As human beings, we all seem to be hard-wired to create safety out of clinging to what is familiar, even if what is familiar is also painful and self-defeating.
As a change-seeker ourselves, or a friend or family member of someone we believe needs to change, we may often be frustrated at how slow the change process works. What seems from a distance to be a simple alteration in behavior may be an impossibility for someone who has not yet reached that stage of the process.
What we have discovered over time is that stable, long-term change can be supported by friends, family and/or a good therapist, but true recovery is an inside job. Successful change happens when people are allowed to progress at their own rate through the following stages:
The Five Stages of Change
- Precontemplation – This is the stage when family or friends may be concerned about a behavioral problem, but the individual him/herself is not yet ready to change. Denial is the primary coping skill.
- Contemplation – This is the stage of dawning awareness that change may be necessary. Consequences have started breaking through denial, but no actual change has taken place.
- Preparation – At this stage, the individual starts considering a commitment to change in the future. A therapist can help by offering resources and treatment information.
- Action – This is when change may actually begin to occur. Instead of just talking about doing things differently, the individual starts setting limits around the problematic behavior.
- Maintenance – At this stage, the focus is on maintaining the new way of living. Relapse prevention and ongoing self-care is introduced and augmented. Therapy and a good support system helps sustain and deepen the work.
CAGE is a widely used test for problem drinking. The test includes four questions and takes only a few minutes. It can be adapted to fit almost any addictive behavior.
- Have you ever felt you should CUT DOWN on your drinking?
- Have people ANNOYED you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt GUILTY about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning as an EYE OPENER to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
A “yes” answer to two of more of the above questions indicates a possible problem. So does a defensive response to any question about drugs/alcohol or other addictive processes.