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Relapse Prevention: Evidence-Based Plans and Strategies

Relapse prevention skills are necessary to increase the chances that you or anyone else seeking addiction treatment will remain sober long-term. Recovery is a journey you get up and tackle every day, and some things can make it more challenging for some than others.

This guide will tackle the various relapse prevention strategies you can use to guide your recovery. We’re also going to discuss some of the determinants of relapse and how you can protect yourself as you continue traveling down sobriety road.

Recovery is hard, but we want to offer a resource you can use as you tackle it head-on. Continue reading now and learn more about the relapse prevention model.

Table of Contents

What Is Relapse?

When our body finds something pleasurable, it’s only natural to want to continue participating in this activity; the same theory is applied to addiction treatment and the cravings your body has once you stop using.

After the body has been cleared of all drugs and alcohol, it forces people into withdrawal, triggering a signal to the brain that it needs whatever ignites the feel-good feeling in the body.

Relapse is when you’ve been in recovery for any period and use after leaving treatment. The definition of relapse is when a condition worsens after it begins to improve.

Relapse is a word that carries a lot of weight for people in recovery and their families.

It’s common that when someone relapses, they feel shame or are worried it appears as if they’re not taking their recovery seriously. No one plans to relapse, but failing to learn relapse prevention skills could set you up to fail in the long run.

Relapse is common when people are in recovery. Still, it can be dangerous and lead to overdoses because while you’re in recovery, your tolerance for the substance you were using decreases.

Therefore, when people use, they assume they can use the same amount without considering its consequences on their bodies.

What Relapse Isn't

You know what relapse is, but do you know what it isn’t? The important thing to remember is that when you relapse, it’s one moment, and you can choose to make a different decision.

Relapse doesn’t mean you’re a failure in your recovery. Nor does it mean that the tools you learned in recovery aren’t working.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll never enter long-term sobriety recovery. It simply means you’ve got more work to do before you’re ready to tackle sobriety independently.

It means it’s time to return to the drawing board and double down on the techniques you learned to help prevent relapse.

Relapse means you weren’t as ready to leave treatment as you thought. Again, the way you respond to the relapse is what determines the next step.

You’ve got to get back up and step back on the recovery path. If you or your loved one relapsed, ensure you approach them with care and love instead of judgment.

Chances are they already feel a great deal of shame and guilt for relapsing, but they don’t need the judgment from close family and friends as well. Operate with the understanding that relapse is normal and can be overcome with hard work in the recovery program.

There are times when a relapse is categorized as a slip or lapse instead of a full-blown relapse. A slip or lapse is when someone briefly uses again for a short time.

If they only use once, that’s a slip, whereas a relapse is a prolonged return to substance usage. With more understanding of what a relapse is, here’s what relapse prevention includes.

What Does Relapse Prevention Include?

The first step in the relapse prevention model is to perform a self-assessment and spend time reflecting on your recovery journey. What led you to begin using substances?

What patterns have you determined as triggers for your addiction? During the self-assessment phase, it’s essential to list the times you’ve relapsed and the circumstances surrounding those relapses.

By understanding things like triggers, you can increase your chances of avoiding them and sustaining your sobriety. The next step is identifying triggers and warning signs that a relapse could happen.

Every person that has entered treatment has triggers. For example, a trigger might be traveling to a specific area or being around someone who stresses you.

Identifying triggers makes it easier to define solutions to avoid these triggers, but it’s not always possible to avoid the situations. If this is the case, it’s important to learn various skills to maintain control over a situation before it triggers you to use.

Identifying triggers can also help you learn what red flags there are that allude to a relapse well before the relapse happens.

The last step in relapse prevention is to create a plan.

You’ll work with your care coordinator and staff to decide what to do if a relapse occurs. Do you plan to return to treatment?

Is there someone you can call after you relapse to help you determine what the next best step is? Your care coordinator might also have you create a list of people you can call on.

These people should be involved in the plan and should be people that support your recovery.

Why Is Relapse Prevention Important?

Relapse prevention is crucial because it doesn’t set you up for failure; instead, it helps you plan accordingly if you have a slip-up or relapse. Relapse prevention teaches you the skills to lead a long, happy, sober life.

Relapse prevention teaches you to take every day one at a time and address the issues occurring in that single moment while celebrating sobriety milestones. The prevention model offers you several tools that aid in combatting potential triggers, such as:

If you don’t think about relapse prevention, you’ve not come to terms with the idea that it’s possible and can happen to anyone in treatment.

What Is the Best Way to Prevent Relapse?

As a part of the relapse prevention plan template, you’ll list some ways to avoid relapsing. Planning for continuing care is an option that most people select when they’ve completed treatment.

