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The Stages of Change Model

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

The Stages of Change model is a way of representing the process of overcoming addiction. Although it can be applied to a scope of other behaviours a person may want to change, it is most well-recognised in treating addiction.


There are four main stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation and action. There are also maintenance and relapse included as additional stages. The model presents states as a cycle as people usually go through these stages in cycle. However, it happens that people could go backward and forward or be in more than one phase at a time.


The first stage is pre-contemplation. People at this stage generally not see their behaviour problematic because they might have not faced any negative outcomes of their behaviour yet, or they are in denial about the severity of the consequences. Also, at this stage people usually are not interested in advice to cease their addiction or hearing about negative outcomes. Eventually, negative consequences affect individuals engaging in addictive behaviours and these consequences can drive people to move into the next stage.

The contemplation stage refers to a phase when a person begins to think about moderating or quitting the addictive behaviour. People in this phase are mostly more open to hear about probable consequences and willing to learn about different approaches to manage or quit addictive behaviours but they do not commit to any particular strategy. Often people with addictions may be in this stage for many years before they commit to make a change.

The preparation stage indicates that a person has advanced to preparing for implementation of changes they learnt about in the contemplation phase, such as deciding on how to make the change, getting rid of triggers or what kind of support is available.

During the action stage real change starts occurring. Although this phase is usually stressful, with good support and preparation it can also be a time that brings new possibilities. The action stage can be a complete life change or it may happen in slow steps. Cultivating efficient approaches to cope with stress is crucial during this phase.


The maintenance stage involves continuing the changes that began in the previous stage. This could involve staying abstinent or keeping decreased level of addictive behaviours. This phase could be challenging when adverse events arise and the old and familiar means of coping reappear, hence learning new ways of coping with stress is so important.


The relapse stage recognises that an individual can experience some lapses and relapses before they achieve maintenance. It often happens that only after several relapses a person realises what recovery from addiction means for them.



stages of change model. Iremia Counselling


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