Preventing Relapse Following Addiction Treatment

Whether you attend inpatient or outpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, building a relapse prevention plan is an important part of the process. What does a relapse prevention plan consist of, and what are the key elements of a successful relapse prevention plan? What else should you know about relapse and recovery?

In our guide, we’ll go over how to create an effective relapse prevention plan, the stages of relapse, and how they can help you identify the risk of relapse before it starts and whether relapse is part of the recovery process. Then, we’ll discuss why it’s okay to seek help more than once and how to get help for addiction at Pathfinders Recovery in Arizona and Colorado!

How To Make A Successful Relapse Prevention Plan

Make A Successful Relapse Prevention Plan

Most treatment programs will help you make a relapse prevention plan while you are in care with the help of a substance abuse counselor or another professional. You might also hear about relapse prevention plans in relapse prevention workbooks or other tools, such as free online resources.

Creating a relapse prevention plan means that you have specific steps and tools to turn to as a way to maintain sobriety, manage cravings, and stop a potential relapse in its tracks. So, what makes for a successful relapse prevention plan?

A relapse prevention plan template will usually consist of the following:

Build a toolkit of coping skills

Healthy coping skills are crucial for anyone, but especially for those working to overcome mental health challenges such as substance use disorders. When you’re having a tough time, it can be hard to think of what to do to cope healthily and effectively.

Those with substance use disorders, eating disorders, or similar conditions have built neural pathways over time. Often, this means that our first thought is to engage in old habits. That is why a relapse prevention plan will almost always include a list of coping strategies to use instead.

Here are some ideas for healthy coping mechanisms to write down:

  • Physical activity (yoga, sports, dance, hiking, or something else)
  • Talking to or spending time with others
  • Journaling
  • TIPP skills ( a simple and effective DBT exercise)
  • Meditation
  • Art

Think about what helps you de-stress and what you can turn to when faced with a challenge. Everyone’s different, and it’s ideal to have more than one option.

Write a list of who to reach out to if you use

Nearly all relapse prevention plans for substance abuse will include a list of who to reach out to if you slip up and use drugs or alcohol. Ideally, you want to write down more than one name. On the list, include not just personal friends and family members, but members of your treatment team, such as a therapist, sponsor, counselor, or psychiatrist, too. Include the contact information for treatment team members, hotlines, or anyone else you list so that it’s readily available.

Understand that you can always ask for help. Substance abuse is about so much more than what appears on the surface, and it can affect anyone. Removing the shame and stigma so that you can speak with your support system about what’s going on can be a critical step in relapse prevention.

Create a supportive long-term daily routine

Supportive Group

Part of creating a relapse prevention plan can include building a supportive daily routine to engage in long-term. Include healthy habits in your routine, such as eating regular meals, spending time with positive people, exercising, stretching, working, going to school, volunteering, or engaging in another activity that occupies your time.

You can also make a plan for what to do if part of your daily routine changes. For example, if you get laid off or graduate from college, what will you do? What will your daily routine look like? Will you fill your hours with a job search, art, or something else?

The reason it’s valuable to make a daily routine extends beyond healthy habits alone when it comes to relapse prevention. Knowing what your normal routine looks like means that you might be more apt to notice when you start to veer outside of it. Routines can also help you maintain structure outside of treatment.

Identify triggers

Identifying triggers is almost always a vital tool in relapse prevention. Common triggers include stress, trauma anniversaries, an uptick in other mental health challenges, being around people, places, or things that remind you of using, and so on.

Know your warning signs

If you have a prior relapse to reflect on, doing so can help you identify warning signs and prevent future relapse. Knowing your personal warning signs can go alongside identifying triggers. Whether you have experienced a relapse before or not, take some time to review the stages of relapse detailed below. The stages of relapse begin before you actively re-engage in substance abuse, and if you can identify an early stage (like emotional relapse), it can help you prevent relapse.

Stages Of Relapse

Emotional relapse

Understanding the stages of relapse can be a part of creating a solid relapse prevention plan. Most of the time, there’s a precursor to physical relapse, such as a difficult emotional time. It is important to get an idea as to what thought patterns and feelings might preface a relapse so that you can utilize your coping strategies sooner rather than later.

In order, here are the three stages of relapse:

Emotional relapse

In the emotional relapse stage, you aren’t thinking about using actively yet. However, you are experiencing emotions and behavior that set you up for the possibility of future relapse. Signs of emotional relapse can involve but aren’t limited to anxiety, anger or irritability, mood swings, isolation, and poor self-care (e.g., poor eating and sleeping habits). Another sign of emotional relapse is not asking for help from your support system.

It is crucial that you reach out when you start to face a difficult time emotionally. In fact, learning to ask for help and use coping strategies during emotional relapse is one of the most critical tools in a relapse prevention plan.

