Addiction Education

The Stages of Change

Central to the philosophy and treatment methods of addiction is what is often referred to as the Trans-theoretical Model of Behavior Change. This model postulates five different stages through which an individual progresses in the process of altering or eradicating an unwanted behavior. See the diagram below for a detailed description of the five stages and the underlying processes that guide movement from one stage to another.

In many phases of recovery, the individual is assumed to be in the action phase upon entry – ready to do whatever it takes to conquer his or her dependency. In reality, however, this is not the case for many incoming clients. Some clients are required to enter sober living by a third party (such as family, court or work); others are initially ambivalent concerning the prospect of abstinence (“why can’t I just use or drink in moderation?”). That’s why every person who enters Sober Souls is, first and foremost, given an opportunity to reflect and assess what stage their path of recovery is in and if needed, provided with a large assortment of  referrals in the community to assist their recovery needs. The programs we refer our clients to are all designed to educate clients on the destructive nature of their dependency, remove any ambivalence they may have concerning sobriety and motivate adherence to a realistic plan of action.

Individuals who exhibit pathological behaviors, such as during drug and alcohol dependencies, need to cultivate two fundamental and determinant factors in their recovery – motivation and confidence. Motivation comes from a variety of sources, both internal and external (e.g. displeasure with past feelings or behaviors, desire for self-improvement or pressure from work). Fundamentally, the drive to change comes from a reevaluation of the actual or perceived consequences of a given behavior. Through education, therapy and self-reflection, individuals in recovery begin to see clearly that the net product of habitual using or drinking is always written in red ink. Nevertheless, this is often not enough to elicit change; many people still need to realize they do indeed have the ability to eradicate their dependency – they need more confidence.

Confidence comes from the perception that one can change their behavior and live a healthier lifestyle against all odds and during seemingly endless discomfort. This perceived ability is called self-efficacy, and it grows as the individual begins to take steps in the right direction. When behavior is rewarding, it serves as a positive reinforcement – a good indicator of future behavior.

Taken together, an individual who is both motivated and confident in his or her abilities has the greatest chance of success. This has been verified by many evidence-based studies in the field of psychology. For example, one seminal study on behavior patterns concluded that given sufficient motivation and capability, “efficacy expectations determine how much effort people will expend and how long they will persist in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences” (Bandura 1977).  Using the principles outlined in this theory enables recovering addicts/alcoholics to effectively combat factors holding them back from reaching their full potential. 


Bandura, Albert. "Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change." Psychological Review 84.2 (1977): 191-215. Print.

 Bandura, Albert. Adams, Nancy E. Beyer, Janice. “Cognitive Processes Mediating Behavioral Change.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1997. Vol. 35 no. 3 pp. 125-139