Creating new habits and healthy behaviors is never an easy prospect, but when it comes to addiction, the idea of working towards and maintaining sobriety can feel like the cards are stacked against you. A psychological model helps explain why behavior change may seem like a never-ending process; this model suggests that there are five stages of change, each with its own set of distinct behaviors and challenges. Whether you are the one struggling with addiction or you are the friend or family member of that person, you may find it helpful to better understand these stages and why progressing towards recovery can seem impossible.
This stage is not like the others because the person with addiction has not realized or is not ready to acknowledge that he or she has a problem. Unfortunately, this person’s friends and family are extremely aware but may be at a loss as to how to help. If they choose to confront the user, they can expect to hear denials or experience defensive behavior. The addicted person is not likely to admit he or she has a problem nor is he or she ready to make any permanent changes.
Self-awareness comes into the picture at this stage. The addicted individual may realize his or her behavior is unhealthy or dangerous but may not be ready to change those behaviors. It’s an ambivalent stage; with addiction, the prospect of revamping almost every aspect of life can overwhelm the addicted person into thinking that the benefits are not worth the effort. This is a stage that can last a long time, as the person struggling with addiction may not be ready to change.
At this stage, the addicted person is intent to stop using. He or she may research resources for addiction treatment or create a plan to modify behaviors on his or her own. Those modifications can also involve the environment, especially if the person with addiction is surrounded with other users. People preparing for change at this stage may take small steps to cut back on usage, such as taking fewer prescription drugs inappropriately or smoking fewer cigarettes.
Time and energy are the hallmarks of the action stage, as addicted people begin to modify their behavior. This may include a detox period, inpatient or outpatient treatment, group or individual therapy, or other modules to change habits and establish new, healthy ones. Friends and family can also get involved at this stage to learn more about dynamic changes and how to best support their loved one during recovery.
This stage may be more than just a stage; it could be a way of life. It takes a lot of effort to avoid relapse, and without vigilance and ongoing support, people with addiction can backslide into old habits. Only time can help set those new behaviors into a permanent routine, and both people in recovery and their friends and family should be aware that giving up addiction doesn’t mean that the struggle ends once they are free of their substance use. Ongoing treatment and accountability can make long-term maintenance a possibility.
Keep in mind that these five stages may not be a linear progression. Recovery is a journey, with setbacks and victories along the way. With a supportive, nonjudgmental environment, willpower, and the tools to sustaining behavior modification, your chances of success are infinitely greater. No matter where you are on your path to recovery, you should surround yourself with people who are openminded, willing to listen, and understand how to help you.