If you start to feel an uptick in everyday life stress or notice that your general mental health is starting to slip, reach out to members of your support system and focus on self-care.

Mental relapse

In the mental relapse stage, you start to feel the temptation to engage in drug or alcohol use. You might feel at a crossroads at first (e.g., “part of me wants to use, part of me doesn’t”) or think about using here and there. Later in this stage, urges become stronger and harder to fight.

Signs of mental relapse to look out for include:

  • Glamorizing drug or alcohol abuse from your past
  • An uptick in thoughts about using or relapsing
  • Fantasizing about using drugs or alcohol
  • Hanging out with people you used with (or thinking about doing so)
  • Planning a relapse
  • Lying

If you notice the signs of mental relapse, make sure that you reach out to those you trust and tell them about your urges to use. You can talk with a sponsor, therapist, members of a support group, or someone else.

When you’re tempted to use, it can also help to remember the reality of addiction. Where you may think you can use just once or can manage substance use, you know that is not true in reality, and you know that nothing good comes from using.

Use healthy distractions, practice self-care, and consider increasing your mental health support. One example of increasing mental health support would be to start seeing a therapist more frequently than you are currently.

Physical relapse

Physical relapse

The physical relapse stage is characterized by actively seeking out substances again. You may drive to a dealer’s location, head to the liquor section at the store, and ultimately, use drugs or alcohol. If this happens, look at the names you wrote down to reach out to when you use when you made your relapse prevention plan. Many rehabilitation centers have alumni programs that can be helpful at this time, though various members of a person’s treatment team can help. The most important thing is that you talk to someone.

Catching relapse in the early stages is ideal. When slips happen, prevent relapse by making sobriety your #1 goal. In any case, know that if you are here, it’s never too late to reach out for help.

Relapse As Part Of The Recovery Process

You may or may not have heard the statement, “relapse is a part of recovery” before. Is it true?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website, relapse does not mean that you have failed treatment. Instead, relapse is a common part of the recovery process. This doesn’t mean that relapse shouldn’t be prevented. In fact, quite the opposite is the case.

It’s important to maintain a balanced perspective in the sense that relapse should be prevented when possible but that a relapse or slip does not mean that addiction is something you can’t overcome.

Relapse is dangerous and can lead to death. The sooner relapse is addressed, the better. Relapse prevention plans can help you identify early warning signs (before you use) and provide actionable steps to turn to when you experience cravings, high-risk situations (e.g., a difficult emotional state or triggers such as specific people and places), or something else.

Substance use disorders have similar relapse rates to that of other chronic conditions. Hypertension, for example, has a relapse rate of 50-70%, whereas substance use disorders have a 40-60% rate of relapse. Whether a substance use disorder or another condition, continued care for the condition matters.

Intensive treatment may not be part of your life forever, but continuing to address substance use disorders as a disease is crucial. Following a relapse prevention plan and using relapse prevention strategies is part of that.

It’s Okay To Ask For Help Again

Asking For Help

There is nothing shameful about asking for help, whether it’s your first time considering treatment or you’ve been to treatment multiple times in the past. Some people who go through alcohol or drug addiction treatment find that they need to seek help more than once, and that is okay.

It takes time to get to know yourself, and that’s true for all of us – not just those of us with a substance use disorder. The longer you move through life, the more insight you gain. If you think that you or someone in your life might benefit from addiction treatment, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Find Long-Term Recovery With Pathfinders

The admissions team at Pathfinders Recovery Center is here to help you find the right treatment program for yourself or someone else in your life who needs help. Pathfinders Recovery Center has multiple locations and levels of care in Arizona and Colorado. We provide residential, outpatient, PHP, long-term rehab, and detox services. Our treatment programs include relapse prevention therapy and help clients find healthy coping skills that work for their unique situations and needs.

When you contact Pathfinders Recovery Center, we’ll answer any questions you might have, verify your insurance coverage, and help you find a placement for drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

Call Pathfinders Recovery Centers now to speak with an Admissions counselor today or fill out the Contact Us form on our website now if you’d like a callback!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Relapse Prevention

What does a relapse prevention plan consist of?

A relapse prevention plan consists of multiple parts. Often, relapse prevention plans include a list of people to reach out to if you use, healthier ways to cope with life challenges instead of using, and early warning signs to look out for. No matter what your recovery process looks like, making a plan to prevent relapse is incredibly valuable.

What happens after substance abuse treatment?

In an addiction treatment program, you will usually build a plan for aftercare. Aftercare might involve moving down to a lower level of care (such as an outpatient program, for those in residential or inpatient care), having a therapist to work with once you are discharged from a program, attending support groups, or something else.


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