Support group for addiction recovery.

Walking Through the 5 Stages of Addiction Recovery

What exactly does the process of recovering from an addiction look like? How does someone know they’re ready for treatment? Whether recovering from substance use disorder or addictive behaviors, a great first step for a successful treatment program is understanding the 5 stages of addiction recovery.

What are the Five Stages of Addiction Recovery?

Addiction recovery is not a straight line. A person may go back and forth between stages or move directly from one stage to another. There is no set amount of time a person should spend in each stage of change. And, it’s important to remember that you can always move forward toward your goal, no matter what stage you’re in.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction, reach out to an addiction treatment center for treatment options.

*If this is an emergency, call 911.

The five stages of addiction recovery are based on the transtheoretical model of behavioral change. However, the sixth and final stage of the transtheoretical model – termination – is omitted when applied to addiction. (People in the termination stage have no desire to return to their behavior and have little to no chance of relapse; they have reached “the end.” Addiction recovery is a chronic disorder, so those in recovery remain in the maintenance phase after the rehab and recovery processes.) The termination stage is an unrealistic expectation for the addiction recovery journey.

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1. Precontemplation Stage

The precontemplation stage is the point in time when the individual is not thinking about changing any behaviors; they may not even be aware of the fact that they have a problem.

In this early stage of change, the person believes they have control over their substance use and don’t need help from anyone else. This stage is commonly referred to as denial. People in this stage are not willing to hear others tell them about any negative consequences of their addiction.

2. Contemplation Stage

The contemplation stage is a time of uncertainty and confusion. A person may be considering treatment but is not ready to take action yet. At this stage, they may have questions about addiction recovery or treatment that need to be answered before committing to a lifestyle change.

During the contemplation stage, individuals are more likely to listen to reason when it comes to the idea of having an addiction. They may even be in the process of researching how to become drug-free, so knowing their loved ones are supportive of their recovery goes a long way.

3. Preparation Stage

The next stage of addiction recovery is the preparation stage, where the individual has acknowledged their problem and is ready to make a change. In this stage, thoroughly preparing for recovery is the best way to get set up for success.

The preparation stage is one of the most difficult to get out of because the next step is taking action toward reducing drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or addictive behaviors. Since moving forward out of this stage can seem scary, it is not unusual for individuals to fall back into the previous stages until they are ready.

The goal of this stage is to prepare oneself for recovery, which includes determining a treatment plan with a counselor, eliminating potential triggers, and establishing a support system. Those in the preparation stage will take time to research and choose a treatment facility, begin limiting alcohol or drug use, and protect themselves from reminders of their addiction. Triggers can include both physical objects as well as people and locations if they are associated with the addiction.

4. Action Stage

The action stage is when real change begins to happen. It’s not just an idea anymore; it’s the beginning of the process. In the action stage, the mental and physical preparation done in the previous stages is now put to use.

The action stage often begins by completely stopping drug use, alcohol use, or other addictions. It is common for those with substance use disorder to go through this stage in a treatment facility for a healthy detox.


The first step of substance abuse treatment is to detox. Those with a drug addiction or alcohol addiction become dependent, so their body goes through withdrawal when they halt drinking alcohol or drug use. These withdrawal symptoms can be severe depending on the substance, usage, and dependence level. Inpatient rehab programs offer 24/7 support from medical staff to aid in this difficult first stage of action.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms
        • Insomnia
        • Anxiety
        • Perspiration
        • Fever
        • Muscle Cramps
        • Hot and Cold Flashes
        • Nausea and Vomiting
        • Stomach Cramps
        • Restlessness
        • Tremors or Shaking
        • Irritability
        • Muscle Aches and Pains
        • Headache
        • Increased Heart Rate
        • Cravings
        • Depression

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Addiction Treatment Programs

Inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment are two different approaches to substance abuse recovery. Some people may use both throughout their recovery journey. The main difference between the two is the level of care and structure provided.

Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, is a live-in program where individuals receive around-the-clock care and support in a controlled environment. This type of treatment is often recommended for individuals with severe substance abuse issues or co-occurring mental health disorders.

Outpatient treatment, on the other hand, is a less intensive form of treatment where individuals still receive care but don’t stay in a facility. Outpatient treatment allows individuals to live at home and attend work or school while undergoing treatment. Intensive outpatient rehab programs also involve counseling sessions and weekly drug tests.

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment can be effective depending on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. In general, inpatient treatment provides a higher level of structure and support, while outpatient treatment offers more flexibility and freedom. The best approach to treatment depends on the individual’s situation, substance abuse history, and other factors. Those who go through an inpatient rehab program transition to outpatient to maintain support while they return to their previous environment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) helps those recovering from opioid addiction because these withdrawal symptoms can be particularly difficult. This evidence-based treatment uses medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug effects so that patients are not tempted to relapse and are less likely to overdose. MAT programs are heavily monitored by physicians and are not meant to be a form of long-term substance abuse treatment.

5. Maintenance Stage

The maintenance stage’s main goal is relapse prevention. At this point, the individual has gone through a rehab program and has withheld from their addiction. They have learned how to handle triggers and cravings and have developed other healthy habits to support their journey.

In the maintenance stage, it’s essential to keep up prevention practices and add new ones when necessary. Counseling helps those in the maintenance stage maintain their sobriety and talk through any challenges that come up throughout their recovery. Counselors can also provide additional ideas on how to stay on track after being sober (for example, journaling or meditation).


Addiction recovery aftercare refers to the ongoing support and services provided to individuals in recovery from substance abuse after they complete a formal treatment program. Aftercare can help individuals maintain their sobriety, prevent relapse, and achieve long-term success in their recovery.

Aftercare typically includes a range of activities and services:

      1. Ongoing therapy or counseling
      2. Participation in support groups
      3. Regular check-ins with a sponsor or therapist
      4. Staying active in recovery-focused activities
      5. Managing triggers and stress through healthy coping mechanisms

Support Systems

A strong support system is crucial at every single stage of addiction recovery, but it is essential in the maintenance of stage. When a person reaches this stage, they have less intense treatment programs and are mostly on their own.

      • Group therapy: Group therapy is led by a trained therapist for a group of people who all have a common problem or issue. It allows individuals to learn from their counselor and their peers at the same time.
      • Support groups: Support groups allow individuals with a common problem or issue to share experiences, thoughts, and feelings with each other. Support groups help people in the addiction recovery process know they are not alone and learn from each other’s successes and failures.
      • Family therapy: Family therapy is a form of talk therapy that allows family members to communicate more effectively, express feelings, and understand each other better.

Find Hope For Recovery

Understanding the 5 stages of addiction recovery is the first step in helping someone through the recovery process. Substance abuse recovery begins when the individual accepts the fact that they have a problem and is willing and able to start their journey. When you or a loved one are ready to begin a recovery journey, Meridian HealthCare is ready to help.