Alcoholism - Stages of Change

Nearly two decades ago, two researchers dedicated to alcoholism, Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska, developed and introduced a model of change which had five stages. It was intended to help professionals better understand the needs of their clients who struggled with addiction related problems and to motivate them to change through substance abuse recovery therapy. Their five-stage model is based on their personal observations of people who modified other addictive or problem behaviors such as smoking, drinking and overeating.

The five stages of the model are:

  1. Precontemplation

  2. Contemplation

  3. Determination

  4. Action

  5. Maintenance

6. Termination

Understanding your preparedness to make a change by learning about this model of change can help you choose which types of treatments or therapies that are right for you. A therapy or treatment professional with the right licensure and training will take the time to understand where you are in terms of readiness to stop abusing alcohol and he or she will help you find within yourself the motivation to stop drinking and maintain sobriety.


Individuals in the stage of precontemplation are not even thinking about change. They do not want to modify their drinking behavior. The person may not see their drinking as a problem, or they may even think that those who point out their problem are exaggerating the issue.

There are many reasons to be in precontemplation, and DiClemente would refer to some of those reasons as “the Four Rs”: reluctance, rebellion, resignation and rationalization.

Reluctant precontemplators are people who through a lack of knowledge or motivation do not want to attempt to change their life. The impact of the problem of alcoholism has not fully become conscious or has not yet affected their life in enough negative ways to make them change.

Rebellious precontemplators are people who are fully vested in their lifestyle of drinking and in no way intend to let others make their decisions for them. They are resistant to authority on any level.

Resigned precontemplators are people who have given up hope to change. They are overwhelmed by their problem and have likely made many attempts to quit drinking or to control their drinking before.

Rationalizing precontemplators are people who think they know it all; they can give you a million reasons why their drinking is not a problem. They can also tell you why drinking and alcoholism is a problem for others but definitely not for them.


Those who are in this stage of change are at a point where they are willing to consider the possibility that alcoholism is a problem for them. They are also willing to consider that this means there is hope for change. However, those who do contemplate change in this state are often highly uncertain. They are unsure about what to do next. Contemplation about change is not a commitment to change. Those at this stage are usually interested in educating themselves about addiction and alcoholism as well as addiction treatment. They know and understand that drinking is causing problems for them, and they often make mental notes of all the reasons drinking is unhealthy for them. Regardless of these things, they still cannot commit to change.

Most times, with the help of a treatment professional during this stage, people go through a risk-reward analysis. The person will consider the pros and cons of continuing their behavior, as well as the pros and cons of changing their behavior. They analyze any previous attempts made at quitting, and what has caused failure in the past.

Determination: A True Commitment

Deciding to quit drinking is the true mark of this stage of change. All the going through of pros and cons, all the review of risk-reward analysis, along with many other factors finally tips the scale in favor of making a change. Not all uncertainty has been resolved, but feeling of being on unsure ground no longer represents an insurmountable wall to do something different. Most people in this stage will make a true attempt to quit abusing alcohol, and stop drinking altogether in the very near future. Those in this stage look and feel ready to make a commitment to action.

Being in this stage takes as much preparation as it does actualy determination. This is because the next step is to make a realistic plan. When one makes a commitment to change but lacks the appropriate skills, the plan is incomplete and can fizzle out. Often with the help of a treatment professional, people will make a realistic evaluation of the difficulty involved in quitting and how they will handle it. With therapy and treatment, they will begin to anticipate problems and stumbling blocks and come up with real solutions that will become part of their ongoing individual treatment plan.

Action: Implementation of the Plan

People in this stage of change take their plan and put it into action. This stage usually involves making some type of publicly known commitment to quit drinking so as to get external confirmation of the plan as well as the support of their loved ones. If they haven’t already, people in this stage might enter counseling or some form of substance abuse recovery treatment (inpatient or outpatient), attend AA meetings or tell their friends & family members about their decision—or all of the above.

Making such public commitments not only assists individuals with obtaining the support they need to recover from addiction to alcohol, but it also creates external accountability. Some people find it extremely helpful to know that others are watching out for them and cheering them on in the process.

A person who put a good plan into place begins to see it working and then experiences it working over time, making adjustments along the way with the help of their support network will want to maintain sobriety. The person will feel the many things that alcohol took from them begin to be restored, as well as hope and self-esteem.

Maintenance and Relapse

The action stage usually takes three to six months to complete. Real change requires making a new pattern of behavior over a long period of time. The true test of permanent change is long-term sustained change over many years. This stage of successful, permanent change is called “maintenance” when it comes to addiction. In this stage, an alcohol-free person is becoming firmly established with this change in his or her life, and the threat of a relapse becomes less ominous.

Due to the fact that addiction and alcoholism is a chronic disease, the possibility of relapse will always be present. Such individuals who are affected may experience a strong temptation to drink and then likewise fail to deal with that temptation successfully. Sometimes letting down their guard or “testing the waters” is a slippery slope back into their old ways. Those who arrive at this stage of change have been given a variety of relapse prevention skills. They have the knowledge of where to go to get the support they need.

Alcoholics who relapse will ultimately learn from the negative experience. Relapsing and returning to sobriety usually has the effect of strengthening a person’s determination to remain sober.


The ultimate goal of these stages of change is termination. At this final stage, the alcoholic no longer has a temptation to drink. He or she has complete confidence that they can cope with any situation without fear of relapse.

Seeking Treatment

The important thing in all of this is that you seek help for your drug addiction. Do not let fear keep you from the life you have always wanted. You do not need to fight this disease alone and any and all concerns that you have can be addressed as you move through the process of recovery. So call the professionals at Evolutions Treatment Center today, at 1-866-771-7091. We are standing by to help you finally overcome your addiction.