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A Common Pathway Out of Addiction

Just like people might pass through typical stages when an addiction is developing, the same is true when individuals are trying to make their way out of the grip of addiction.

For instance, in 1983, clinician James Prochaska developed a model that outlined five stages of change. It is known in the mental health field as the Stages of Change. The model incorporated a variety of clinical theories as well as the observations of individuals attempting to create sustainable behavior change. Prochaska’s model includes pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, and maintenance.

In the same way, there are other experts who have outlined a similar pathway to recovery, using different language and highlighting important points along the journey. For instance, another model of recovery is described below:

Acknowledgement – The most important step along the pathway to recovery is always the first one. And this is the simple acknowledgement that there is a problem. This is such a significant step because of the denial that can so easily keep one lost in addiction. Frequently, when someone is caught in the grip of addiction, he or she sees the value of drinking or drugging despite the consequences it brings. To acknowledge that there is a problem indicates a beginning desire to change even though there still might be fear and anxiety to do so.

Willingness – This is typically the next step towards recovery. Here a person has more readiness and is prepared to make decisions that will facilitate change.

Investigation – At this stage, a person might be so ready for change that he or she begins to search for ways to get help. For instance, he or she might investigate addiction treatment centers, sober living homes, therapists, or drug counselors. A person will begin to seek out their pathway out of addiction.

Action – At this point, a person has made a decision about how to move forward and has begun to take action. A person might be attending 12-step meetings or admitted him or herself into a treatment center.

Detoxification – Once initial action is made, the first part of treatment is often detoxification from the substance a person is addicted to. This phase also includes withdrawal symptoms that arise from the body finding its homeostasis without the drug.

Early Recovery – During this time an individual is learning new coping tools, new ways of looking at life, and may be meeting new people who are sober and healthy. This is a stage in which a once addicted person is beginning to create a new life for themselves. This might include finding a new home, taking a break from work, re-establishing family relationships, regularly attending recovery groups, and/or working with a therapist to meet life’s challenges in a healthy way.

Maintenance – This is a long-term period of sustaining the healthy activities of early recovery. This can be a challenging time because it’s an ongoing experience of making healthy choices for oneself. During this period there might be relapse or a regression to an old way of life. However, for many, relapse is so unpleasant that it only strengthens their commitment to sobriety.

This is a common path to recovery, and it exhibits the slow process of finally letting go of an old way of life in order to create a new one.


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