. They may want to change, but don’t feel like they can fully commit to it. In this stage, a person is often more receptive to learning about the potential consequences of their behavior and the different options available.

But they’re still contemplating. They haven’t yet made a change by committing to a specific strategy. The contemplation stage can last for years. Sometimes, they move on to the next stage, or they revert to precontemplation.

3. Preparation

A person is committed and ready to take action. They might meet with a health care professional to assess where they are and determine options for a long-term treatment plan.

4. Action

Real change–that is, a change in behavior–starts at this stage. For many people, the action stage begins in a detox or residential treatment center where clinical and medical professionals can navigate a person through the early stages of recovery.

In this stage, a person will engage in treatment that addresses the underlying causes of addiction. Individual and group therapy help a person better understand addiction and themselves, and alternative, complementary therapies promote holistic wellness, bolstering recovery. The action stage will also equip a person with healthy, effective strategies for coping with stress and triggers that help them progress through the maintenance stage without experiencing relapse.

5. Maintenance & Relapse

It takes time and effort to sustain any change. In the maintenance stage, a person begins to adapt to their new substance-free lifestyle. As they build momentum, reverting to old habits gradually becomes less of a threat.

However, substance use disorder is a chronic disease. As with all chronic diseases, the risk of relapse will always be present. Despite acquiring the skills and tools in the action stage necessary to avoid relapse, a relapse may still occur. But it isn’t a sign of failure or weakness. It’s possible to become sober again–it just means more specialized treatment is required.

6. Termination

The ultimate goal for the stages of change is termination: when a person with substance use disorder no longer feels threatened by their substance of choice. At this stage, they feel confident and comfortable living life without substances and fear relapse less and less every day.

The stages of change may seem intimidating to someone who is contemplating or early in recovery. But knowing what you can expect can help you advance through these stages more confidently. Permanent recovery is possible, and Boca Detox Center can help you achieve it. To learn more about our detox programs, please contact us at 561.271.7612.