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Relapse Prevention

  1. Article SummaryPrint
  2. Tips for Successful Relapse Prevention
  3. High-Risk Situations
  4. Negative Feelings and Cravings
  5. Planning for High-Risk Situations
  6. Coping with Relapse

Relapse prevention planning is a critical element in ensuring that a person who is recovering from drug or alcohol addiction does not return to using drugs or alcohol.

Relapse occurs when a person who has abstained from using drugs or alcohol for any period of time begins to use again. This use may be a brief, one-time lapse in abstinence, or it may be a binge that involves large amounts of drug or alcohol use. In both situations, relapse does not mean you cannot get back on the road to recovery.Traditional alcohol and drug addiction treatment approaches often include a drug and alcohol relapse prevention plan in their recovery programs.

  • Myth: Relapse into heavy drug or alcohol use after a period of abstinence means that you have failed. Relapsing at least once is common in any type of addiction, and should not be considered a negative outcome. After relapse, it is vital to your long-term sobriety to re-enter a treatment program immediately and jump back on the road to recovery.

There are several situations that may play a role in contributing to relapse. Part of a successful drug and alcohol relapse prevention plan is to know and recognize the signs of high-risk situations that may lead to relapse.

  1. Emotional or Mental Health Issues: Negative emotional states such as depression, anger, anxiety, or even boredom often present a high-risk situation associated with relapse.
  2. Conflict: Situations that include other people, particularly conflicts with other people, can result in negative emotions, and eventually lead to relapse.
  3. Social Pressure: Social pressure includes both verbal and nonverbal pressure from friends or people in your social circles. This pressure may seem harmless, such as being around people who are drinking or using drugs, or it may be direct, such as a friend teasing you about not using.
  4. Celebrations or Positive Emotional Conditions: A wedding, sporting event, graduation, or other positive events to which alcohol may be linked can play a large role in contributing to relapse.

A vital component of relapse prevention is to learn how to detect the warning signs that often lead to a lapse in abstinence. Through identification, you can take positive steps to remain on your path to recovery. This learning includes compiling a plan that addresses your addiction. The better you are at spotting the signs of possible relapse, the earlier you can take action to ensure long-term recovery.

Typically relapse is caused by varying combinations of factors. As part of your relapse prevention plan, it is essential to recognize your personal warning signs so that you can take action to prevent a relapse. These factors are unique to each individual but often include:

  • Frequenting old drinking grounds or hanging around drug using friends
  • Keeping alcohol or drugs in your home for any reason
  • Isolating yourself from friends and/or support groups
  • Constantly thinking about using drugs or drinking
  • Quitting therapy, skipping scheduled appointments, or veering away from your addiction treatment program
  • Overconfidence or feeling as though you no longer need support
  • Relationship conflicts, such as a spouse who still uses drugs or alcohol
  • Being too hard on yourself or setting impossible goals
  • Abrupt or sudden changes in eating and/or sleeping habits, personal hygiene, or energy
  • Feelings of confusion, uselessness, stress, or the sense of being overwhelmed
  • Boredom and irritability, usually stemming from a lack of structure in your life
  • Focusing on resentments, or past anger, and unresolved conflicts
  • Refusing to deal with personal problems relating to daily life events
  • Replacing drugs or alcohol with other obsessive behaviors like gambling
  • Major life changes that cause intense emotion such as grief, trauma, or extreme elation
  • Ignoring the signs of relapse and your triggers

It is not uncommon for a person to relapse at least once during recovery. This usually happens when thoughts of drinking or using drugs resurface in early stages of recovery. These thoughts can manifest in dreams and may not signal an alarm initially. However, when the dreams bleed into your waking moments and the urge to use again becomes compelling, there are things that you can do to avoid a relapse into drinking or drug use.

Tips for Successful Relapse Prevention

  • Manage feelings and problems as they occur. By handling day-to-day issues as they arise, you limit the stress that accompanies them prevent negative emotions from building up until they become overwhelming. Do not avoid dealing with negative emotions, however, because this can also result in a buildup of stress and negative emotions.
  • Maintain a balance in your life. It's vital to alcohol and drug relapse prevention to find ways to balance work and relaxation. This reduces your stress levels so that you're better able to cope with whatever life throws at you each day. Remember to reward yourself with things that give you pleasure, such as a hobby. Fill your free time with a range of activities until you find the activities that you enjoy most.
  • Surround yourself with people who support and trust you. Friends, family, a support group, or a counselor are excellent safety nets to help prevent relapse. With this support network, you can talk through negative feelings and you have the security of knowing that others are also looking for warning signs of relapse. Let each person in your support network know your goals and plans so that he or she can assist you in achieving them.

