Strategies for Relapse Prevention That Actually Work

Authored by Pin Ng

Edited by Alexander Bentley

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Arenas Matta

Strategies for Relapse Prevention


As you embark on your life post-rehabilitation, it is always important to consider the possibility of relapse. It may seem unlikely if your return to daily life is fresh and everything feels easy, but the truth is that relapse is always a possibility, and it is best to be prepared for it so that in the event where you start feeling like you want to relapse, euphoric recall, or start showing signs of wanting to, you and your loved ones can help take steps to curb the impulse before it takes over, and allow you to remain sober.


Preparedness is Key for Recovery Success


Preparedness is key to success in anything, and that includes recovery. We should always plan for the worst, even if we don’t want to think about it. When the world of sobriety is so new and fresh it may be difficult to think about a scenario where they are feeling like you can’t cope without resorting to old habits that you know are not beneficial to you, but with 70% of surveyed recovering addicts saying that they had relapsed at least once, it is worthwhile.


Even better, there is a way to prepare without feeling completely overwhelmed. How? By coming up with a relapse prevention plan. The steps are straightforward, and the plan easy to complete and share with loved ones to make your new sobriety as positive and long-lived as possible.

Relapse Prevention Plan


Creating your relapse prevention plan is best done soon after you have completed your treatment and making the transition back to life after rehab, and perhaps with the support and input of friends and family, who may be aware of your behaviors when you are craving, or with a therapist, who can help you to complete a plan and consider your addiction history while maintaining distance and perspective from it.


Firstly, it is important to assess your drug and alcohol addiction history, to think about the timing of when you have previously relied on drugs or alcohol, what was going on in your life when you were reliant, any specific thought patterns or reasoning that you were having or using at the time.


List any signs of potential relapse, behaviors that others around you may notice, and any specific triggers that made you more likely to use in the past, including any people in your life who may encourage dependence.


This stage of setting up a plan also includes familiarizing yourself with what the stages of relapse after rehab typically look like: emotional, mental, and physical.


Emotional relapse


Emotional relapse is where you’re not thinking about using, but your actions are setting you up for relapse – for example through distancing yourself from your support system and not sharing your emotions or true feelings, while also struggling to maintain a regular eating or sleeping pattern and feeling angrier or more anxious than usual.


Mental relapse


Mental relapse is the stage where you’re warring with yourself – you start focusing on the positive aspects of when you were using, the good times that were had, and the feelings, people, and places you associate with using. Then you start planning to use again and bargaining with yourself.


Physical relapse


Physical relapse is when you start using again, lapsing back into taking or drinking, and then begin doing so again as a regular habit.

Strategies for Relapse Prevention Planning


In your relapse prevention plan, once you have dealt with the triggers and patterns that you associate, consciously or subconsciously, with using drugs, you can then begin to lay out a plan to counteract any triggers or combat any cravings that might arise. Make sure you have a plan of who to call or what to do to distract yourself when cravings arise, someone who can be trusted and will support you; or something that will engage you enough to take your mind off the cravings.


Remind yourself of the reasons why you quit substance abuse, remember to reward yourself for small achievements and establish a regular self-care routine. There are also preventative measures that you should add to your relapse prevention document and try to implement in your life.


These can include support programs, therapy, exercising and moving your body, journaling, writing both a list of consequences of what will happen if you do end up relapsing and a gratitude list of all the good things you have in your life at the time of writing – beyond just the sobriety. These measures can give you perspective on your situation, your addiction, sobriety, and the future.

Relapse Plan Models and Templates


There are relapse plan models available that can be used as a starting point to help guide you through the process, many of which have been developed by substance abuse experts and psychologists. Two of the most popular include the Marlatt model and the Gorski-Cenaps Model.


The Marlatt model illustrates how stable (tonic) and short-lived (phasic) influences interact with each other to create the chances of a relapse – tonic influences suggest how likely this is while phasic influences are factors that either cause or prevent relapse.


The Gorski-Cenaps model is made up of several points that someone should follow within the plan. These include self-regulation of physical, psychological, and social stabilization; integration via self-assessment; understanding prevention steps and on your relapse signs; self-knowledge to identify your own warning signs of a relapse, coping skills, change in regularly reviewing your plan, awareness through consistency and practice, support from loved ones, and maintenance.


The transtheoretical model has been developed over the past 35 years, with many changes made over the years to improve how health professionals can apply it to help addicts. Initially used to understand experiences of smokers who were able to quit, it helps categorize different stages of change that someone with an unhealthy behavior undergoes on their path to recovery.


Always remember that any plan you choose to follow can and should change over time, as your needs and situation change.


Your Strategies for Relapse Prevention


Overall, a relapse prevention plan can be an incredibly useful tool in your arsenal as you take on life post-treatment and with newfound sobriety. It can help to bring together all the resources you might need if you experience cravings or feel close to a relapse, which makes you less likely to fully succumb, as you have reminders and resources already prepared ahead of time.


When combined with lifestyle changes such as improving diet, exercise, and ensuring you have a trusted support circle who can help with sobriety, as well as therapy to help you navigate the shift, the chances of relapse are reduced significantly.


If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, reach out to the Worlds Best Rehabs here.


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