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The Stages of Change in Addiction

March 1, 2020
By Kaitlyn Mercy

The process of getting sober is a long and difficult one, both emotionally and physically. When an individual in active addiction starts to consider halting their substance abuse, it can cause a lot of turmoil and confusion. The idea of not using a substance that has been there for you in one capacity or another, whether to numb emotional pain or dull underlying mental health symptoms, is scary. Stopping the use of substances means changing every aspect of your life.  

The Stages of Change Relating to Addiction & Substance Abuse 

The Stages of Change, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, is a theory created by two addiction researchers, Carlo C. DiClemente and J.O. Prochaska. This theory is an example of the emotional process individuals attempting to get sober go through. While the process is a unique experience for everyone, these stages are a vague outline of their experience.  

Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation  

Pre-Contemplation is the first stage of change. Individuals in this stage don’t recognize their substance abuse to be a problem, and if someone points it out to them, they may believe they that person is exaggerating.  

Stage 2: Contemplation  

The contemplation stage is when people in active addiction are willing to consider that they may have a problem. During this period of contemplation, people may be very ambivalent about seeking help. They may go back and forth, trying to decide if they really have a problem and if that problem requires professional help. 

During the contemplation stage, people may begin to recognize the consequences that their substance abuse may have, but even with recognizing the negative consequences, may not be able to make a decision to change.   

Stage 3: Preparation  

Once people reach the preparation stage, they begin planning to make changes to their life that include discontinuing their substance use. They may still be experiencing ambivalence or be hesitant to make changes but recognize that they need to stop using in order to stay alive or have and sort of quality of life.   

Stage 4: Action  

During the fourth stage, action, people start to actively make changes to their lives. They begin to develop effective ways of coping, identify triggers, and begin to use coping skills when getting triggered.  

For many, the process of getting sober starts at a detox or treatment center. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, individuals who are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol are at a high risk for health issues when they discontinue their use and are most likely to succeed in their recovery if they go through a full continuum of care.  

Sandstone Care offers a full continuum of care for those struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders, including a medical detox facility. Colorado Springs Medical Detox is staffed 24/7 by medical and clinical staff who help clients in the action stage to create a strong plan for their recovery.   

Stage 5: Maintenance 

The maintenance stage of the Transtheoretical model is arguably the most important and simultaneously the most difficult.   

During the maintenance stage, people will revisit the intentions and things they considered during the earlier stages of recovery. Similar to the action stage, this stage is all about making and maintaining positive changes.  

It’s common for people to experience a lapse or relapse during this stage, as it can be easy to become complacent. Relapses can also be common during this stage because it’s when people begin to re-enter life after treatment. Coping methods and strategies are forgotten or not utilized, you overestimate what you’re able to handle, or feel it’s okay to put yourself in situations that may put your sobriety at risk.  

Because of these things, it’s important to have a toolkit full of coping skills, people you can reach out to, and ways to handle stress and triggers. 

 Stage 6: Relapse 

The relapse stage isn’t always included in the stages of change model, because it can be a heavy topic to cover, and not everyone goes through it. Relapse is a common part of recovery, and one that many people face. It’s important to recognize that there is a large difference between a lapse and relapse, but that both can be overcome.  

Healing Isn’t Linear

One of the most important things to remember about recovery and healing is that the process isn’t linear. What does this mean? It means that it isn’t a straight line, it’s more like a wobbly, twisted, curvy line.

You may experience one or more of these stages multiple times, and that’s completely normal. The process of healing is a long one, and often inconsistent. One bad day doesn’t mean the rest of your journey will also be bad, and a lapse doesn’t equal a relapse.

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