Stages of Change in Recovery

There are many things that people work tirelessly to change about their lives. These changes can include several different things such as smoking cessation, weight loss, or abstaining from using drugs and alcohol. There are five stages people go through in order to make these changes stick and be long lasting.

Precontemplation: I don't have a problem! The first step in making a lasting change is deciding there is something about your life that needs to be changed. If you are struggling with addiction, you may have other people telling you that you have a problem, even if you do not yet believe this yourself. If you are in the precontemplation stage of change, you may be in denial about the need to change anything in your life and may not see what you are doing as being a problem. You have not yet committed to changing anything about your current behaviors.

Contemplation: Do I have a problem? In this stage of change, you are weighing the pros and cons of changing your behavior. You are more open minded about considering that you may need to make a change. The contemplation stage of change is about learning more about what the possible change would entail, and deciding if you are ready to commit to such a change.

Preparation: I have a problem. How do I start to change? The preparation stage of change is about experimenting with small changes and working up to a big change. You are "preparing" for the change you want to make. For instance, if you are trying to quit smoking, you may switch to light cigarettes or you may cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke on a daily basis.

Action: I am making the change I want to see happen. In the action stage of change, you are actively taking the steps necessary to create the change you want to see. If you are trying to stay clean from drugs and alcohol, this means that you may be doing things like attending 12-step meetings, working with a sponsor, or creating a relapse prevention plan. You are committed to the change you are trying to make.

Maintenance: I am doing what I need to do in order to have lasting change. The maintenance stage of change is about working to maintain the change that you have made in order to prevent backsliding or relapse. You are able to see the positive effects that making the change has had on your life.

Each stage of change presents its own unique challenges. It is important to note that even after you have gone through each stage of change, relapse can occur and you may return to an earlier stage of change. For example, if you have been clean and sober for 20 years and have been in the maintenance stage of change, it is possible to think that you may be able to handle using occasionally and experience a return to old behaviors. This may cause you to have to go through each stage of change again and explore what needs to be done differently in order to prevent relapse in the future.


Jessica Parks is a certified alcohol and drug counselor in the state of Illinois and has her M.A. in art therapy counseling.

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