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Relapse Prevention

After you successfully undergo treatment and rehabilitation for substance abuse and addiction, you might have to face new challenges when you go back into the world as a sober individual.

In most cases, you are likely to face temptations on the road to full, long term recovery. As such, you might feel lost as you seek sobriety. This is why you need relapse prevention - because it might make a world of difference between going back to your old habits and maintain your new, sober lifestyle.

Luckily, there are many things you can do to ensure that you do not relapse. The hardest part, of course, might seem like getting sober through treatment and rehabilitation. However, you may eventually come to discover that staying sober is even harder and will only be successful if you take certain measures.

But what exactly is relapse prevention and how does it work?

Understanding Relapse Prevention

There is more to relapse prevention than simply saying no when you encounter temptations and triggers. In fact, you need to get started on your prevention as early as possible, and potentially even before temptations get the opportunity to present themselves.

In many cases, the most successful method would be to come up with a comprehensive and all-encompassing relapse prevention plan that accounts for emotional triggers and social interactions and compels you to develop better, more positive coping mechanism.

Getting Help Before You Relapse

Whether you have been dealing with alcohol or drug relapse prevention, you need to remember that you can't stay sober due to your own individual efforts. Addiction, by its very nature, has a way of isolating its victims.

Recovery, on the other hand, requires that you create a stable and reliable network of support around yourself. Therefore, as you progress through recovery, you might want to ensure that you interact with others who are in a better position to recognize any problems and issues as well as to provide you with the moral support you are going to need on the long and often arduous journey to full recovery in the long term.

Some of the benefits that come with finding the right support group to help with your relapse prevention plan include:

  • Developing more positive and beneficial friendships and relationships with people who will not encourage you to start using drugs or drinking alcohol again
  • Engaging with anonymous sources of communication and support
  • Getting help when you need to formulate and execute substance relapse prevention plans
  • Learning how to develop control and empower yourself
  • Reducing your depression and stress by engaging in appropriate social interactions

As you continue recovering, therefore, you should ensure that you never go it alone. NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that men tend to experience relapse more often than women do immediately following intensive rehabilitation and treatment for substance abuse and addiction. This difference usually arises due to the fact that women have a higher likelihood of seeking external help and support through group counseling.

If you are a man, therefore, you might want to consider this route as you create a relapse prevention plan - if only to ensure that you are not numbered among the statistics.

Risk Factors And Warning Signs For Relapse

One of the best ways to ensure you never relapse is by learning how to recognize and overcome the common risk factors and warning signs for a relapse. This is because relapse tends to occur quite suddenly and you might never see it coming. Therefore, if you are struggling with alcohol and drug cravings and you do not get the help and support you require, it is highly likely that you will give in to these cravings.

As you can well imagine, the factors that might determine your risk factors and/or warning signs of a relapse will vary for everyone and depending on the situation you find yourself in. That said, these factors often include physical changes, social situations and environments, and emotional trigger.

Some of the more specific situations that are highly likely to cause you to relapse include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Boredom with life in general
  • Changes in employment
  • Changes in your marital/relationship status
  • Health issues
  • Losing a loved one
  • Major financial changes and challenges
  • Social conflicts and pressures

As you go down the road to recovery - particularly in your first year after rehab and treatment, you should always watch out for all the warning signs and risk factors for relapse. If you start feeling cravings for drugs/alcohol and these factors start cropping up, you need to get help as soon as possible.

Relapse Prevention Plans

In many cases, you will come to realize that relapse prevention can only work when you have a firm, manageable, and executable plan in place. However, you still need to understand that you might not be able to control everything that happens to you and around you. For instance, you can't:

  • Control every environment you find yourself in
  • Dictate what other people say or do
  • Hide from temptations and trigger by staying at home forever

Therefore, even as you continue making positive decisions about how you are going to minimize all relapse temptations and triggers in your personal and professional life, you might encounter situations where you have to deal with any cravings that arise.

According to most relapse prevention experts and professionals, you need to call someone else who is recovering from substance abuse and addiction whenever you experience cravings or if you feel that you might not be able to bring the cravings under control. This is how sponsorship structures work, particularly those that are popular in programs like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).

Additionally, to ensure that you can follow through with your relapse prevention, you might want to write out a plan and use it as your reference point whenever you encounter any challenges, problems, difficulties, temptations, and triggers.

You can also write the relapse prevention plan out on index cards. Of course, you need to ensure that you tailor it to what you are certain is going to work for you. Consider the following example of a short plan that you can use to ensure that you take healthy and positive actions whenever you are tempted to start using again:

  1. Make an index card that you can easily carry with you in your pocket, purse, or wallet
  2. On one side, write out the names and contact details (email addresses and phone numbers) of some people you are able to call whenever you experience cravings that you think are unmanageable
    • Include sponsors
    • Include the contact information for your most support friends and family members
  3. iii) On the other side, you should write down the 5 things you are able to do when drug and alcohol craving hit; examples include:
    • Attending recovery meetings
    • Engaging in social activities
    • Going out for a long walk or a job

Avoidance Behavior In Relapse Prevention

One of the most effective relapse prevention tools you can use is avoidance behavior. The American Journal on Addictions recently published a story showing how and why avoidance behavior was so effective at helping recovering addicts prevent themselves from relapsing.

