The Stages of Change

The Cycle of Change gives us some insight into the stages of change that people go through when they are using drugs and decide they want to change their drug-using behavior. Researchers, Prochaska and DiClemente, developed the stages of change model to describe the process that we often go through when trying to deal with an addiction.

The Cycle of Change gives us some insight as to why a person is at a particular stage of drug use at any given time.

It is very common for someone to make many attempts over time to change their substance use once they are dependent. They will learn something from each experience.

If your loved one is at the ‘pre-contemplation’ stage of drug use, they will not be ready to take action to reduce or cease their use.

For someone to make changes, they need to see that they have a problem and want to make changes.

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The Cycle of Change

There are six stages in the Cycle of Change model:

Pre-contemplation stage

person doesn’t see use as a problem

Contemplation stage

person realizes that they may have a problem

Preparation stage

getting ready to make changes

Decision/Action stage

starts to do something to make changes, such as try to control, reduce or cease drug use, or seek help

Maintenance stage

keep the changes going over time

Relapse stage

return to use and pre-contemplation or contemplation stages

A person may move around the cycle, or go from any point, back to relapse

If your loved one is at the ‘pre-contemplation’ stage of drug use, they will not be ready to take action to reduce or cease their use. They will first have to start to consider that there may be a problem with what they are doing now.

Why People Don’t Think They Have a Drug or Alcohol Problem

Some people don’t see that they have a problem with alcohol/ drug use, even though other people see that they do. They might, on the whole, be happy using drugs. This may be for the following reasons:

* They may think there are more good things about using drugs than bad things.
* They may be just doing what they feel like at the time, and not thinking too much beyond that.
* They might be so focused on the good feelings/things about using that they don’t really notice the negative things.
* They may not want to see the negative effects of their drug use, and may not want to be reminded of them.
* They may be substance-affected to the point that they are not able to think or see things clearly.

It is incredibly distressing and frustrating for the person who cares, to see the problems the drug use is creating, and the potential for serious harm or even death. It is even more frustrating to be unable to make the person see the problems caused by their drug-using behavior.

Can you help them see they have an alcohol or drug problem?

It can be hard for someone else to convince the person using drugs that they have a problem, or that their use is causing problems for other people. A person will find it hard to think they have a problem, for example, if they see their drug as the only thing that makes them feel good. If a young person is dealing with hurtful or difficult issues, they may find that the drug use offers an “escape”.

For someone to make changes, they need to see that they have a problem and want to make changes. After all, it is going to have to be him or her that puts in the substantial effort and commitment to make real changes.

If you have a positive relationship with the person, it can help to explore the good and the not so good things about their use with them. Let them come up with their own ideas. You can ask questions, but your judgments at this point are not helpful.

It doesn’t mean they have to agree with you that they have a problem, or do what you say about it. A person may resist seeing their drug use as a problem or following advice to stop using drugs, especially if they are trying to be independent from parents and make their own decisions.

It can be more effective to focus less on the drug use and more on setting good boundaries in the house, such as no violence, helping around the house, or being polite. Continue to take the opportunities for positive interactions and to notice the positive things about them when you are able to.