Addiction is a disease that affects millions of Americans every year and working through the grips of this illness is more challenging than many realize. Recovery is not just a slight adjustment, but a total change of your life. It can be daunting, but there are so many positives that come along the path to healing and rehabilitation that it’s often easy to wonder why some people find recovery and other’s don’t. While not everyone’s path is different, experts have begun to notice trends in the path to sobriety that are tough to miss. There are five stages of addiction recovery: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.


In the pre-contemplation stage, addicts deny their substance addiction or abuse. To them, there is no problem with their habits and they are totally in control. “I can stop anytime I want.” “It’s not that bad.” Generally, unless someone is open to believing that they have a substance abuse problem, they are completely unapproachable. At this stage, addicts will blame their substance abuse on outside factors or contributors, coming up with excuses to justify their abuse.

The addicted person is likely to rationalize their dependency and become defensive when approached about getting help.


The contemplation stage begins with awareness. Those addicted are aware of the consequences that come along with their substance abuse and spend time actively thinking about their problem. Here they start to realize they have a problem, that they need to make changes. This is a stage of introspection and the beginnings of being open to discussion about seeking help. Often in this stage, an addict is not quite sure how to move forward on the path to recovery. They continue to use drugs or alcohol but are more conscious of their choices. This stage can last for months and conflicting feelings of hopelessness and faith are characteristic of this stage. 

Research is also a big part of this phase as often the addicted person is still weighing the pros and cons of drinking or using and determining all the ways their choices affect their lives.

Preparation / Determination

Change starts here, number three in the five stages of addiction recovery – from weighing the pros and cons to making a decision to seek help or treatment. In this stage, people make the choice to stop drinking or using and they are ready and willing to commit to setting a plan in place. Someone might begin compiling information about detoxing, rehabilitation, and recovery. They might seek counsel from those close to them who have been down the road of recovery. This is a huge step because denial is officially over at this point, but be wary of growing anxiety and excitement that comes along with making concrete plans. Joining a support group or making a verbal or written commitment to sobriety is common for people in this stage.

This is often when some addicts make the choice to enter an addiction treatment program.


Stage 4 is also known as early recovery – a time that’s really crucial. Here, addicts learn how to remain substance-free for the long term, but are also very vulnerable. Activities, habits, and sometimes people, that were once a significant part of their lives must be left in the past which can prove as a huge challenge in of itself. Relapse is common in this stage and particularly dangerous because those in this stage have yet to develop the skills to prevent themselves from slipping back into their old ways.

During Stage 4, recovering addicts develop new coping skills and rebuild damaged relationships.


Recovery takes a great deal of strength, time, and dedication. It is important here that recovering addicts work to stay engaged in a positive sober community and stay away from old triggers that may send them into a relapse. At this time, an addict may be entering the real world for the first time after treatment — this can be stressful so it’s key that they continue to attend group or individualized therapy sessions.

Helping Family and Friends Through Recovery

 Now that you know the five stages of addiction recovery, you can more adequately help your family and friends. It’s important to offer support loved ones in the midst of recovery – it’s a tumultuous time filled with lots of confusing and conflicting emotions. There’s nothing worse than blaming the person working toward recovery; you’ll only cause new traumas. Encourage them to seek help from a professional and don’t forget to give them time. Recovery, progress, and healing are not linear! Things happen; we have good days and bad days, so it’s important to remember not to let a misstep or momentary relapse keep you from seeking treatment. If there is hope, there can be change.

We have come a long way, as a country, to break the stigma of addiction and mental illnesses and while there is still more work to be done, addiction treatment is being taken more seriously and thus, is seen as a more viable option for those suffering from this disease. This is in part due to to the quality of care that addiction treatment centers like Harbor Wellness offer – our compassionate team, individualized treatment plans, and outpatient support programs were created specifically to help our clients see success. We want to help you face all five stages of recovery and offer guidance and assistance every step of the way.