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When a loved one begins to exhibit maladaptive behaviors like substance abuse, understanding their rationale can be challenging, especially when such behaviors bring about lingering consequences for themselves and their loved ones. This notion can be even more prevalent when a loved one relapses while in treatment or recovery. Yet, it is important to understand that establishing and maintaining lasting behavior change is a complex process that takes time. One of the most tried and true models of behavior change, the Stages of Change, can help individuals and families better understand and conceptualize this process and, in turn, best support their loved ones in sustaining lasting behavior change in recovery. 

We at CCM know first-hand how challenging it can be to establish lasting behavior change. It requires individuals to be consistently engaged in their daily lives by disrupting current habits while fostering new and healthy actions and behaviors – something that is much easier said than done. Likewise, effectively empowering and supporting behavior change requires individualized approaches to treatment and recovery. Fortunately, at CCM, we offer a wide range of treatments, interventions, and other services to meet the unique needs of individuals and families, regardless of what stage they find themselves in the Stages of Change. 

Pursuing Behavior Change Through Identity Development

To truly understand why ceasing a maladaptive behavior, like alcohol and drug use, is so difficult, it is necessary to first understand the role that these behaviors play in identity development and self-soothing tendencies. As the journal Public Health explains, “Smoking, eating, drinking and the amount of physical activity people do are ingrained in people’s everyday lives and their routines and habits. These things to a very important extent help people define who and what they are: their sense of self is in part derived from these activities. Likewise the identities which others bestow upon the[m] are partly the consequence of these behaviours.”

Thus, establishing lasting behavior change not only requires individuals to cease problematic behavior while fostering new and unfamiliar lifestyle changes but also requires individuals to engage in self-discovery more intimately than they have ever done before. An individual’s identity is central to their behavioral performance; by altering an individual’s self-concept, their actions will naturally begin to align with their newfound identity. 

Regardless of how necessary it may be for an individual to cease certain behaviors and develop a new identity, however, many may experience ambivalence about the journey ahead. Rather than forcing commitment to behavior change, individuals can follow the Stages of Change framework to better address behavior change as a process that occurs gradually.

Establishing Behavior Change: The Stages of Change

As the publication Stages of Change Theory by Raihan & Cogburn explains, “The transtheoretical model (TTM), and its easy-to-follow steps toward change, make understanding human behavior one of the easiest filters to follow.” TTM, also known as the Stages of Change, is one of the most commonly applied and effective frameworks for those seeking to establish lasting behavior change. 

Here is a brief overview of each of the five Stages of Change.


The first stage, pre-contemplation, consists of individuals who have no intention to engage in behavior change. In this stage, a person either has not yet recognized that their behavior is problematic or is not yet willing to accept that fact. To gradually move from pre-contemplation to contemplation, individuals can ask questions, listen for guidance, and build awareness of their need for behavior change.


The second stage, contemplation, consists of individuals who are aware that their behavior is causing consequences and are considering engaging in behavior change in the future. In this stage, a person may be uncertain if their behavior is worthy of correcting but may also be willing to receive more information regarding the severity of their behavior and possibly find new solutions to correcting it. To gradually move from contemplation to preparation, individuals can work to resolve ambivalence about ceasing their current behavior and consider possible outcomes in favor of change. 


The third stage, preparation, consists of individuals who are willing to commit to behavior change. In this stage, a person accepts that their current behavior is problematic and is actively searching for ways to move forward and establish lasting behavior change in their lives. To gradually move from preparation to action, individuals can gather as much information as they can to encourage commitment to lasting behavior change. 


The fourth stage, action, consists of individuals who are actively implementing changes to their behaviors. As stated in the aforementioned publication, in the action stage, “Total abstinence of the adverse behavior is the expectation for a period of fewer than six months.” Those in this stage are gaining confidence in behavior change and continue to evaluate their commitment to abstain from maladaptive behaviors. To move from action to maintenance, individuals can consistently evaluate their motivations for behavior change and be sensitive to the warning signs of future relapse. 


The last stage, maintenance, consists of individuals who are working to maintain behavior change and avoid potential relapse. Compared to the action stage, in the maintenance stage,  “individuals have maintained total abstinence from the adverse behavior for more than six months.” 

Empowering Behavior Change With CCM

At CCM, we believe that establishing and sustaining behavior change is a family affair. By involving the whole family in treatment, family members can adopt the knowledge, understanding, and tools that they need to best support their loved one working to establish and sustain lasting behavior change in their lives. With a variety of services to offer – from treatment consultations to intensive case management services, recovery specialists, teletherapeutic support, and more – our team is dedicated to guiding and supporting all individuals toward the healthiest and most sustainable recoveries from maladaptive behaviors and co-occurring disorders. 

Establishing and sustaining lasting behavior change calls for a shift in identity, one comprised of healthy habits and lifestyle changes. Like identity development, behavior change cannot be forced. Rather, behavior change is a complex process that must occur gradually for lasting success. The transtheoretical model (TTM), also known as the Stages of Change Theory, provides a step-by-step framework that individuals can follow to effectively progress through various stages of behavior change, from pre-contemplation to maintenance. At CCM, we use the Stages of Change to help clients better understand what obstacles stand in their way of successfully ceasing maladaptive behaviors in treatment and recovery. We offer a variety of services to meet clients where they are. Call (855) 467-3226 today.