Stages of Change

In the 1980s, two researchers  (Prochaska and DiClemente) formulated a theory of change that was adopted by the substance abuse treatment community.  This theory details six stages of change:

  • Pre-contemplation - the user has no plans to change their habits, and may not consider that they have a substance use problem.  They may, especially if they have had previous periods of sobriety, feel that they "cannot" be fixed or that it is useless to try to change.
  • Contemplation - the user begins to think about cutting back or quitting substance use, although they are still actively using.  The amount of time spent in this stage can be as short as a day or may last for years.
  • Preparation - users have recognized the negative consequences of continued abuse and the advantages of quitting and begin to plan to stop.  It is common for the user to attempt quitting and relapse at this stage multiple times before moving fully into the Action phase.
  • Action - users choose a method for discontinuing substance abuse and begin to make the changes necessary to implement their plan.  This period generally lasts 3-6 months.  Again, it is not uncommon for the user to experience relapse and move to a previous stage for a period of time.
  • Maintenance - work is done to sustain abstinence and prevent relapse.  From this stage, some may exit substance use permanently.
  • Recurrence - many users will relapse and return to an earlier stage, although they may move quickly to maintenance and may have gained new knowledge of issues that caused the resumption of substance use.

Whether you think your drinking cannot be stopped, aren't certain if abstinence is right for you, or are in the process of making your plan to quit, an awareness of the stages of change will help you to to see that you have the power within you to make your recovery work. You can move toward maintenance and even attain permanent abstinence if you are willing to put in the effort and do the work required to find a lasting sobriety.

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