Establishing and maintaining lasting change in life is always a process. It’s not easy to break old habits and learn new behaviors. For those with substance use disorder (SUD), the process toward change is even more complicated, as a person’s brain structure and functioning are impaired by substance use. Fortunately, there is a tried and true method of change often used in the addiction recovery process that provides a valuable framework known as the five stages of change, commonly experienced by individuals with SUD as they work to achieve wellness.

The Five Stages of Change

Originally called the Transtheoretical Model (TTM), the five stages of change were created in 1983 to initially help people quit smoking. These stages were updated in 1992 to be used in clinical settings and are still useful to reference in the recovery process today. The five stages describe different phases of behavior and attitude that someone struggling with SUD may experience as they work to secure lasting change in their life. At Family-Centered Services, we see the treatment and recovery process as something that the whole family takes part in, not just the individual with SUD. Therefore, the stages of change can be useful for all family members to process alongside their loved one with SUD.

It is important to understand that there is no time frame for moving through the stages of change, and progress doesn’t have to be linear. Still, it is crucial to understand and recognize the stages of change together as a family to best encourage forward progress. 

The stages of change are as follows:

#1. Pre-Contemplation

This first stage takes place in the throes of addiction. In this sage, a person is in denial about their SUD and won’t engage with any suggestion of professional help. They are likely defensive about or indifferent to the negative effects that their substance use has on themselves and their family. Sometimes, they can also be blinded by the perceived positive effects of substance use. Pre-contemplation is often the longest stage because it is the toughest to break out of. To move to the next stage, a person may need to be faced with the consequences and negative effects of their substance use. An intervention can prove useful for becoming educated and providing insight.

#2. Contemplation

In this stage, a person becomes more open to conversations surrounding the pros and cons of professional help. They may begin to recognize the concerns and consequences of their substance use and contemplate what their life would be like without substance use. Although they haven’t committed to receiving treatment and may still be using in this stage, they are less defensive and easier to reason with. Loved ones can be supportive by providing individuals with resources and information on treatment facilities, along with judgment-free support and encouragement. 

#3. Preparation

The preparation stage begins once an individual decides to try to make a change. They may start to make plans for future wellness, such as joining a gym, seeing a therapist, or going to a treatment center. Effective planning is necessary at this stage. As a family, members should continue to encourage their loved one’s progress and help them make more concrete plans to achieve sobriety. Members can also make their own wellness plans as active members in the recovery process. It’s important to show loved ones that the family will participate in the journey alongside them, perhaps through family therapy, for lasting support and recovery.

#4. Action

This stage is when the plans made in the preparation stage come into play. Here, an individual with SUD will actually take the leap and make active steps toward change. They may attend rehab or counseling as well as engage in new self-care practices in their daily life. To support them, family members can consider participating in family therapy sessions.

Remember that all members can play an active role in a loved one’s sobriety. Although this is the stage of active change, the behaviors that an individual is learning are not yet stable. Relapse is very possible and normal in many cases. No matter how many relapses or setbacks take place, however, the important thing is that the individual is committed to relying on professional guidance and support for lasting sobriety. 

#5. Maintenance

This is the stage of sustained sobriety and wellness. Oftentimes, an individual will go through the past four stages multiple times before achieving maintenance. Here, a person has made a lifelong commitment to mental and physical wellness and also has the framework to uphold that commitment. In addition, the individual as well as their family members have an active role in relapse prevention. Family members can continue their own work in counseling as their loved one continues to progress on their recovery journey. 

Progressing Through the Five Stages of Change Together

These five stages take place primarily within the person facing SUD. However, family members can go through a similar process. While family members move through the stages of change, it’s normal to experience feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, and anger. However, it’s important to remember not to target these negative feelings on those with SUD as they go through their own process of change.

The value of healing together as a family is one of the many reasons why Family-Centered Services emphasizes family therapy throughout the recovery journey. It can give all family members a healthy outlet for difficult emotions, concerns, and more. Remember, as family is stronger together, consider working through the five stages of change together as a family as one member works to heal from the lasting effects of substance use.

At Family-Centered Services, based out of Washington state, we believe that the recovery process isn’t something that needs to be shouldered alone. A strong, supportive family unit can make all of the difference for people struggling with SUD. Our Family Recovery Program combines our professional and personal experience to help guide families through the stages of change to sustained familial wellness. The family therapy curriculum is designed to help families recover from the effects of addiction and grow stronger together. We want to help families like yours make progress toward real and lasting change. To learn more about our Family Recovery Program and other resources, give us a call at (509) 991-5822.