What Are the Stages of Change When Overcoming Addiction?

What Are the Stages of Change When Overcoming Addiction?

Published on March 24, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Many people with addictions are reluctant to get help because they are wary of the process of recovery. People overcoming addiction are said to experience the same basic stages.

The model used to describe this process is known as the “stages of change,” or the “transtheoretical” model, and is a product of research that focuses on recovery as a result of motivational approaches to treatment, rather than confrontational approaches. The model can help those with addictions and their loved ones have a better idea of what to expect in the process of recovery from addiction.

Precontemplation Stage

The first stage represented in the cyclical model for stages of change is precontemplation.  This refers to the time before an individual recognizes their behavior as an addiction. For those that develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol, existing in this stage may mean that they see their substance abuse as a functional outlet for coping with negative emotions or stress.

People in this stage are resistant to any concerns about their behavior that may be voiced by their loved ones, and they are likely to still be functioning relatively well at work and home. Eventually, however, the negative consequences of a developing addiction will occur, perhaps causing poor work performance, family conflict, or financial trouble. These “wakeup call” moments are often what leads an individual to the next stage.

Contemplation Stage

At this point in the process, an individual begins to acknowledge that they have a problem and can begin to brainstorm ways in which they can manage their own behavior. This may include coming up with ways to moderate their substance use, making rules for when and where they will allow themselves to drink or use drugs, or trying to quit entirely.

People in the contemplation stage are usually open to hearing new ideas and strategies for controlling their behavior, although they might not be ready to entirely commit to any one approach. Some people remain in this stage for many years before moving on to the next step, while others may slip back into the precontemplation stage, once again convincing themselves that their problem is not real. Individuals in the contemplation stage have been shown to benefit the most from motivation and information when discussing the issue with friends and loved ones.  

Preparation Stage

Graduating out of the contemplation stage and into the preparation stage means that the individual has chosen a path for change and is ready to begin planning and preparing for concrete changes in their behavior. During this stage, the individual will make decisions that outline the specifics of their goals, such as what change they would like to make (reduce substance use, reduce harm, quit entirely, etc.), how they would like to make that change and researching potential resources to put the change in action.

People in this stage may also focus on ridding their life of potential triggers that make it difficult to avoid cravings. For example, someone who wishes to quit drinking may remove all alcohol from their home and begin avoiding environments where alcohol is present.

Those in the preparation stage may also begin to ask for support from their loved ones by letting others know about their plans to change their behavior. Asking for support during this phase may also include reaching out to a professional treatment center that can provide a multitude of resources for recovery.


The action stage is the most visible stage for those witnessing someone attempt to overcome their addiction. During this stage, real change starts to occur, which may provide a great deal of hope to someone who has been struggling with addiction for a long time.

While this stage usually involves a great deal of hard work and uncomfortable transition, it can also be an exciting time full of new experiences and opportunities. For many people, the action stage involves professional detox and treatment.

The action stage may happen slowly through small, deliberate steps, or it may happen all at once with a major shift in lifestyle. During the action stage, most individuals struggle with adjusting to a life without their addiction but eventually come to see the many benefits associated with their newfound freedom and sense of control.

Maintenance Stage

The maintenance stage of recovery from addiction involves any and all changes that come with maintaining an individual’s new lifestyle. Recovering from addiction usually requires going beyond the actual behavior to the underlying emotional and mental health issues that led to the behavior in the first place. Maintaining wellness is different for everyone, but it usually involves taking care of the body, mind, and spirit.

Relapse Stage

The relapse stage refers to a return to addictive behavior. This stage does not occur for everyone that recovers from addiction, nor is it necessary. However, it is important to accept relapse as a possibility and understand that a relapse does not mean complete failure.

Professional treatment can help those who have relapsed go back through the process of recovery and successfully remain in the maintenance stage the next time around.


The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships. By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing.

First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these strong and compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.