“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
– Jalal Ad-Din Rumi, Persian poet & mystic
Are you ready to do something about your drinking? The following Stages of Change model can be very helpful in determining where you are with your readiness to address your concerns about alcohol use. It can help to have an idea of where you are before you can move forward. Once you figure this out, you will have a better idea of how to achieve success.
James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed the Stages of Change Model in the late 1970s. They were studying how smokers were able to give up their habit, but the model is widely used addiction treatment industry for anyone trying to change a behavior. The two observed that change occurs through an individualized process of stages.
So, where are you?
Precontemplation: I’m not ready or willing to change
If you are in the Precontemplation Stage, you may not consider your alcohol use a problem. You may not yet have experienced any negative consequences, or you may not be ready to acknowledge the severity of consequences that have already occurred. You are not prepared to admit that there is a problem or behavior that needs to change.
The goal in the Precontemplation Stage would be to explore the impact of drinking on your life and those around you, not necessarily to make changes. If you are here, it can be helpful to ask what the people closest to you think about your drinking. Take a look at the way your choices might affect your major role functions, such as keeping commitments, parenting, or performing at work.
At this stage, forcing someone to do something against his or her will often backfire because they may not see that there is a problem or that one could be developing. They may fight back, becoming more entrenched in their belief that nothing is wrong. In therapy, I ask a lot of questions without judgement, taking an exploratory approach. Sometimes people need time to see different perspectives before they can apply it to their own life. The Precontemplation Stage is about gathering information and getting honest about your alcohol use.
Sometimes more negative consequences occur or you see an unpleasant reality and move into the next stage.
Contemplation: I’m thinking about making some changes
If you are in the Contemplation Stage, you may be worried that you have a problem with your drinking. You may be thinking about doing things differently. Although you may have tried to cut down or modify your drinking patterns, you still may not yet be ready to make substantial changes.
You may be ambivalent about taking any steps. A good friend or therapist can help you weigh the pros and cons of any modifications and develop a plan of how to deal with each. Consider these questions: “What am I worried about if I decide to change how I drink?”, “If I was to going to modify my drinking, what would it look like?”, and “What situations do I need to prepare for?”
People transition from the Contemplation Stage when they make a conscious decision to change their actions.
Preparation: I am ready
If you are in the Preparation Stage, you are gearing up to alter your drinking and preparing to take action. Identify why you drink and have a plan to manage the reasons. Recognize risky situations and the necessary changes that need to occur. Will you cut down or stop drinking completely? When will you start? How long will you keep it up?
In this stage, you should seek a support system and resources. Some of them may include scheduling an appointment with a therapist, learning about alcohol moderation, going to a mutual support meeting, talking with your doctor about medications, going to treatment, or finding a support and accountability person.
The goal here is to identify obstacles to the change process and problem solve each one. Identify your supports. And when you make positive steps, like cutting back on your amount of alcohol or going several days without drinking explore how you were able to do it. Then repeat it.
Action: I’m doing it
You are making the necessary lifestyle changes when you are in the Action Stage. Great job! Your willpower and motivation will wax and wane. This is totally normal. I find that people who have the most success are the ones who add enjoyable activities and people to their lives, not just focus on taking away the alcohol. It is hard to live in a state of deprivation so I recommend having something to look forward to each day.
Over a lifetime, you may cycle through many of these stages. The coping skills that worked in the past may cease to help as new life challenges arise. Sometimes you may have the best intentions yet still struggle with maintaining new behaviors. The maintenance phase focuses on how to keep the changes going.
Maintenance: I’m Persevering
The Maintenance Stage is when you have made the appropriate lifestyle changes for your goal. You will have consistently changed your drinking patterns. The goal now is to keep the healthy behavior going to prevent a relapse to the old behavior. Identify triggers and a plan to deal with them. Keep doing what works and stop doing what does not.
Many of my most successful clients schedule regular check-in appointments with me. These people have worked long and hard to get to where they are in their recovery process and do not want to go back to where they were. Some of them have chosen complete abstinence, and some are working on drinking in moderation. Each person will have a different goal but it helps to have a support and accountability partner to maintain your progress and ward off any future problems.
Which stage of change are you are in? What would it take to get you to the next stage? Who and what can help you?
Post Submitted By: Cyndi Turner LCSW, LSATP, MAC
Cyndi Turner LCSW, LSATP, MAC is the co-founder and clinical director of Insight into Action Therapy in Fairfax, Virginia. She is the author of the book “Can I Keep Drinking? How You Can Decide When Enough is Enough” which challenges the traditional belief that all drinkers experiencing problems are alcoholics who must quit drinking forever.