Updated November 18, 2021
The cause of a relapse is usually not associated with one particular event. There are several warning signs and red flags that preceded the relapse. These generally show the user returning to past perceptions, emotions, and behaviors which can push them back to alcoholism or drug abuse. Creating a relapse prevention plan can help people recognizing and taking action against the warning signs of a possible relapse.
A relapse prevention plan is an essential tool for all patients in recovery. Relapse prevention plans help people recognize their behaviors that could cause a future relapse. They also lay out ways to resist those behaviors and to remain focused on your sobriety.
Typically, a relapse prevention plan is a written report someone creates with their addiction treatment team and shares with others in their support group. The program offers a plan of action in reacting to triggers and cravings.
Relapse usually isn’t a sudden event. Rather, it’s a three-part process that includes:
It’s possible to recognize and act upon feelings and events with a relapse prevention plan to help avoid physical relapse.
Relapsing is a natural part of the recovery process. Research has estimated that more than two-thirds of inpatient drug rehab patients relapse within weeks of starting treatment. Addiction is a persistent disease in which some people struggle with relapse for several years before securing long-term sobriety.
If you relapse, you aren’t a failure. You shouldn’t believe that you should discontinue recovery at this point. Creating a relapse prevention plan will help to reduce the potentially damaging signs of relapse to keep you on track.
It is possible to produce a relapse prevention plan on your own. However, it’s more effective when guided by someone who understands relapse plans like a substance abuse counselor. Relapse plans should be written to have a more specific outline of what steps to take should a relapse transpire. Regardless, you must consider the following details when designing a relapse prevention plan.
A few questions to ask yourself when designing a relapse prevention plan include:
Concluding what caused a previous relapse is crucial in preventing them in the future.
Brainstorm a list of situations that could trigger a relapse and note the warning signs. Producing a list of warning signs can give people a better perspective of a relapse.
Produce a relapse prevention plan of action for alternatives rather than returning to drugs or alcohol. For example, getting over grief of a relationship breakup could cause a relapse, consider other outlets for your frustration and pain. Rather than using drugs or drinking, prepare to attend support meetings or reach out to loved ones immediately. The more precise your plan of action is, the better, as this makes you less prone to relapsing.
Though relapse prevention plans are different for everyone, specific components must be incorporated in a final design.
First, list the places, people, and things that could trigger a relapse. Relapse triggers are anything that can lead to using substances again. It might not be feasible to list each potential trigger, and there will be times you learn a new trigger when it’s in your presence.
Compile a list of loved ones you can call during cravings, methods to distract yourself from cravings, and ways to stop cravings completely. Using substances is an adverse coping skill, so learning healthy coping skills can help prevent relapse and result in positive outcomes for the future.
Compose a list of relapse prevention tools that have been instrumental during recovery. Focus on what you can do rather than use, and think about how those exercises can keep you on track. Some examples of prevention tools include:
People can be preventative tools as well. Reaching out to the supportive ones in your life can also help with cravings and relapse.
When tempted with relapse, you should be reinvesting time and energy into support groups. You can revisit what you learned in the 12-step programs and evaluate their place. This is also where sponsors can help. Sponsors should be a top priority when facing the temptation of relapse. Since sponsors have likely been there before, they may have a different perspective and suggestions to help.
Relapse prevention plans should incorporate ways in which you wish to correct the damage addiction has caused to your life. Separating these damages into areas like financial issues, legal issues, relationships, or education can help you maintain sobriety and provide a motive for making positive decisions.
Patients have more success avoiding relapse when they have a solid plan to deal with triggers, temptation, and all the other challenges that come with sobriety. A good relapse prevention plan will help to recognize when at risk, and it will give several ways to navigate these experiences successfully.
The Relapse Prevention Plan worksheet provides a bare-bones structure for creating such a plan. These resources will help to identify red flags warning them that they’re near relapse, people they can call during cravings, and things they can do to take their mind off using.
Relapse warning signs worksheet – PDF:
Lapse and relapse worksheet – PDF:
Relapse chain worksheet – PDF:
Relapse prevention plan – PDF:
A relapse can occur in three stages: mental, physical, and emotional. The process can begin weeks or even months before you return to drinking or using drugs.
The highest risk of relapse will occur during each of these three phases.
Throughout this phase, you’re not considering using, but your behaviors and feelings set you up for a potential relapse. You’re bottling up your emotions and isolating yourself. You start to feel angry and anxious, and you’re neglecting to eat and not sleeping well.
During this phase, you are fighting with yourself. Part of you wants to start using, and part of you doesn’t. You are thinking about places and people associated with the good times you had while using substances. You’re reminiscing the good times of those moments and not the bad. You begin contradicting yourself while preparing to use again.
Those experiencing a mental relapse will feel as if they are at war with themselves. You may feel like you want to use again, but there is a significant part of you that doesn’t. During the early phase of mental relapse, you’ll merely think about using but not act on it. Ultimately, though, you’ll begin to obsess about using drugs and alcohol again.
In this phase, you have started using substances again. It begins with just one drink, one hit, or one Xanax pill, which eventually leads back into regular use.
Certain places, people, and circumstances can encourage someone back into using drugs or drinking again. It is crucial to be conscious of your triggers so you can avoid them.
When triggers come about, focus on your reasons for quitting and remind yourself why you started down the path of addiction recovery in the first place. Remember how out of control you felt when abusing substances. Reminisce on the embarrassing things you did and the people you hurt while using.
Focus on how much more enjoyable your life can be once you stop using substances. Concentrate on what motivates you to quit, like keeping a job, rebuilding broken relationships, or becoming healthy again.
The first step after relapsing is to decide whether you need to go back to rehab. If it was an isolated incident, and you’re committed to recovery, you may not need to go to rehab again. However, if you’ve fallen back into abusing substances regularly, a more strict treatment program might be the best approach.
Upon returning to rehab, you should see the importance of therapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has taught many recovering addicts new behavioral replies to distorted thoughts. After rehab, you should continue using these tools and strategies to maintain a substance-free life, while using these methods to deal with grief, anxiety, depression, or anger.
From the minute you return to treatment upon relapsing, the focus should be getting back on track to your regular life. You might conclude that your best opportunity to avoid relapse is to reside in a sober living home, where discipline and accountability can help during the first months post-treatment. It is also beneficial to have an outpatient drug rehab program available to continue therapy after you leave.
If you or a loved one needs a relapse recovery plan or have relapsed and need help, our team here at CNV Detox can help you get back on track. Our treatment staff has the training and experience to help someone with their first time attending or for continued treatment therapy.
Do not hesitate to contact us today at CNV Detox and allow us to help you get back on track to a healthy, sober lifestyle!