How to help someone who’s not ready to change

When someone you care about suffers from addiction, it’s tempting to try to push them toward recovery. But it's hard to convince people to make changes they're reluctant to make, even if those changes could save their life.

Research shows there are five stages of change.

The most effective way to guide someone toward recovery is to understand their willingness to change and match your encouragement, empathy, and support to the stage they're in. 

Stages of Change

1.  Precontemplation    Not ready to change

At this stage, someone might not even realize that something needs to change. Or they may suspect there’s a problem but think that it isn't serious or that they can handle it on their own. Only 20% percent of people who need to change an unhealthy behavior are prepared to do so.

How you can help

Pushing someone who’s not ready to stop using substances will be frustrating for everyone. Instead, try talking with them about all the benefits they could expect from stopping their substance use and asking them to share which ones are most important to them.


2.  Contemplation    Getting ready to change

Someone in this stage is becoming aware they have a problem with substance use and starts thinking about making a change. They might say things like, “I have a problem and I think I should look at other ways to handle it.” It’s not uncommon to remain in this stage for a long time, wavering between the pros and cons of changing.

How you can help

Help them to envision how life would be better without the constant worry of substances. Talk to them about how their pros outweigh their cons.


3.  Preparation    Ready to change

At this stage, the advantages of change begin to outweigh the positives of continuing substance use. They may already be attempting to reduce or stop on their own. They begin to set goals and share these with others. Any initial small positive steps – even if they are experimental – can move someone forward.

How you can help

Be supportive and encouraging. Help them create a plan and follow through. Work together to find professionals to discuss treatment, peer coaching and support groups. Let them know you’ll be there as they go through the process.


4.  Treatment    Taking action

At this stage, someone modifies their habits and environment and commits to doing the things they need to do to make the changes they want to see.

How you can help

Be patient and understanding. Encourage all new positive behaviors. Help set dates for treatment. Support positive changes by driving them to meetings or taking them to treatment.


5.  Recovery    Maintaining changes

Maintenance, also called recovery, is characterized by making substance-free behavior a way of life. The person is fully engaged and committed to their new behaviors and preventing relapse.

How you can help

To help in this stage family and friends should continue their support. 


Understanding Relapse

Relapse is not a stage of change but is often a part of recovery. It's difficult to recover from addiction and relapse is common. Because relapse can happen even after many years of sobriety, it's essential for each person in recovery to find the right tools to stay sober including therapy, support from peers, or additional treatment.

When someone relapses and tries again, they travel through the same stages of change, but they bring with them something important: a greater understanding of their personal stumbling blocks. If someone you love relapses, reassure them that you’ll support them, encourage them to learn from what's happened, and let them know you won't give up.

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