Often this means moving into a sober living home where you’re provided structure as you continue learning skills that will allow you to care for yourself and your family when you return home.

In sober living, you live with other people at different stages in their recovery journeys. Another way to reduce the chances of relapsing is to learn better and more productive habits.

Find ways to replace the time you used to spend using with activities that you might have forgotten about or hobbies you didn’t know you’d enjoy. For example, before you were in recovery, you might have had a love of creating art or exercising.

Instead of spending time doing nothing, you could try different exercise classes or art classes that help you continue to improve your drawing skills. Don’t forget to establish a network of people to support you as you continue your recovery.

Recovery and staying sober are choices you make every day, but it’s not easy. Surrounding yourself with people that want to see you succeed is a powerful relapse prevention tool.

When you’re feeling vulnerable, these are the people you can call to come to your aid and help you remember why you decided that getting sober was the right thing to do.

Lastly, don’t forget to be kind to yourself and believe in your ability to stay sober. For some people, our own worst enemy is ourselves and the negative words we speak into existence.

Even when you’re feeling at your lowest, celebrate the milestones you’ve achieved and use them as motivation to continue pushing forward.

Stages of Relapse

Addiction happens in three stages. However, keep in mind that before these stages begin to show themselves, there are several others signs that you could be about to relapse. The first stage of relapse is emotional relapse.

1. Emotional Relapse

  • This phase is ignited when you forget to focus on your self-care and happens before you’ve begun to think about relapsing actively.

    There are several warning signs that you’re amid an emotional relapse, including:

    • Increase in anxiety
    • Holding your feelings in instead of sharing them with someone that can help
    • Poor eating habits
    • Sudden problems with depression

    When you recognize a change in your behavioral patterns, take a step back and focus on your self-care. This could mean participating in hobbies you’ve picked up or consistently attending sobriety meetings.

    It also means drinking enough water and fueling your body with the healthy foods it needs.

2. Mental Relapse

The next stage of relapse is mental relapse.

During this stage, your mind is going back and forth with itself about using and not using. A part of you wants to give up, and another part of you wants to stay focused on your recovery.

Signs you’re in the mental stage of relapse include:

  • Thinking about people you used to use with
  • Glamorizing past substance abuse
  • Following yourself into thinking, you can use one more time
  • Planning to relapse

The best thing to do if this is happening is to talk to someone that’s a part of your support network. It also helps to identify situations that put you at a higher risk of relapse and create a plan to avoid them.

3. Physical Relapse

The last stage of relapse is physical relapse when you start using again. At this stage, the emotions you’re experiencing have become overwhelming, and you’ve succumbed to them.

Instead of continuing to practice the prevention skills, you’ve chosen to use. When this happens, revisit and analyze the mental and emotional stages to make a note of red flags you missed that led to the relapse.

What Is the Best Way to Prevent Relapse?

There are several relapse triggers, and understanding these determinants is the key to avoiding them. When it comes to preventing relapse, you need to know what they are to be prepared.

1. Stress

The first determinant is stress.

There are several reasons you could become stressed, from relationships to challenges in finding a job. It happens to everyone at some point in their lives when stress becomes too much to handle.

But this is where your coping skills come into play. It’s essential you learn positive ways or outlets to help manage stress before it becomes too much to handle.

2. Places and People

The next determinant is being around certain people or traveling to certain places. These are places you might have used before or where drug activity is high.

Instead of going to these places or being around these people, find alternative routes or activities to participate in.

3. Negative Emotions

Negative emotions are another trigger for relapse.

We all have moments where we’re feeling down, but those moments shouldn’t lead to a relapse. Learn how to manage the highs and lows and the proper ways to respond to them.

4. Seeing the Substance

Seeing your substance of choice can trigger you to want to relapse. For example, seeing someone with a drink could trigger you to start thinking about drinking and risking your sobriety.

Instead, avoid places like this, and when you start noticing these thoughts creeping in, refocus on your sobriety and why it’s important to you.

5. Celebratory Events

The last trigger for people in recovery is celebratory events.

You might be wondering how this is possible, but celebrations can serve as triggers because you feel on top of the world and like you’re in control. You think that you can have one drink during these times without losing control.

Or you want to join in the celebrations with everyone else and correlate using or drinking to doing so. To prevent relapse during these times, create a plan with your therapist of how to enjoy events without needing to use.

Relapse Prevention: A Comprehensive Guide

Relapse prevention is an important step in your treatment plan. Not everyone relapses, but you need to plan because you will face triggers and other determinants that might cause you to rethink remaining sober.

Are you ready to turn your life around and get help? Contact Southern California Sunrise and get ready to plan for long-term recovery.


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