What are the stages of change in addiction treatment?

Howard J. Shaffer, PhD
Addiction Medicine
The well-established "stages of change" model for addressing problematic health behaviors is widely applied in addiction treatment programs. According to this model, behavior change rarely occurs quickly. Instead, people are more likely to journey through several distinct phases before attaining their goal. Here is information about each of the stages of change.
  • Precontemplation. In this phase, there is no thought of changing either now or later because the individual does not recognize a problem with addiction. The inability to recognize the problem prevents the person from developing a desire to change his or her behaviors.
  • Contemplation. The person recognizes a problem but is ambivalent about change.
  • Preparation. The person has accepted the idea of making a behavior change and begins looking for ways to accomplish it. For people who abuse drugs, this may involve attempts to reduce the amount they use.
  • Action. This constitutes taking a definitive step. An example would be entering an addiction peer support group.
  • Maintenance. Temptation to return to old habits is inherent in any type of behavior change. Acknowledging that lapses can occur and developing relapse prevention strategies ahead of time to stay on track or get back on track is a key element to successfully quitting.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.