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Stages of Addiction Recovery

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Just as there are five core stages of addiction, there are also five main stages of addiction recovery. The five stages of addiction recovery include: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these recovery stages, and what you can do to help someone throughout each stage.

Stage 1: Precontemplation 

The precontemplation stage of recovery is typically the first step in overcoming addiction. During this phase, addicts are still struggling to understand and acknowledge their problem.

They may be heavily in denial about their addiction, which could be partially due to the fact that they have not yet experienced enough negative consequences as a result of their addictive behavior. 

How to Help Someone in the Precontemplation Stage

Someone who is in the precontemplation stage is unlikely to be receptive to any talk about quitting their addiction, or attending treatment. So how can you help someone who is in the precontemplation stage? 

  1. Ask open-ended questions about their substance use. Ask questions such as, “What do you like about drinking/using drugs?” or “How does drinking/using drugs make you feel?” or “How often do you drink/use drugs?”

    The intention is to have a non-judgemental, non-confrontational conversation about their substance use that can help get them thinking about their behavior.
  2. Be a safe space for them. Often, the addict just needs someone who they feel safe enough to open up to, and to feel accepted.
  3. Stop enabling their addictive behavior. Addicts will often not realize that they have a problem because they never experience the consequences of their addiction. Allowing them to experience the negative consequences may seem harsh, but it is actually a loving thing to do. 

Stage 2: Contemplation 

During the contemplation stage, addicts undergo introspection and self-awareness in order to better understand their relationship with drugs or alcohol. They now recognize that they have a problem, and are considering cutting down on or quitting their addictive behavior. 

People in this stage will be more receptive to learning about strategies for quitting, but may still be feeling hesitant about attending treatment for their addiction. 

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How to Help Someone in the Contemplation Stage

When someone is open to hearing feedback, this makes it a lot easier to have an open discussion with them. What are some of the best ways to help someone in the contemplation stage?

  1. Listen. Often, the person just needs someone to talk to and weigh out the pros and cons of quitting their addictive behavior.
  2. Encourage them to seek treatment. In a gentle way, help them understand that their addictive behavior is damaging to them and those around them, and treatment could be a positive way to change their life. 

Stage 3: Preparation

In the preparation stage, the person is planning to make some sort of change in their addictive behavior, whether it be cutting back or quitting entirely.

How to Help Someone in the Preparation Stage

  1. Offer help and support. Often, someone in the preparation stage may find it difficult to ask for help, or may not even know how to tell you to help. This may look like helping them research treatment programs, or finding them a support group.
  2. Help them get rid of triggers. Something that hinders someone from moving past the preparation stage is the constant presence of triggers.

    This could mean removing any alcohol that they have in the house, getting rid of lighters, or helping them delete contacts in their phone of people they get drugs from. 
  3. Be patient. It can take time for someone to move from the preparation stage to the action stage. Don’t rush or pressure them, but do continue encouraging them to stick to their goal of quitting or cutting back on their substance use. 

Stage 4: Action

The action stage is where real change starts to become visible. This often means that the person has decided to start an addiction treatment program, join a support group, or start receiving individual therapy. In order to move into the next stage, it’s crucial to develop effective coping strategies. 

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How to Help Someone in the Action Stage

  1. Congratulate them. The fact that they have made it to the action stage is a very big deal. Let them know that you are proud of them, and encourage any positive steps taken.
  2. Be supportive. Although the person has decided to make a change, they still need support. Let them know that you are there for them whenever they need support, and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them through the process. 

Stage 5: Maintenance

The maintenance stage is about continuing the progress that was made during the action stage. The person has learned how to effectively manage triggers, but there is risk of becoming complacent at this stage.

It's crucial to practice relapse prevention methods, and to surround yourself with a strong support system. 

How to Help Someone in the Maintenance Stage

  1. Be there for them. Just because a person reaches a place of sobriety, doesn’t mean it will be easy from here on out. Be the person that they can call on when they are triggered and tempted to relapse.
  2. Remind them why they quit. Over time, the reasons why the person decided to get sober can start to fade and lose their intensity. Be the voice of reason, reminding them of what their life was like before getting sober, and how getting sober has positively impacted them and those around them. 

Download 5 Stages of Addiction Infographic

The Importance of Aftercare

Aftercare is an important part of addiction recovery, and it's something that should be planned for from the very beginning. Aftercare can help individuals in rehab stay connected to their support system, maintain sobriety, and continue on their path to self-sufficiency.

Benefits of aftercare include:

  • It helps individuals stay connected to their supportive network. Aftercare gives people a chance to talk about recovery with others who understand what they're going through. This supports individual growth and strengthens the community around addiction treatment facilities.
  • It helps maintain sobriety. Many people struggle initially with staying sober when they leave addiction treatment; aftercare helps these individuals keep their promise to themselves and remain abstinent until they graduate or complete treatment fully.
  • It encourages continued progress in recovery. The most effective programs have incorporated after care into their overall program design from the start, because it has been shown time again that this type of intervention is highly successful in helping patients achieve long term success.

What to Do if an Addict Relapses

It can be disheartening when you have seen someone come a long way in their recovery journey, only to wind up relapsing. However, a relapse is only a set-back, and is often a part of the recovery process. 

It’s important to remind your loved one of how far they have come, and that if they could get sober once, they can do it again.

upset man on a hike

Offer them a supportive, non-judgemental environment for them to air out their frustrations, and then help them identify what led them to relapse. Is there a trigger that needs to be managed better? 

Encourage them to seek professional help. This may mean returning to addiction treatment for a period of time, or committing to an outpatient program or consistently attending individual therapy. 

Get Addiction Treatment

With all of the stages of addiction recovery, it becomes all the more crucial for someone who is facing any signs and symptoms of addiction to get the best treatment possible.

Going through addiction recovery can be an incredibly long and painful journey, but with the right support, guidance, and resources, it is possible to overcome an addiction.

Regardless of what stage of addiction or recovery your loved one is in, we encourage you to speak with our addiction specialists and get the best addiction treatment possible for your loved one. They will guide you through the entire process step-by-step and help ensure that you reach your loved one at their highest potential for optimal recovery.

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