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Addiction Issues: Stages of Change

Substance abuse treatment professionals teach us that there are six stages of change for the person who wants to eliminate alcohol or drugs from his life. You probably recognize that any worthwhile project requires change and planning; and achieving sobriety is no different. It helps, then, to know the stages that you’re about to go through, because to be prepared is to be successful.

  1. Precontemplation

Precontemplation means you aren’t seriously thinking about stopping your use of alcohol or drugs yet. Any counselor who’s certified in alcohol abuse treatment will tell you that precontemplation is the stage when the addict insists that he knows people whose problems are much worse than his. He denies that he has a problem although he really knows little about alcohol or drug abuse.

If you’ve been told to consider treatment, or if you know someone who needs treatment, it’s helpful to encourage them to give some serious thoughts to their behaviors. This is a time when introspection can lead to a willingness to consider the risks of use and the consequences of addiction.

  1. Contemplation

In this stage, the person who’s been addicted can think about what his life would be like if he didn’t use. Sometimes counselors in alcohol abuse treatment centers will encourage the addict to create a vision board or utilize some creative method to display the places where he’s been and the places where he hopes to go. You might ask yourself what you need in order to reach those goals.

It’s common, however, for the addict to feel or at least exhibit some level of ambivalence toward the idea of recovery. His emotions are conflicted, and it’s frightening to think about such a major change in his life, even if the person is physically strong with a good resource and support system.

  1. Preparation

As the person begins going through these stages of change, things move slowly. Think about what you need to make a transition to the next stage. Remember that baby steps work fine, and as you go through the process you will learn with your counselor about the dynamics that infused your addiction habits in the past and how you can take control of your future.

  1. Action

At this stage you will recognize some progress. Take time to think about the strategies that helped you make it this far. Maybe you’ve begun an exercise or movement class, or perhaps some kind of music therapy is more helpful to you. Keep exploring new avenues of change, and think about the activities you used to enjoy before your substance of choice took over your life. Move forward!

  1. Maintenance

Now that you are actively not using, you need to develop coping skills to help you when temptation strikes. By this time you should know how to go to a 12-step meeting and ask for a sponsor; don’t be hesitant to contact the people who are a part of your support network. Stay away from the people who you used to get high with, because they will pull you back into your old behaviors. And don’t forget to give yourself a reward—something you’ve wanted to buy for yourself or a trip to the spa.

  1. Relapse

Nobody makes it this far without a relapse. You will feel disappointed, frustrated, and discouraged. Talk to the counselor at your drug or alcohol abuse treatment center about the triggers that brought you to relapse. Talk to your sponsor and supportive family members to reaffirm your goals and your commitment to sobriety.  Experiencing a relapse, believe it or not, will strengthen your recovery.

Keep Moving Forward

Recovery takes a long time—actually, you will always be walking on the road to recovery. However, as you gain strength and positivity, you will be in the company of other people who have succeeded in making their lives better through sobriety. Keep moving forward, and never give up!

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