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The stages of change model describes the common process of how substance users overcome addiction. These stages can be applied to many different scenarios and behaviors that people may want to change but have difficulty taking initial steps to do so. The stages of change model is widely recognized, and understanding it can help with success in treating individuals with addiction.

The Stages Summarized

Each stage is specific to an individual’s readiness to change their behaviors associated with their addiction. Users may bounce forward and backward between stages, jump stages, or remain on one stage for an extended period of time. This model allows users to turn inward to navigate the deep-rooted causes of their addiction as well as acknowledge their level of motivation. Its approach is less confrontational than typical traditional approaches and is more similar to motivational interviewing in counseling. 

Although each treatment center may have its own way of presenting the stages, the most common four included are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, and action. Maintenance may be included as a stage during which action is maintained and made routine. Relapse is another additional stage that recognizes that a person may experience even small periods where a using behavior is taken up again. Though relapse can happen during any stage, it most often occurs after leaving the maintenance stage. 


In this stage, a user of alcohol or another substance is not considering a change. Most individuals in this stage do not consider their substance use to be a problem. They may be aware of a few negative consequences that their substance use has on their life, but they are not likely to take action to stop use. Individuals that use substances may find themselves in the pre-contemplation stage because of pressure to change from others. They may make excuses for their use and place the responsibility for their problems on other factors. 

Individuals in this stage commonly experience their addictive behavior as a pleasurable experience. Eventually, negative consequences will surface when engaging in addictive behaviors. Once a user begins to experience these negative consequences, they may be pushed into the contemplation stage. 


Contemplation is the stage of change where the user of alcohol or other substances becomes aware of both positive and negative consequences for their substance use. A person may reach this stage of change when they experience repercussions with the law or within their personal relationships. However, the user does not yet make a commitment to change. Contemplation also involves users trying to understand their personal problems, seek out potential causes for them, and remain curious about solving them. Many individuals reach this stage by acknowledging they have a problem and plan to take action in the near future. 

Someone that finds themself in the contemplation stage is typically more open to learning about possible future consequences for their addictive behaviors. They may want to learn how to control their use or try to remain abstinent without using a specific approach for maintaining recovery. Individuals experiencing contemplation benefit from non-judgemental education and encouragement to change. 


In the preparation stage, the user decides to commit to change. The individual plans out conscious steps to take toward recovery. During this stage, a person may determine how they want to make a change happen, obtain necessary resources for support, become aware of triggers for use, and inform close friendships of their situation. 

Other preparations may include finding a safer place to live, especially if their living situation tends to trigger addictive behaviors. Individuals may want to reach out to a counselor or other addiction professional for guidance and resources. Once any necessary preparations have been considered, an individual is typically ready for action. 


The action stage follows preparation because this stage involves a user adapting to new behaviors and changes in their lifestyle. Individuals aim to modify their behaviors and perhaps the environments they choose to put themselves in. These lifestyle changes are not yet stable, and relapse may occur. Outward change in behavior becomes more visible to others in this stage.  

Action may begin in a detox or treatment center, as professionals are available to provide support for challenging withdrawals and other initial triggers. Action can also occur in gradual steps or can involve a complete turnaround of one’s life. Regardless, the first few months may feel unusually strange because a person is learning to adapt to a new lifestyle without constant use of their chosen substance.  


Maintenance is the final stage of change that involves the user establishing long-term, healthy behaviors for sustaining abstinence in recovery. Change does not end with action. Maintenance is a commitment in recovery, without which individuals become susceptible to relapse. 

Maintenance commonly refers to staying abstinent from alcohol or drugs and reducing any addictive behaviors. It may be the most challenging stage as time passes because one’s goal of sobriety may become less intense than it felt towards the beginning of recovery. It is important to establish healthy coping mechanisms when stress arises so that relapse does not become a problem.

The stages of change is a model commonly used in addiction recovery. It is a visual model that helps those with substance use disorders meet themselves wherever they are in terms of change. The stages include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, and action, with relapse and maintenance included as additional stages. It is important to understand what motivates an individual to change, especially when addictive behaviors result in negative or harmful consequences. The stages of the change model bring awareness to an individual’s willingness to change. West Coast Recovery Centers works with individuals looking to recover from their substance use or other mental health conditions. We create individualized treatment plans so that your treatment fits your specific needs. If you are suffering from distressing mental health symptoms, West Coast wants to assist you in achieving long-lasting recovery. For more information about the resources we offer, give West Coast Recovery a call today at (760) 492-6509.