It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re thinking about getting sober. If you’re like me, you do the research first. You might head to Google and type “what will sobriety be like?” or “what are the stages of recovery?” The easiest way to sum it up would be to say it will be a change.

Recovery is a complete change of everything you have known, and there will be different stages you’ll experience. What can you expect? Well-known alcohol use disorder researchers Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska created a 6-stage model of change that helps professionals and their clients understand addiction issues and the road to recovery. Their research is based on personal observations of how people modified negative behaviors like drinking, smoking, and overeating.


People in the pre-contemplation stage of change are not even considering changing their drinking or using behavior. They may be in denial of their issues or believe that anyone who might point out their problem is exaggerating.

There are four reasons someone might be in the pre-contemplation stage when it comes to their addiction: reluctance, rebellion, resignation, and rationalization. This means reluctant people in this stage may lack motivation or knowledge about change and the vision of their problem may not have come into their awareness. Those who are rebellious have an investment in drinking or using and making their own decisions. They have an issue letting go of negative habits because they don’t like being told what to do. Resigned pre-contemplators have given up hope about the possibility of change and are overwhelmed about their drinking issues. Many of these people have already attempted to quit or modify their drinking. Those who rationalize believe they know all the answers and have reasons why drinking is not a problem for them.


This is the stage of change where a person comes to the realization that they have a problem. However, these contemplators are doing just that, contemplating. This can be a messy process. They might want to change but might not feel like they can commit to it. At this stage, people are researching about addiction and treatment. They may have a list of reasons why drinking is bad and has negatively impacted their life, but they still cannot make that first step toward change. They continue to weigh the pros and cons of drinking or using.


This is the stage where the change actually begins. The weighing of the pros and cons becomes a decision to make a change. People in this stage will make a decision to stop drinking and using sometime in the future. They are ready and committed to action. People in this stage also put together an action plan. This is the stage where individuals will assess the difficulty it takes to stop drinking and using, possibility with the help of a professional. They will come up with solutions to follow for a long-term treatment plan.


This is the stage where the plan gets put into action. Normally a person will make a public statement about their commitment and get encouragement from others in their life. They may start to attending AA or NA meetings, outpatient treatment, or counseling. People in the action stage are motivated to succeed and have found the support they need to do so. They will continue on their path and new schedule of a drug and alcohol-free life. This stage lasts approximately three to six months.

Maintenance and Relapse

Sustained change takes time to commit to, create, and stick to. The real test is whether or not people can stick to this change over many years. In this stage, people become adapted to an alcohol-free and drug-free life. As they become stronger in their recovery, the threat of going back to their old drinking patterns becomes less of a reality.

However, because a substance use disorder is a chronic disease, the risk of relapse will always be present. People at this stage have learned the tools and skills they need to avoid relapse, but it may still happen. People who return to using can learn from it, and become sober again. Returning to recovery will often give a person more determination to stay sober the second time around.


According to DiClemente and Prochaska, the ultimate goal for the stages of addiction recovery and change is termination. This is the stage where the person with a substance use disorder no longer feels threatened by their drug or drink of choice. They have the confidence to live a healthy and happy life without harmful substances. They truly thrive in recovery and fear relapse less and less.

The stages of addiction recovery through change can seem daunting. Knowing what you will experience ahead of time can give you comfort while you are deciding how you will cope on this recovery journey. The good part is you never have to do it alone. We’re here to help. Treatment can prepare to take you through all of these stages and send you on your way to living a successful life free of alcohol and drugs.

a woman with green hair smiling at the camera.
By – Kelly Fitzgerald
Kelly is a sober writer based in Cape Coral, Florida, best known for her personal blog The Adventures Of A Sober Senorita. She has been published across the web on sites like The Huffington Post, SheKnows, Ravishly, The Fix, and Buzzfeed. Read more

Gold, Mark S. “Stages of Change.” Psych Central. Accessed on October 10, 2016.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.