Phases of Addiction Treatment and Recovery

Alcohol and drug abuse can break families apart and turn incredibly caring humans into shells of themselves. You may feel that your loved one is gradually slipping away, transforming into a person you no longer know or understand. Dealing with an addict is never just about coping with the addiction itself. You must cope with the mental, emotional, and physical effects as well.

James Prochaska and Carlo DiClement created the transtheoretical model. It’s the six stages of change and offers insight into how the treatment works and how to accomplish recovery. The six stages are pre-contemplation, contemplation, action, maintenance, and termination. Addicts can jump back and forth between these stages. Knowing them will explain what an addict will go through during the different phases of addiction, treatment, and recovery.


During this stage, addicts won’t see their behavior as an issue. They may not have experienced consequences from their behavior yet, or they’re in denial about the severity of their addiction. They aren’t interested in advice or someone preaching about the harmful side effects. People in the pre-contemplation stage can be grouped into four categories:

  • Reluctant pre-contemplator: They have a lack of awareness of the problem and have no motivation to change.
  • Rebellious pre-contemplator: They don’t want to let go of the addiction because they don’t appreciate being bossed around.
  • Resigned pre-contemplator: They’re so overwhelmed by the addictive behavior that they’ve given up hope for change.
  • Rationalizing pre-contemplator: They think they have all the answers and have reasoning why their substance use isn’t an issue.

They have not reached rock bottom yet. The abuse of the substance still seems worthwhile and forgivable.


Substance abusers in this stage realize they have a problem. They understand the harm that goes along with their addiction. They are ready for change, but not immediately. They’re open to learning and listening to the potential consequences of their behavior, but at the same time, have not made a decision. Addicts in this stage are deeply aware of the “benefits” they recognize from drugs or alcohol. As a loved one, the best thing you can do for the addict in this stage is avoid blaming, judging, and accusing them. This can send them back to pre-contemplation.

An addict may be afraid to move forward from this step for a few reasons. They could be afraid of withdrawal, relapse triggers, or cravings. Or it may be a psychological dependence; for example, why would they quit drinking when they continue to work a high-stress job that causes them to drink? The stressful job is what brought on the addiction, not them.


When they’ve reached this stage, the substance abuser is ready to take action and better themselves. They are committed to making changes and have a sense of urgency. The addict has a desire for sobriety. It’s common to see them seeking out counseling or attempting to quit on their own. It’s also normal to see them go a day or two without abusing drugs or alcohol and then regress back to stages one or two when they become triggered or difficult emotions occur.


This stage is where the real change begins. Prolonged periods of abstinence from drugs or alcohol are how you characterize the change as real. They will turn to professionals for help before or after a relapse. It will be apparent in different aspects of their life, such as self-care and self-understanding.

Counseling is required to keep them on the right track and address the underlying causes of addiction. Many individuals will think they’ve conquered sobriety because they no longer are drinking or medicating with illegal substances. Still, to get the best chance of remaining sober, they must tackle the core fears that contribute to the abuse. They will become equipped with practical strategies for coping with stress and triggers throughout their lives.

An excellent option for starting this change is a residential detox program, and Chapman House in Orange County, California, offers a fantastic program.


A substance abuser will now begin to adapt to their new life without substances. The fear of reverting back to their old habits will become less of a threat, but this will take an ample amount of time. For most, it takes two to five years to break the habit truly. The risk is always present because addiction is a chronic disease, but the urge to relapse will fade as they gain confidence.

If a relapse does occur, it’s important to remember that it’s not a sign of failure or weakness. They can achieve sobriety again with more specialized treatment.

This stage also focuses on lifestyle changes for the individual. It offers different coping skills to remember when they want to revert to their old ways. Some of these skills include regular exercise, recreational activities, maintaining healthy sleep patterns, and attending support groups.


The final stage on the journey to recovery is termination. In this stage, the individual will no longer feel threatened by their substance abuse choices. The fear of relapsing will continue to fade but never entirely disappear. The best thing to do at this point is to stay in aftercare. It keeps the accountability present.

Maintaining sobriety is a lifelong commitment, and when individuals reach this stage, they will have likely regained their health and left unhealthy habits behind. Some approaches to consider when in the termination stage are:

  • Setting realistic goals
  • Planning day to day activities
  • Creating and maintaining a relationship with a person who is not a substance abuser
  • Participating in substance abuse free activities
  • Infusing your daily life with faith, spirituality, community service, or social activism

These phases of addiction treatment and recovery can seem overwhelming and complex for a person who is just beginning, but there is hope on the other side. They break it down simplistically and make recovery a pleasant experience, so you’ll want to stick with it. Its goal is to help a wide variety of people since addicts come from all different walks of life. If you’re watching someone go through alcohol or drug addiction, the best thing you can do is be their support system when they’re ready to begin the journey of getting sober. If you’re a substance abuser and you’re ready to be done, people are here to help. It’s easy to feel alone and isolated, but you don’t have to be.


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