What are the Six Stages of Change in Addiction?

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In the book, Changing for Good, personal change is discussed. The book was written by researchers James O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente who studied more than 1,000 people who changed their lives. Though the six stages were initially described for any type of positive change, they are most widely used and accepted in the field of addiction treatment.

Let’s explore what the six stages of change are and how they relate to addicts.

Stage 1: Precontemplation

People in this stage are aware that there are repercussions to their actions, but they justify them to avoid facing reality. Looking at the person from the outside, you won’t see much desire to change, if any. To the individual, using drugs and alcohol is more appealing than not.

Stage 2: Contemplation

People in this stage are not ready to commit to treatment, though they are learning that their choices have consequences. Unfortunately, the slight desire to change is usually put on the back burner. Addicts in this stage are known for saying things like, “When I turn 18, I’ll stop using pot.”

Stage 3: Preparation

In stage three, addicts begin to see that they have choices that can change their lives for the better. Only they can make the decision, but they do not have to go through it alone. If you were to plan an intervention or encourage participation in 12 step groups at this time, your loved one may actually respond positively.

Step 4: Action

This is one of the most important steps because it means that the person has moved on from just thinking about change. Now they are ready to commit. Actual steps are taken such as by seeking treatment, attending 12-step meetings, sticking to a diet and exercise plan, etc. This is also the stage where recovering addicts are capable of letting go of old friends and pursuing healthier relationships.

Step 5: Maintenance

People in this stage have been successful at staying clean and sober. The longer they maintain their sobriety, the more natural it becomes. Recovering addicts are more successful because they are aware of the temptations that can lead to relapse and have a deeper understanding of their addiction.

Step 6: Termination

In the last stage, people can look in the mirror and confidently say that they are a different and improved person. What makes this stage so important is that recovering addicts are happy with where they are and don’t want to return to their old lifestyle. Even though they may have lost or given up things to be clean, they know their current life is better.

It’s possible to go through all of these stages and then start back at the top. If you relapse, for example, you will have to go through the stages again. Many people experience the cycle of change multiple times before they are able to permanently stick to it. What do you think of these six stages? Do you or a loved one fit into any of them?