What Are the Stages of Addiction Recovery?

What Are the Stages of Addiction Recovery?

By In Addiction Recovery, First Steps
Posted January 10, 2018

Recovering from addiction isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a process, and the process won’t be exactly the same for everyone.

Despite some differences, particularly in the length of time individuals need to recover, there are six general stages of addiction recovery. These stages are also referred to as the transtheoretical model, and they include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination.

Individuals may move in and out of these recovery stages in a nonlinear process, sometimes falling back to an earlier stage.

An understanding of these stages is important because as recovering addicts move through different stages, treatment must move with them. Treatment that is effective in earlier stages may be ineffective or even harmful in later stages.

So what exactly do these stages mean? Below is a description of each addiction recovery stage, along with corresponding treatments.


At this stage, the addict is in denial. He’s not fully aware of the negative consequences of the drinking or drug use, and he doesn’t feel that he has a problem.

You may hear phrases like, “I’ve got it under control,” or, “I know how to handle my drinking/drug use.” The addict is unlikely to seek treatment or accept help at this point. Before recovery is truly possible, the addict must overcome this denial and resistance.

For addicts who do end up in treatment at this point—typically due to health problems or because of legal mandates—group therapy is often useful for “overcoming the resistance that characterizes addicts.”


Here, the addict becomes aware of the negative consequences of his drinking or drug use. This may be prompted by health issues, legal problems, or conflicts with friends and family.

Although the addict is becoming more aware during the contemplation stage, he’s not ready to fully commit to recovery. More likely, he’ll begin considering change but is fearful about cost, treatments, and giving up his substance of choice.

Group therapy can also be beneficial at this point. Someone who has stopped using for just a few days, for instance, may gain hope from participating in meetings with those who have been sober for weeks or months.

A man contemplating his plan to seek addiction recovery treatment.


The addict has decided that change is necessary. The negative impact of drinking or drug abuse can no longer be ignored or excused.

At this point, the addict may begin trying to control the problem on his own. He may try to cut back, substitute hard liquor for beer, or experiment with other methods. It’s likely that the addict will become frustrated with his inability to solve the problem on his own, and he may start to look into addiction treatment and plan for his recovery.

It’s important for the addict to share his plan to change with family and friends, and the support of these family and friends is vital as the recovery journey begins.


The addict will take active steps toward change. He may learn more about addiction and recovery, attempt more positive behaviors, and begin trying to avoid or cope with high-risk situations.

The addict may attend a treatment program and start to accept the idea of not drinking or using drugs again. He will begin working to fix underlying issues leading to drug and alcohol abuse.

At this point, an individualized approach is beneficial. Counseling or therapy should focus on helping the addict understand how his current problems are directly related to his substance abuse. He should grapple with underlying issues and learn healthier coping mechanisms.


Maintenance is about learning how to sustain the self-control learned during the action stage. The recovering addict will likely build support groups, attend 12-step meetings, remain in contact with a sponsor, and make healthier life choices.

A man victorious in his addiction recovery.


At the termination stage, the recovering addict has gained confidence and a new self-image. They are living a meaningful and healthy life and are able to withstand temptation. The idea of relapsing is now almost unthinkable.


Most recovering addicts travel through these stages at least 3-4 times before it’s possible to make it through without any sort of lapse. Recovering addicts may return to the contemplation stage and have to repeat the process again.

Of course, each time the stages are repeated, the recovering addict has learned more and is likelier to be successful. Remember that recovering from addiction is a process and a journey, and don’t be discouraged.

If you or a loved one is seeking addiction recovery call one of our addiction specialist today at 1-888-249-2590 or submit a form here: Get Help Now. 

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