Stages of Recovery for a Drug-Free Life

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The process of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol is gradual. The different stages include experimenting with the substance, dependence, addiction, and others. Similarly, the stages of addiction recovery are also gradual. There are five stages of recovery that every recovering addict will experience until they reach long-term sober living

It is essential for loved ones and mental-health professionals to identify and provide support throughout the recovery stages. Notably, not everyone dealing with addiction will follow through the five stages in the order written below. As an example, many people struggling with addiction may go through stages one and two and then return to stage one before continuing with stage three. This is because each person goes through stages of rehab differently and has a unique experience. At Avenues Recovery, we provide individualized care for each person suffering from substance abuse. 

What Are the 5 Stages of Recovery?

The five phases of recovery include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Below we discuss what each stage looks like and how family, friends, and mental health professionals can best support their loved one as they go through the addiction recovery steps.

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Stage #1: Pre-contemplation

Pre-contemplation is when people with drug addiction refuse to admit that they have an addiction problem. They may be in denial of the harmful effects of substance abuse. Or perhaps they are too dependent on the drugs and therefore are not ready to change their lives. They may be very defensive regarding their use of drugs and they may continuously justify their behavior to their loved ones.

Although this is usually the first stage of recovery, someone dealing with an addiction may enter this stage after several failed attempts at recovery, believing that recovery just isn't possible. At this stage, intervention from family, friends, and professionals may be the only option to bring the addict out of their bubble and into reality.  

Stage #2: Contemplation

In phase two of addiction recovery, the person suffering from addiction has recognized that there is a problem and is aware that recovery options are available. Nevertheless, he/she is still not ready to make any drastic changes in his/her life. At this point, the addict will be more inclined to discuss the possibility of change by hearing the benefits of long-term sobriety and the detrimental effects that substance use disorder [1] has on the addict and their loved ones. 

The loved ones of the addict should realize that this reaction from the addict is part of the stages of rehab even though the addict is not super enthusiastic yet. Loved ones can also identify the reasons that the person does not want to enter a rehab center and help address those concerns. The addict may be experiencing shame, guilt, hopelessness or have other practical misgivings about leaving their family and job to enter a residential treatment center. Avoiding blame and judgment is crucial at this stage so that the individual can accept guidance from his/her loved ones and achieve ultimate recovery.  

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Stage #3: Preparation

By this stage of recovery, the addict is ready to take action toward recovery. They may try quitting the substance themselves, which usually results in awful and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms and rapid relapse. It is common for the addict to abstain from their drug for a day or two, but it usually doesn't last much longer. They may start implementing lifestyle changes like joining a gym, attending one-on-one therapy, and exploring treatment options. 

Although it is normal for addicts to attempt to skip this recovery stage and jump straight to the action stage,  people dealing with addiction need to think through their options carefully and decide which treatment option is most practical for them. The loved ones of a person struggling with an addiction can support the addict by doing research and guiding him/her toward the best option. 

Stage #4: Action

At this phase, the recovering addict goes through the difficult yet transformative rehab and recovery process. The person dealing with addiction will learn to identify his/her triggers, engage in coping strategies, gain interpersonal skills, and find way to a life free of addiction. There will be periods of abstinence from the substance and an inclination to turn to trained professionals to help prevent a relapse.

As the loved one of an addict, your job is to support the addict as best as possible and encourage them to make it to the finish line. This can be one of the hardest stages of recovery, and the person receiving treatment needs your positivity and hope in him/her the most. 

Stage #5: Maintenance

This stage of recovery should not be overlooked as addiction requires constant management to prevent relapse. Relapse is common when the recovered addict faces a trigger, a challenging circumstance, a loss, or some other difficult experience.

In order to stay sober, people going through recovery should have a few key systems in place:

  • A solid support system. 
  • A plan to prevent relapse.
  • A stable lifestyle. This includes healthy eating habits, proper sleeping habits, exercise, a job, etc.
  • Lots of determination.


The good news is that as time passes, the recovered addict will feel more confident and in control of his/her urges.  Although a small percentage of people need as little as six months to move past the maintenance stage of recovery, the majority of addicts will need up to around five years of sobriety until they can ease off on this stage. 

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Why is Aftercare Important?

As time goes on, the chance of relapse occurring decreases. Nevertheless, an addict can never be complacent about his/her addiction. A relapse may occur even years after the addict last consumed substances although the chance of that happening decreases over time). These addiction recovery steps are the process of deciding you need help, taking action toward changing things, and then putting a plan in place to maintain sobriety. Therefore, after the ‘maintenance’ stage has passed, it is absolutely crucial that the recovered addict is always vigilant, ensuring that the relapse prevention strategies put into place post-rehab continue throughout his/her life. You can use a sobriety calculator to keep track of milestones even decades down the line, and celebrate your recovery.

Embark on The Stages of Recovery for a Better Life


Making the decision to abstain from using drugs altogether is huge. Pushing through rehab can be difficult and may sometimes feel impossible - but living a healthy, productive, drug-free life makes it worth all the effort in the world. 

As the loved one of someone struggling with an addiction, do everything you can to educate yourself. Understand what motivates the addict to behave in certain ways, the negative feelings they feel, and what an enormous commitment attending rehab is. The more you understand the addict (even when their behaviors are puzzling, hurtful, or unbearable), the more you can support them toward ultimate recovery. 


Take the Next Step to Addiction Recovery at Avenues Recovery

When you partner with a reputable drug rehab center, such as Avenues Recovery, they will be there for the addict for the long term, so you can remain sober for life. At Avenues Recovery, we offer various treatment and recovery options to help you regain the quality of life you once had. Contact us to find out how you can begin the stages of recovery and quit substance abuse.

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