The 5 Stages of Recovery: Everything You Need to Know

When you are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, recovery can seem like an impossible task. However, the substance abuse recovery process is actually something that you can achieve once you know about the five stages of recovery. Through the stages of recovery, you will learn where to start with your recovery treatment options, and you will see just how far you can go.

1. Precontemplation

woman drinking alcohol worrying about relationship
woman drinking alcohol worrying about relationship

Precontemplation is the earliest of all the stages of recovery. In this stage, you might begin to worry about your relationship with drugs and alcohol. You might find yourself wondering, “Do I have a problem using drugs? Am I drinking too much?” Ultimately, this is when your gut begins to tell you that something isn’t quite right.

However, in the precontemplation stage, most people aren’t ready to face the truth just yet. You might find yourself rationalizing drug or alcohol use in this stage by saying that you’re just having a drink to unwind after a stressful day, or that you feel you could stop using drugs at any point. You might even rationalize abusing prescription drugs because they were prescribed by a doctor, saying that you have a valid prescription, even if you’re going above the prescribed dosage.

Though this stage might be frustrating to you or to your loved ones who want you to get help right away, it’s important to go through precontemplation. Having a beginning awareness that you might need addiction help will take you to the next stage: contemplation.

2. Contemplation

In the contemplation stage, you have probably started to face some consequences as a result of your addiction. Addiction can have a ripple effect on your life and negatively impact anything from your physical wellbeing to your mental health and even to your personal relationships. Addiction can also harm your ability to make well-informed decisions, leaving you with financial hardship and potentially trouble with the law.


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This contemplation stage of recovery is challenging because you are starting to see that you seriously need help, but you might not have hit rock bottom yet. Rock bottom is something that many people who struggle with addiction describe as a necessary experience. For some people, rock bottom is losing their job or a cherished relationship. For others, there are more serious side effects. This is when you will begin to truly contemplate changing your life around through addiction recovery services.

3. Preparation

When you know that you need addiction help and that you can no longer go on living with the ups and downs of substance abuse, you begin to prepare for the next steps. To prepare, you might look at addiction centers near you. You might attend addiction meetings or drug and alcohol support groups. Alternatively, you might try to get sober by quitting cold turkey. However, this can be dangerous when your body is dependent on drugs or alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms are serious and often include:

  • Body aches
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

So, when you are preparing your first steps toward recovery, be sure to detox safely and with the right medical and mental health support behind you. Often, the best way to prepare for the stages of sobriety is to join a recovery program for drug or alcohol addiction. There, you will have the necessary treatment options to keep yourself safe as you go through the substance abuse recovery process.

4. Action

Group meeting talking about taking action at recovery facilities
Group meeting talking about taking action at recovery facilities

Taking action involves participating in the programs and services that are essential to your recovery journey. During your time in a residential treatment program, for example, you would take action by going through the 12 step process in addition to attending individual and group therapies. Furthermore, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs will give you the opportunity to grow with unique services such as recreational therapy. The action stage of recovery might also involve addressing your mental health with dual diagnosis treatment.

One of the surprising elements of this stage, though, is that the actions you take aren’t always the best. In fact, it is during this stage of recovery that many people experience their first relapse by turning to drugs and alcohol once again. Relapse can feel discouraging, especially after the work you’ve put in to reach this point of recovery. But keep in mind that mistakes are part of the journey.

Relapsing is not the end of recovery. In reality, it’s often the beginning of a stronger, more dedicated march ahead. If you do experience relapse, you will have a better understanding of the challenges of recovery. From there, you will be more prepared to practice the next and final stage of recovery as you maintain sobriety through all of life’s challenges.

5. Maintenance

Maintenance of recovery is a life-long practice and something you will have to do no matter how long you’ve been sober. Through maintenance, you will be able to manage triggers, urges to use, and any other surprises that come your way. In this stage of recovery, you will be proactive rather than reactive. This means that you will work to make sure you remain healthy and practice recovery skills in order to prevent future relapses from occurring.

Something that can really help with this stage of recovery would be learning valuable life skills such as:

  • How to balance your budget
  • Keep a healthy lifestyle
  • Build a safe and supportive environment for yourself
  • How to best manage your time

All of these factors contribute to your ability to get and stay sober. This is why reaching this last stage of recovery is hard work but worth all of the effort.

 

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Addiction Recovery FAQs

1. What are the five stages of recovery?

The five stages of recovery typically include:

    1. Pre-contemplation: Individuals may not yet recognize that they have a problem or are in denial about their condition.
    2. Contemplation: Individuals begin to acknowledge their problem and start considering the possibility of change, weighing the pros and cons.
    3. Preparation: Individuals are ready to make a change and start planning the steps they need to take for their recovery.
    4. Action: Active steps are taken towards recovery, such as attending therapy, joining support groups, or starting treatment programs.
    5. Maintenance: After significant progress, individuals work to maintain their new, healthier behaviors and prevent relapse.

2. How long does each stage of recovery last?

The duration of each stage varies for each individual. The pre-contemplation and contemplation stages can last from a few weeks to several months or even years. The preparation stage is generally shorter, often a few weeks to a few months. The action stage can last several months to a year, and the maintenance stage is ongoing and requires continuous effort.

3. What challenges are commonly faced during the action stage of recovery?

During the action stage, individuals often face challenges such as cravings, emotional stress, external triggers, and lifestyle changes. It’s crucial to have a strong support system, effective coping strategies, and access to professional help to navigate these challenges successfully.

4. How can family and friends support someone in the different stages of recovery?

Family and friends can support recovery by:

    • Pre-contemplation and Contemplation: Offering non-judgmental support, providing information, and encouraging open communication.
    • Preparation: Helping with practical aspects like finding treatment options and creating a supportive environment.
    • Action: Encouraging and participating in healthy activities, providing emotional support, and celebrating progress.
    • Maintenance: Continuing to offer encouragement, understanding, and support for ongoing healthy behaviors and being vigilant for signs of relapse.

5. What should someone do if they experience a relapse during their recovery?

Experiencing a relapse does not mean failure. It’s important to:

    • Acknowledge the relapse: Recognize what triggered it and understand that it is a part of the recovery process.
    • Seek support: Reach out to therapists, counselors, or support groups for guidance and encouragement.
    • Reevaluate and adjust the recovery plan: Identify any gaps or weaknesses in the current plan and make necessary adjustments.
    • Stay committed: Use the relapse as a learning experience and continue working towards long-term recovery.

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