Change Alcohol and Drug Abuse

How to stop drinking and using drugs

The Stages of Change

It can take time to get ready to get help to stop drinking alcohol and using drugs. Change is a process and not an event. Once alcoholics and addicts see the negative consequences of their use, the process of making changes in their lives can begin.

One way to look at the process of making change is the Stages of Change Model that was developed by Drs. Carlo DiClemente and James Prochaska at the University of Rhode Island's Cancer Prevention Research Center for work with smoking cessation and the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.

The Stages of Change model shows that, for most people, changing addictive behavior takes place gradually. They move from being uninterested, unaware or unwilling to make a change, to considering a change, to deciding and preparing to make a change.

Determined action takes place after a period of contemplation, preparation and often after failed attempts at sobriety and abstinence. Relapses can take place along the way. They can be seen as part of the process of working toward life-long change.


If you are looking through this website because you want help to change your life and stop drinking and using, you are not in this first stage. People in Precontemplation are not looking for help because they are not ready to look at their use as a problem. They may know something isn't right in their lives because of alcohol and other drugs, but in this stage, they are not yet thinking of changing their using habits. Their attention is on their drinks and drugs. They are defending their use, blaming others, and resisting any efforts from others to show them that they have a problem.

To look at how Fear can stand in the way of making positive life change, see


If you are becoming aware that use of alcohol and other drugs may be a problem, you are in the contemplation stage of change. In this stage, there are times when you are aware of some of the consequences of your using habits. At other times, you focus on what you like about your use. The ambivalence of seeing both sides of your drug use is what this stage is about.

Some get stuck in this stage as they look at the consequences of use, the benefits of giving up the behavior that is causing these consequences, and the effort that it will take to make the change. This stage means progress because you are now looking at the problem with a more open mind. Openess to counseling begins in this stage of change.


The ambivalence in stage two is decided in this stage. You know there's a problem and you want to do something about it. Recognizing the kind of energy it will take for you to make positive changes in your life happens in this stage.

Groundwork gets started for the action you will take in the next stage of change. Looking at websites like this one may be part of your preparation. You may be looking into the kind of counseling, treatment or rehab options that will best suit your needs.


Now you are ready to do what you need to do. You are willing to let others help you change. In this step you begin the counseling, treatment, or rehab that you feel will help you the most. Trial and error is often the case in this stage. Relapse can occur in this stage as you discover what kind of effort and commitment you need to maintain to stay clean and sober.

Relapse can occur in any of the stages of change. In Contemplation and Preparation it can come from discouragement, lack of belief in oneself, or just falling back into those old familiar negative habits.

As long as you learn from the experience of relapse, what happened and why, you will be strengthening your action stage. It's important to get right back into the stage you were in if/when you relapse. You don't want to fall back into an earlier stage again, but take up where you "fell off."


In this stage of change you have learned how to keep on keeping on. Your new positive habits and strategies are taking over as the past ones are fading. Thoughts will pass through your mind about wanting to use, glamorizing the past, and visiting old places/faces, but now you have learned to let these thoughts go so you can stay focused on your new life. Staying clean and sober is becoming second nature as you practice the new skills you have learned along the way.