The Stages of Addiction and Recovery

Drug and alcohol addiction happens in five different stages. This blog seeks out those stages and the corresponding path to recovery.

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With enough time, it’s we change as individuals. However, these changes are brought upon by a number of factors, including our environment and the people we surround ourselves with.¹

Due to these factors, there are distinct changes to look out for when someone develops a substance abuse disorder.

Have you noticed suspicious changes in someone you love? Have you began using illicit substances and are afraid you’re developing an addiction?

Throughout this blog, you’re going to learn about the stages of addiction. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Stage One: Pre-Contemplation

The earliest signals of addiction are that of pre-contemplation. This is when a user begins to realize the consequences of their drug or alcohol use, however, has justification for doing so.

In many cases, this justification is that of self-medication. Many people who suffer from both physical and mental illnesses feel the need to medicate themselves with a substance as a means of easing symptoms.² If drugs or alcohol makes you feel better for a short period of time and that’s your reason to continue, then you are currently in the earliest stage of addiction.

With these reasons, you may also feel little desire to make any changes to your habit.

If you’re an outside observer, you may notice your loved one taking life less seriously. As though they go about their responsibilities in a daze and with little to no care.

It’s important to remember that during this early stage, people will still have the capability of maintaining responsibility.

Stage Two: Contemplation

At this point, the consequences of addiction have become more severe. So much so that the person struggling is becoming all too aware of them. Still, the user will continue to make justifications.

One of the most common is that they’ll prepare for a change later in life. For some, this may mean quitting drugs or alcohol by a certain age or when they get something they want (i.e. a college degree or the right job). Whatever the case may be, the user continues to see drugs or alcohol as more of a benefit and continues on.

Still, during this stage, the user will begin to realize that sometimes the consequences override the benefits. These consequences can come in a few different forms, such as not having enough money or failing to complete an important responsibility.

Outside observers may notice some changes, but it’s important to understand that these changes are gradually developing. Therefore, they may not be so obvious.

Some obvious things to keep an eye out for are whether or not your loved one is hanging out with a new group of friends, going to places where drug use is prominent, and asking for money.³

Stage Three: Preparation

If a person struggling with addiction realizes they are in trouble, then they are going to begin making preparations for treatment. If they don’t realize this, the addiction will override them and take over their lives. This process could take anywhere from days to months, but there’s very little wiggle room outside these two possibilities.

Still, that’s not to say it isn’t possible to help everyone. Instead, what we’re saying is some people will realize their problem with addiction while others need a bit of an extra push to come to this realization.

The realization is made once the person struggling understands that they are completely responsible for their choices. And that they are the only ones who have the ability to change their lives.

If you are currently coming to this understanding, it’s extremely important you begin to gather resources that can help you through the recovery process. These can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • 12 step meetings
  • Drug and alcohol addiction treatment
  • Therapeutic intervention
  • Other sober supports

Stage Four: Taking Action

After a person has come to realize the necessity they have for change, they will begin to take action. This includes doing things that incorporate positive emotional, mental, and physical change.

As to what these changes are will vary from person to person. Just how drug or alcohol addiction affects everyone differently, so does the process of recovery.⁴

There are a few points of interest that are common in helping people overcome addiction. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Dietary change
  • Fitness plan
  • Getting involved in the community
  • Participating in recovery groups
  • Renting space in a sober living home

During this time, an outside observer will notice significant and positive changes in their loved one’s behavior.

Stage Five: Maintaining Sobriety

One of the most difficult aspects of addiction recovery is avoiding relapse. For many who go through treatment, they end up leaving still feeling as though there’s a void within their spirit. As though they haven’t really changed, but simply sobered up.⁵

People who are disciplined about beating addiction will not come face-to-face with this issue. But those who have made the realization (as mentioned above) will be tempted into taking a substance again.

If you are concerned loved one, you can see whether or not the person struggling with addiction is relapsing (or on the verge of relapsing), if they’re giving into old or new bad habits. These include:

  • Bottling up emotions
  • Focusing on others (mainly, how others affect them)
  • Going to recovery meetings, but not participating
  • Isolating themselves
  • Not going to recovery meetings
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits

If you are a person in recovery and having trouble with maintaining your sobriety, keep in mind that things will get much easier a year from now. Cravings will cease, your ability to participate in activities will strengthen, and you’ll develop healthy habits that become so much apart of your daily life, you’ll forget about a life with drugs.

Your Questions

Still have questions surrounding the stages of drug or alcohol addiction?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have further personal or professional knowledge on the topic, we’d also love to hear from you.

We try to reply to each legitimate comment in a prompt and personal manner.

Reference Sources

¹ HHS Public Access: Personality Trait Change in Adulthood

² Journal of Basic and Clinical Pharmacy: Self-medication: A current challenge

³ New York State: Combat Addiction: Warning Signs

⁴ HHS Public Access: Pathways to Long-Term Recovery: A Preliminary Investigation

⁵ YJBM: Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery

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