What is a Relapse Prevention Plan

Learning About What is a Relapse Prevention Plan

The first six months following successful completion of an addiction treatment program are the most tenuous when it comes to relapse.  In fact, studies have shown that up to 80% of adults and teens who had completed a program began using again within six months.  Because substance addiction is considered a chronically relapsing condition, taking steps to prevent relapse after treatment is crucial.

One of the biggest challenges during this period is adjusting to actually feeling life without the substance that once dulled life’s difficulties.  Suddenly, now clean and sober, one has to experience the raw emotions, frustrations, fears, and stressors that once were softened and blurred with the substance.  In fact, for many people with a substance use disorder, symptoms of a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety, may have fueled the addiction in the first place. Self-medicating emotional pain through the misuse of drugs or alcohol is a very common adaptive behavior.

By anticipating the people, places, situations, or things that could potentially lead to relapse is an important element of addiction treatment.  Preparing to manage the triggers in recovery is essential to achieving a successful long-term outcome. Creating an actionable plan to effectively sidestep challenges to sobriety is a critical step in addiction rehabilitation. So, what is a relapse prevention plan, exactly?

What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse occurs when an individual in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction reverts back to using the substance again.  A relapse can be a single “slip,” one day where they fell down in recovery.  Relapse can also launch a lengthy binge mode that can become life threatening, as the detoxified body is not accustomed to the substance, resulting in overdose or alcohol poisoning.  Although relapse is extremely common in early recovery, it is to be avoided at all costs.

A relapse prevention plan can be a written document, a workbook format, or just a verbal plan that is developed in counseling sessions.  It helps to put your plan together with someone else present, as their objectivity and support will help you make a more comprehensive plan.

To understand what is a relapse prevention plan you should first understand the power of triggers.  Identifying one’s own particular triggers is critical.  With the raw, exposed emotional vulnerability in early recovery, stressors and strife can trigger relapse.  Also, doing an honest review of past patterns of compulsive drug or alcohol use can help anticipate vulnerabilities.  Who would you use with?  Where would you use?  What did you hope the substance would help you with—anxiety, depression, marital strife, boredom, or loneliness?

Once these potential landmines to your recovery are identified and noted, a plan of attack needs to be outlined.  If you feel your recovery is threatened, what specific steps will you immediately take?  Who will you contact when developing a support system?  The more detail your relapse prevention plan has, the more effective it will be when needed later.

Other Relapse Prevention Strategies

Acknowledge the warning signs. There are often red flags that pop up well in advance of the actual relapse event.  You may begin to believe you don’t need to attend a recovery group anymore, or may stop calling your sponsor for support.  Recognize that these are warning signs of relapse.  As soon as triggers start to activate, such as loneliness or boredom or stress, it is crucial to be proactive and mitigate those issues.

  • Hire a sober companion if needed. Sometimes you may need added support in early recovery.  You recognize you are losing your power to fight off cravings.  It may be wise to bring a sober companion on board to help you navigate early recovery.  A sober companion can prepare your home for recovery, transport you to appointments and 12-step meetings, help you create a healthy daily routine, and offer added support when needed.
  • Use an interactive app. Currently there are several interactive apps available that can be accessed on a mobile device, such as Sober Tool, ASCENT, Casava, SMART Recovery, and Field Guide to Life. These apps provide an instant source of reinforcement and support, including an emergency response element if relapse is impending.  The recovery support apps have varying features so it helps to have more than one on your phone.
  • Sober living. An excellent way to minimize the triggers and temptations that accompany early recovery is to spend a few months in sober living.  A sober living environment offers a supportive, drug and alcohol-free space that allows for new sober lifestyle habits to take root.  Participation in a 12-step or similar program is required, and residents are expected to work at a job as well.

What to do When a Relapse Happens

While relapse is not inevitable, the fact that it happens in the majority of cases is important to acknowledge. To be flippant about potential relapse only leads to lax efforts to protect sobriety in early recovery. To maintain sustained sobriety, vigilance is required.

However, even the most committed person to protecting their sobriety can fall down. When relapse happens it can be very disheartening for the individual, as well as their loved ones. Feelings of shame and guilt are common in relapse. But even though a relapse is distressing, it is how you respond to the event that really matters most.

By immediately recommitting oneself to sobriety it is possible to overcome the recurrence and move forward in recovery once again. Some steps to take following a relapse may include:

  • Calling one’s sponsor, or trusted family support person, and humbly admitting the misstep. These individuals care about you succeeding in recovery and are not going to berate you for a weak moment as long as you exhibit a sincere desire to recommit to sobriety.
  • Go to a meeting. You do not have to share about the relapse at A.A., but it can sometimes be a source of important support in your efforts to restart the process.
  • Consider revisiting the treatment program. If the relapse was more than a one time thing it may be unnecessary to return to rehab. However if the relapse turned into a long bender, then a more proactive response, such as returning to treatment, is warranted.
  • Spend some time in reflection. Do a personal inventory. You may have become lazy in your aftercare efforts, or maybe you tempted fate by not avoiding known triggers. Whatever the reason behind the relapse, it is important to identify the weak spot and make a renewed commitment to relapse prevention efforts.
  • Make amends to anyone who may have been harmed due to the relapse. If you neglected obligations or let your family members down, apologize to them personally. This will go a long way to healing broken trust bonds.
  • Forgive yourself. Addiction recovery is one of the most difficult endeavors imaginable. Recovery demands intense focus and energy because threats to sobriety are relentless. See the relapse as a mistake, not a personal failing, and then forgive yourself. You are human.
  • Make adjustments if needed. Sometimes you are not aware of the threat to sobriety until after it has caused a relapse. Take note of exactly what you need to avoid moving forward, and then add a new dimension to your recovery. Maybe take up a new sport or hobby, make new fitness goals, or join some sober social groups. See how you can reinforce sobriety by changing things up a bit.
  • See your therapist. If the relapse was a short-lived slip, it may help to double up on outpatient therapy. Maybe add a second session for the next few weeks, or add a group session to your outpatient programming. A therapist can help you work through feelings of self-blame or guilt, while also helping to identify the state of mind that might have been present when the relapse occurred.

Phoenix Rising Can Help Develop an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan

When asking, “What is a relapse prevention plan?” the highly skilled clinical team at Phoenix Rising will have the answer for you—providing a clear roadmap for creating your solid relapse prevention strategy.  A critical element in a successful, sustained recovery is dealing with past traumas or emotional pain that may underlie the addiction. There is power in having a supportive team of caring therapists who wants you to succeed, and Phoenix Rising is that support team.  Contact us today at  (949) 518-0345.