High-Risk Situations


Alcohol and Drug

Alcohol and drug abuse are defined as patterns of drinking or using drugs (prescription and illicit) that result in harm to a person’s health, well-being, relationships, and productivity. A person who abuses drugs and alcohol is not necessarily an addict. Read More

There will be times that you find yourself in situations where you are at a high risk for relapsing into drug or alcohol use. These are easier to handle if you plan for them ahead of time. Try to identify three ways in which you'll handle the situation beforehand. For example, practice what you'll say if someone offers you a drink or drugs. If your first reply doesn't work, have a second and a third option prepared. At parties, carrying around a non-alcoholic beverage is one option. Assuming the role of designated driver is another pre-planned strategy that can help. This enables you to stay confident so that you maintain control of the situation.

Negative Feelings and Cravings

Negative feelings and cravings are often worse when you are stressed or tired, but they will fade away gradually. These are uncomfortable feelings, which can make it difficult to wait them out. To cope with negative feelings or cravings, it helps to include coping strategies in your relapse prevention plan. These include talking to someone about your feelings or cravings, getting plenty of rest, eating properly, exercising regularly, and actively doing what is necessary to reduce the unnecessary stresses in your life. To discuss your options for a relapse prevention plan, you can contact a treatment advisor at 1-888-287-0471 who can answer your questions, confidentially, any time day or night, with no obligation. You can also click this link to contact us by email.

By focusing on specific actions or thoughts, you can better deal with cravings for drugs and alcohol, and prevent relapse.

Specific Actions to Cope with Cravings

  • Carry a list of trusted people who you can talk to about your cravings. Carry a notepad, so that you can write down what you are thinking or feeling until the craving passes.
  • Be prepared to distract yourself so that you aren't focused on the craving. Distractions may include cleaning, exercising, or meditation.
  • Keep a record of the successful ways you've coped with past cravings.

Specific Thoughts to Cope with Cravings

  • Remember how bleak things seemed when you were using drugs or alcohol.
  • Think about the reasons you stopped using drugs or alcohol.
  • Remind yourself that your cravings are a normal part of recovery, and you do not have to give into them.
  • Visualize the cravings as waves that you have to ride out.
  • Be positive. Encourage yourself by remembering your successes each time the cravings become intense.

Relapses can be prevented by first setting goals in important areas of your life such as emotional health, relationships, or work. You will need to plan what you will do to achieve these goals. Reaching these goals means making success happen, not just wishing for it.

Plan how to cope with situations that may impede your recovery. This helps to prevent relapse by replacing your old behaviors with carefully planned actions.

Did You Know?

A large percentage of relapses for any addiction occur within the first 90 days of recovery. This is often caused by periods of poor memory or lack of concentration that can cause you to panic, which can lead to relapse.

Planning for High-Risk Situations

Part of an effective relapse prevention plan is to figure out the high-risk situations that may cause you to start drinking or using drugs again, and then establish a plan for how you will deal with these situations. You can do this by asking yourself several key questions:

  1. What days are you most likely to drink or use drugs?
  2. What times of the day are you most likely to crave alcohol or drugs?
  3. What locations will make you want to drink or use drugs?
  4. Who are you most likely to drink or use drugs with?
  5. What emotions are most likely to lead drinking or drug use?
  6. What positive things do drinking or using drugs do for you? What negative consequences may result?
  7. Can you list some high-risk situations that might crop up based on your answers to the above questions?

For each high-risk situation you figure out based on these questions, think of three ways that you might handle each one. For example, a wedding with an open bar may be a high-risk situation for a recovering alcoholic. An action plan might include bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage, volunteering to be a designated driver, and rehearsing how you will answer anyone who might pressure you to have a drink.

Choosing the right relapse prevention plan for your situation may seem difficult. You can contact a treatment advisor at 1-888-287-0471 who can answer your questions, confidentially, any time day or night, with no obligation. Alternatively, click this link to contact us by email.

Coping with Relapse

It is important to understand that there are times in your life when you cannot control everything, and not every situation will go as planned. Because of this, you should also have a method of coping with relapse as part of your recovery plan. Consider the feelings you might feel if you relapse and begin using drugs or alcohol again. You might feel guilty, angry, or fearful. These feelings may force you to continue to use drugs or alcohol rather than return to your path of recovery. Plan how you will deal with these emotions ahead of time. For example, you might speak to a counselor or a friend to sort out your feelings, and gain the support and encouragement you need to keep going.

Learn from the situation. Use the relapse as a learning opportunity instead of viewing it as a negative experience. By examining what led you into relapse, you can better plan to avoid another occurrence in the future. You can contact a treatment advisor at 1-888-287-0471 who can answer your questions, confidentially, any time day or night, with no obligation. You may also click this link to contact us by email.

It helps to remind yourself that no matter how stressful things get, or how bad your life may seem, the benefits of abstaining from using drugs or alcohol outweigh the short-term relief you might gain from using again. Recovery is a long-term process, and the cravings, risk of relapse, and uncertainty will fade with time. Relapse prevention planning means finding new ways to deal with life and the situations it brings.

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