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The 5 Stages of Addiction Recovery

Addiction is no walk in the park. As anyone who has struggled with addiction will tell you, it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to truly overcome those demons. However, the nice thing is that there are many different paths to recovery.

What all of those paths have in common is that they all tend to rely on the same stages of progress. We will walk you through the five stages of recovery and offer some helpful tips for how to get started with your own recovery.

Whether you or a loved one are dealing with drug abuse, alcohol addiction, compulsive pornography, or other addictive behaviors, we’ve got you covered.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic medical disease that can be treated. It involves complex interactions between brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual's life experiences. Addicts use substances or engage in compulsive behaviors, which they frequently continue despite negative consequences.

Addiction prevention and treatment approaches can be difficult, as addiction involves psychological, mental, emotional, and physical components.

There is a stigma surrounding addiction that also complicates addiction treatment and recovery. Many people delay getting treatment for drug or alcohol abuse because they don’t want to admit that they have a problem. If society were more accepting of addiction as an illness, people would likely get help sooner.

Though we have made great strides in lessening the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery, we still have a long way to go.

How Do I Know If I Am Addicted?

You can ask yourself some questions if you are wondering if you might be addicted. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you may have some work to do:

  • Do you feel uneasy or concerned about your behavior or substance use?
  • Have you steadily been increasing the amount you consume or the amount of time you spend engaging in the behavior?
  • Has an activity that used to feel like a fun way to blow off steam now become something you feel you have to do to maintain normalcy?
  • Do you do it alone when you used to do it with others for socialization?
  • Do you have the sense that things are out of your control?
  • Have you tried to cut down but couldn't do so due to cravings or urges?
  • Have you felt withdrawal symptoms when you tried to stop in the past?
  • Do you go to great lengths to obtain the substance or engage in the behavior?
  • Do you feel an urgency to use the substance as soon as you wake up in the morning?
  • Do you hide your habit from others?
  • Do you believe your mental health has declined because of your habit?
  • Do you feel guilt or shame about your habit?
  • Do you make excuses to others about your use or behavior?
  • Have you been neglecting friends, family, or work because of your habit?
  • Are you having financial problems because of your habit?
  • Have you taken risks that could be harmful to yourself or others due to being under the influence of a substance or behavior?

What Are the Five Stages of Addiction Recovery?

The five stages of recovery come from what is known as the “stages of change” or transtheoretical model. This model is a way of describing the typical trajectory for those who are recovering from addiction.

These five stages can be applied to anyone trying to establish a change in their lives, but are most often used in reference to those dealing with addiction. The model was developed by researchers who were looking at the natural progression of how people tend to recover from an addiction.

Now, treatment programs tend to use this model when thinking about how to help patients in recovery. Many healthcare practitioners have moved away from more aggressive methods, like harsh and sudden interventions that force a person into recovery, in favor of this more holistic approach. The intrinsic motivational factor of the five stages is vital to the recovery process.

Stage One: Precontemplation

Consider this a preparation stage of sorts.

You aren’t quite sure if you’re addicted, you don’t want to acknowledge a problem, and you may be hesitant to be alcohol or drug-free. Let’s just say that denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

People in this stage consider their addiction fun, exciting, and engaging. They tell themselves that they can stop alcohol use at any time! The prescription opioid is just for the pain!

They don’t want to consider the negative consequences of their behavior or drug use, but eventually, consequences do occur. This is often what pushes people into the next stage.

Stage Two: Contemplation

What does contemplation mean exactly? It means you are thinking about something deeply or truly pondering a particular topic. At this stage, a person is really starting to think about their habit, may be realizing that there is a problem, and wants to cut down or stop.

Those at this stage are much more open to ideas about how to stop and may be open to learning about different ways to control addictive behavior. Sadly, the contemplation stage is often a long-lasting loop.

Picture this familiar scene: You wake up in the morning with a pounding headache and a sense of fuzziness about the night before. You realize you texted your ex. Crap.

You call out of work because you are too hungover to face the day and lay on your couch all day long. You vow that you will never catch yourself drinking alcohol again, and you even do an internet search with the phrase “how to cut back on drinking.”

You stop for a day or two, then pick right back up where you left off. Substance use disorder is a vicious cycle.

Stage Three: Preparation

After contemplating change, a person in this stage is now considering the next steps. What has to be done to make the change? Someone in this stage may buy a book about how to quit their drug addiction. They may obtain nicotine patches if they intend to quit smoking.

In this stage, people may also get rid of triggers — perhaps by pouring alcohol down the sink, smoking that last pack, or installing anti-porn software on their computers.

Here, you should also think about getting a support system in place. Now is the time to talk to family members and friends about the problem. You need someone in your corner. Start looking into support groups if you don’t have someone to talk to.

Stage Four: Taking Action

For many people, the action stage is the meat and potatoes of recovery. This is where the real change of behavior occurs. An example of taking action is getting checked into an inpatient rehab program and spending 30-60 days working toward recovery.

For others who aren’t looking to completely quit their habit but perhaps moderate them, the action stage can look very similar to regular life. The only difference may be placing parameters to control triggers that could be problematic.

The shift into this stage may be small, like attending family therapy, or it can be a complete life change, like checking into a treatment center or discussing treatment plans with your medical provider. This all depends on the goals set and preparations made in the previous stages.

It’s not easy getting used to a life without addiction. For some, the addiction provides a strange sense of comfort and predictability. It can be scary moving into the unknown that is a life of sobriety.

Stage Five: Maintenance

In the final stage of addiction recovery, the goal is simply to maintain. Maintain what? That depends on the person. It may involve abstinence, maintaining a reduced level of consumption/ behavior, or sticking to certain limits you’ve set for yourself. This is the aftercare phase.

The maintenance stage can often be the most challenging because it is often a lifelong effort of relapse prevention. If you were in detox or rehab, you must assimilate into “regular” life, which can be incredibly difficult. It’s so important to keep taking care of yourself, and as the old adage goes, take it “one day at a time.”

Conclusion

Although quitting an addiction can seem impossible at first, you should know that it is doable, and many people manage it. These recovery stages offer hope that you can move forward.

Whether your journey involves formal addiction treatment programs, group therapy, treatment facilities, or simply learning better coping skills, it can be comforting to know that even in the early stages of recovery, you can and will move into the next stage.

Sources:

5 Stages of Treatment - Substance Abuse Treatment | NCBI Bookshelf

Addiction and Health | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

What is the Definition of Addiction? | American Society of Addiction Medicine