The Five Stages of Recovery

Although recovering from drug or alcohol abuse can be an intense and unpredictable process for many, addiction experts around the world have noticed a trend in patients that eventually see lasting change. It takes a great deal of strength and perseverance to go through rehab, and the decision to lead a life free from drugs and alcohol is only one step. For many recovering addicts, even getting to that step is difficult.

The stages of recovery have gained recognition because therapists have discovered that each stage requires different strategies in order to effectively treat the client. Although there are five proper stages (Pre-Contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance), they can also be separated into “early,” “middle,” and “late” stages.

For instance, a client that is in the Contemplation stage will also be considered in the “early” phase of recovery, meaning that strategies focusing on immediate concerns (curbing cravings, abstaining from use, preventing relapse) should be put front-and-center, while later stages of recovery may be more focused on rebuilding relationships. By recognizing where each client is on their journey to sobriety, a therapist can begin to understand how to help them rebuild their life in a structured, orderly fashion.

Differences from Person to Person

By all means, this journey is not the same for everyone. Some may make progress, only to regress back a few stages later on. A certain amount of people may even have to start over multiple times. Nobody is perfect; the important part is the continued urge to change.

While this ability varies from person to person, it demonstrates that these stages of recovery do not come from the therapist. They come from within the patient.

Pre-Contemplation Stage – Typically, people in the pre-contemplation stage have not yet admitted to themselves that they have a problem. In these cases, they are usually going through the motions due to some form of pressure, whether it is from their spouse, their family, their employer, or the police.

At this point, many addicts will avoid any conversation about addiction in fear that others may try to change them. If someone tries to stage an “intervention” at this point, it will probably be met with extreme denial.

People in the pre-contemplation stage often feel that their addiction is the result of a number of factors, like their job, home life, or genetic makeup. In many situations, patients remember their Pre-Contemplation stage as one of the most hopeless periods of their life. Some even hit what is commonly referred to as “rock bottom,” which can lead to feelings of Contemplation regarding their addiction. Once they’ve recognized that they have a problem, they have moved out of the Pre-Contemplation stage.

Contemplation Stage – Even if a person is struggling to understand the root of their addiction and how to recover, simply thinking about potential courses of action to take is a gigantic step forward. Some individuals remain in the Contemplation stage for months, with only vague plans on how to move forward. Again, even getting this far is great progress.

While regular use may continue during this phase, contemplators report enjoying their vices less, and also report that they’re using more. This increases their feelings of hopelessness, but these are often combatted by uplifting feelings of potential for change. Once users shift more into thinking about a future free from drugs, rather than lingering on their past, they will be ready to move into the next stage of recovery.

People nearing the end of this stage often say that they no longer feel “hopeless.” Instead, those feelings are replaced by simultaneous excitement and anxiety.

Preparation Stage – Once people reach the Preparation stage, they’ve been fueled by their excitement and have made solid plans for recovery. Whether this is through a pledge of abstinence or admittance to an addiction recovery center, people who are preparing for a life free from drugs have more than just a vague notion of how they want to get better. Even just picking a day, or a week, or a month, or a year to focus on recovery can help patients put themselves into the Action stage. An addiction treatment center can help guide patients on how to handle their addiction and give them the necessary tools to overcome their drug and alcohol addictions for good.

Occasionally, patients report having to conquer feelings of ambivalence prior to getting out of the Preparation stage. However, once their plan of action has been set on a committed timeline, they usually move on without an issue.

Action Stage – In this stage, people engage in the bulk of what they would consider to be “recovery.” In short, they change either their behavior or their surroundings in order to enact change.By enacting the change for which they have been preparing, recovering addicts build their sense of accomplishment and achievement. Although this stage often requires the most effort on the part of the person, it’s also the most important stage since it will be the bedrock for their continued recovery..

This is often the first stage that others can see from the outside looking in. Addicts often go through the first three stages while facing criticism that they aren’t really changing. While it takes a great deal of time and effort to get to this stage, those that get here report feelings of satisfaction and self-worth that their internal efforts were valuable after all.

Maintenance Stage –  Only through great commitment is great change truly possible. Once clients are “done” with the Action phase, they often move back into their familiar surroundings. Sometimes, they are able to view their life anew and make a continued effort to better themselves. Unfortunately, many people face relapse when introduced to an environment reminiscent of their illicit past. Sometimes even visiting an old friend can trigger urges that lead back to stage one.

The maintenance stage is so immense that it encompasses the entirety of the “late” recovery phase. While there are many physical actions that can be taken to avoid falling into old habits (losing your dealer’s phone number, taking up a new hobby), true maintenance is about using your newfound sobriety to explore the root of your addiction. This way, the addiction has less of a chance of manifesting as something else entirely, like gambling, overeating, or addiction to sex.

Rehab treatment centers, like Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Center, will dive into further detail in regards to all recovery stages and will help guide recovering addicts to a sober life. Through programs such as the Continuum of Care model that Retreat Treatment Center offers, recovering addicts will be offered outpatient services that may include individual, group, and family therapies for long-term sobriety.

Ways to Help and Ways to Hurt

If you know someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, it can be instinctual to want to help or offer advice. In some cases, it may seem prudent “cold turkey,” or who went through rehab and magically got better and felt their urges completely disappear. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is fiction.

Too often, good-natured friends will regurgitate “tips” from various stages of recovery and unwittingly try to give counsel to a recovering friend of theirs. If a client tries to do too much before they are ready, it may become overwhelming and lead to relapse. For this reason, it’s important to leave treatment of addiction to individuals who understand how to foster recovery in a safe, structured environment. While it’s natural to want to help someone through their process, the best thing that you can do for them is be supportive on their journey.


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