Essentially, avoidance means that you stay away from any slippery situation that might cause you to start using drugs and/or alcohol again after days, months, weeks, or years of sobriety and abstinence.

Some of the situations you need to avoid, therefore, include:

  • Any location where you might easily access your substance of choice, such as clubs, bars, the homes of certain family members and friends who use the same substances, and any event where people might be drinking excessively
  • Hanging out with people who still drink alcohol and/or abuse drugs

In case you are unable to avoid situations where you might be tempted, you should create your own support system by asking close friends, family members, and sponsors to go with you.

Even as you try to apply avoidance behavior in your relapse prevention plan, you should remember that there are some things that are not healthy for you to avoid. To this end, you might not want to try avoiding situations that you need to deal with, including:

  • Your physical health
  • Relationship issues
  • Finances

Effective Relapse Prevention Strategies

A relapse prevention strategy is any tool you use to help you maintain your sobriety and abstinence after checking out of a treatment and rehabilitation center/program. You can easily create your own strategies by meeting with therapists as you undergo treatment.

In many cases, you will find that the earlier you get started on coming up with effective strategies to prevent yourself from relapsing, the better prepared you will feel to be able to handle all cravings and urges you might get as you make the transition out of rehabilitation.

Based on personality, preferences, needs, and requirements, the therapists you work with may use a variety of approaches. The first addiction relapse prevention model was created by Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, a researcher. It is based on CBT - or cognitive behavioral therapy - a form of therapy that is commonly used in substance abuse and addiction treatment and rehabilitation.

Dr. Marlatt later worked with other researchers to develop MBRP (or mindfulness based relapse prevention). This strategy takes a mindfulness approach in helping recovering addicts learn the best way to combat drug and alcohol cravings.

Both of these strategies are commonly used today to help guide those in recovery so that they can come up with their own plans on how they are going to prevent themselves from relapsing.

Apart from these strategies, there are certain exercises and activities that can help you with your relapse prevention plan. As you undergo treatment, you might meet up with therapists and counselors to discuss some of these exercises/activities.

They include:

a) Self-Monitoring

First, you will learn how to self-monitor certain risky situations. Self-monitoring means that you should be able to notice any situation that might cause you to relapse. These situations include particular groups of people and environments that may increase your cravings and make you feel the urge to start drinking alcohol or using drugs again.

Working with therapists on self-monitoring will teach you how to spot these triggers and recognize your inner feelings. You will later be able to know what you should do to ensure you do not relapse.

b) Attending 12 Step Support Groups

Most people rely on 12 step support group meetings in their relapse prevention strategies. During the meetings, you will get the opportunity to share your unique and common experiences with recovery and addiction with the other people present - most or all of whom will have similar experiences.

Support groups will provide you with structured recovery programs that you can easily follow. For instance, you might have to admit that you are powerless over substance abuse and addiction, make amends to anyone you harmed as a result of your addiction, and accepting that you need a higher power or being to help you recover fully.

You might also get to work with sponsors, who have been members of the same group for a longer period and might be better placed to guide you through the 12 steps. You can even call them whenever you experience intense cravings and urges to start using again.

Alternatively, you could opt for non-12 support groups, including but not limited to:

  • Women for Sobriety
  • SMART Recovery
  • Rational Recovery
  • LifeRing

c) Others

Other things you can do to overcome your cravings and prevent yourself from relapsing include:

  • Creating relapse maps on which you can write down your options whenever you encounter triggers
  • Distracting yourself by making phone calls, watching TV, exercising, reading, cleaning, or cooking until the cravings/urges pass
  • Doing belly breathing or deep breathing to calm yourself down whenever you have cravings
  • Holding ice cubes until your urges and cravings pass
  • Replacing your substance abuse and addiction with a healthier substitute, such as eating chocolate, socializing, and/or spending more time with loved ones
  • Resetting yourself by splashing cold water on the face
  • Rewarding yourself with small gifts or dinner at a nice restaurant when you are successful at resisting cravings


You can count on any addiction treatment and rehabilitation center/program to help you create an effective and reliable relapse prevention plan - which is best done before you get discharged. While doing this, ask the doctors and therapists if they can create the plans with you.

Find Resources

If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, it is imperative that you look for professional help as soon as you possibly can. However, you might not know where to start or the options that are open to you. Similarly, you may have little to no idea about the differences between the different treatment facilities and the programs they have in store for their patients.

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