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Stages of recovery

A road map to where you are in recovery

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As discussed in our previous blog, the stages of recovery refers to a guideline that references where an individual is in terms of their recovery. Although we try not to think of things in black and white, this terminology gives us a quick look at what a person is dealing with at a particular stage in their recovery, what obstacles the individual, the family, and the professional that is working with them face for challenges at that juncture.

Pre-contemplation stage or denial stage:  We tend to look at an individual in the denial stage as a person who does not admit to themselves or others that there is a problem, this can often be very frustrating to family members and loved ones who are desperately trying to save the substance user from themselves. Unfortunately, there is not a lot to be done for this person in this stage. They are resistant to any change because they see no need for one. They often refuse professional support such as programs, therapy, medication, or any sort of intervention the family tries to expose them to. At this stage family often feel as though they are helpless. Firm boundaries and continued offering of support for professional help is the best course of action here.

Contemplation stage: A person in this stage is willing to admit they have a problem and is somewhat open to receiving help, but may not accept all help offered, or are not ready to commit to an action plan that will lead to likely change.

The contemplation stage is what we sometimes call the malleable stage, since the person is admitting they have a problem. You as the trusted loved one can offer support and your rationale for why you want to offer that particular support. Many students we initially speak to are in this stage. They admit they have a problem, they are willing to hear what people have to offer, but may not be willing to commit to us or any other type of professional support. Many times the individual has a strong belief that although there is a problem, they can fix it themselves.

Preparation stage: A person accepts or does not accept certain interventions, often needs to prove to themselves that they cannot make the change themselves, or that trying to do it themselves will be extremely difficult. The beginnings of developing a long term plan to solve their problem begins here.

Generally we start to see some “trial and error” in this stage, if a mindset of “I can fix this myself” appears in a person in the contemplation stage, they will ultimately put that to the test by attempting to stop the behavior themselves. Some succeed, most fail in this because the process is extremely difficult and complex for most people.

Click here for our blog on changing your environment for a better understanding of some of the obstacles that prove to be the most challenging for a person in these stages.

Action stage: A person is ready to implement their plan and approach their problem head-on, at this point is ready to try new interventions and behaviors in order to effect long-term change. This includes psychoeducation, coping skills, distraction techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy etc.

Most students Northwoods enrolls are generally in this stage. The important thing to remember about the action stage is that everyone has a different sobriety plan, and none of them are necessarily bad. However, it should be noted that many people underestimate the complexity and difficulty of achieving and maintaining sobriety, there are often times, aspects to how and why a person uses that are subconscious in nature that have to do with their social life, childhood, and sometimes other psychiatric problems such as depression that need to be addressed parallel to treating their substance use. It is important that those helping this person are comfortable and competent working around all these topics.

Maintenance stage: A person has achieved the maintenance stage once they have developed a plan for long-term success for the issue they are working on, such as a sobriety plan for those working on substance use. This involves having maintained the action stage for anywhere from 3-6 months, depending on the individual and what sources you reference.

As discussed in our previous blog, this is often the most difficult stage for an individual. Many things have changed, some have not, and having the skills to be successful at something and actually succeeding at it are two entirely different things. This is often where a person transitions back to other aspects of their life, which can cause additional stress on their sobriety plan. It is important at this stage to make sure the individual is fully supported in this process so if they run into trouble, it is caught early. There is no need to hit rock bottom on a relapse. Whether it is our transitional program at Northwoods, another program, or simply really strong professional support that is adequate from therapists, case managers, sobriety coaches, 12 step programs, and family members. It is important to make sure the person is adequately supported in this very important, and often most difficult step.

Rory K. McLaughlin, CEO