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How to Make a Relapse Prevention Plan for Long-Term Recovery

People can stay in recovery for longer at lower relapse rates if they have a relapse prevention plan. A relapse prevention plan is a strategy for identifying and reducing the risks associated with relapse. Through relapse prevention strategies, you can reduce the chance of slipping back into old patterns of substance use, but you might be especially at risk of a relapse event within the first year of established recovery. Learn how relapse is part of the recovery process, and see what you can do to make a relapse prevention plan for long-term recovery. 

Relapse as Part of the Recovery Process 

Relapse may never fully leave your mind as a possibility, even after a successful recovery from substance use that lasts several months (or even years). But, patients are often most vulnerable to relapse within the first year. The first year of recovery from substance use is a major adjustment to learning habitually how not to use, just as substance use was habitual. 

It’s vital to have a plan for how to avoid relapse and what to do if you end up relapsing to substance use to cope with life. Doing so helps you know the stages and signs of relapse as well as what you should do to build a new lifestyle of healthy thoughts and habits. 

The Three Stages of Relapse

Relapse doesn’t just happen overnight. It can be a gradual process, beginning with emotional and mental relapse signs that ultimately lead to physical engagement with substances, such as alcohol or drug abuse in the future. 

Emotional Relapse

One of the most prevalent reasons that clinicians see patients go through is an environmental adjustment and emotional relapse. If the environment post-treatment creates stress and depression, this can, for example, be the first subtle sign that someone’s starting to withdraw from recovery emotionally. You’ll see a mood change in them.

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse can mean that a person is fantasizing or imagining their drug use in an unhealthy way, as a means of escape from everyday life and in response to powerful cravings. Cravings usually mean that unless something is getting done about it, they will add up and lead to substance use. Mental relapse is typically the second invisible sign before behavioral action. 

Physical Relapse

Unless a person who’s emotionally withdrawn or dreaming about substance use as a solution is getting active treatment, they can be triggered easily into using a substance as a physical relapse. Something as simple as a trip to the supermarket can be a trigger. We have drugs of choice in all varieties and flavors right there in the open aisle. 

But, there is help out there when somebody relapses. Just because someone relapsed doesn’t mean they are a failure. Unfortunately, it’s part of the process. A relapse doesn’t have to happen, but if it does, it means that people need to continue with a treatment program and seek adequate support. Preventative support exists in recovery prevention plans.

What are Relapse Prevention Plans?

For anyone in recovery, a relapse prevention plan is a vital tool. Having a plan helps you recognize your behaviors that could lead to a return to bad habits. It also offers methods for combating those behaviors and getting back on track.

A relapse prevention plan is usually a written document that a person creates with their treatment team and shares with a support group. The relapse prevention plan offers a course of positive action. It’s a go-to resource for patients who wish to sustain lasting recovery. 

To avoid a physical relapse, it is possible to acknowledge and act upon certain feelings and events from a place of balanced mindfulness about what is happening emotionally, mentally, and physically before relapses happen. 

How to Make a Relapse Prevention Plan

While you can create a plan on your own, it’s helpful to have someone with knowledge of the topic, like a substance abuse counselor. You can write relapse plans to have a clearer idea of what steps to take should a relapse occur. Consider these areas when mapping out your self-care and emergency plans with a therapist or mental health professional:

Appreciate Your Drug or Alcohol History

There are a few questions to ask when creating a relapse prevention plan with the help of a treatment team or rehab center for alcohol abuse or drug addiction:

  • Were there periods when you were more likely to engage in substance use? 
  • Were there any specific people who influenced the times you used it? 
  • What social situations might lead you to use substances again?
  • What are the thought patterns that make you more likely to use again?
  • Was there something that prompted your previous relapse, if any?

Determining what caused a prior relapse is vital in avoiding them in the future. This step helps to take that history, providing warning signs that are personal to you. Getting clear on them will help you understand how sobriety and recovery differ in practical terms.

Identify Signs that Could Trigger Relapse

Think about scenarios that could lead to a potential relapse and the warning signs of a possible relapse. Begin by listing the people, places, and things that have the potential to lead to a relapse. Relapse triggers are anything that could lead to a return to drug or alcohol use. 

Consider adding triggers to your plan for the most common and risky situations until all potential triggers are covered. These questions can be helpful when identifying a triggering event:

  • Who would remind me of using drugs?
  • Which places did I use drugs, which could cause a relapse?
  • What addictive thoughts could make me want to go back to using?
  • Are specific times of the year more likely to lead to a relapse?
  • What are the feelings that lead to a relapse?

It is achievable to give a person more insight into their concerns about relapse by creating a list of warning signs. Providing the treatment team with this list can offer crucial information to prevent relapse in the patient’s future and to intervene with treatment measures when necessary.

Establish an Emergency Plan of Action

If you want to prevent a relapse, you need to create an action plan for what to do. For example, if you’re going through a difficult breakup, consider other ways to deal with your pain and frustration instead of turning to drugs or alcohol. Instead of drinking or using, plan to attend a support meeting or reach out to a family member or close friend immediately. 

You will be less likely to experience a relapse if your action plan is more specific. The more detailed this plan is, the greater your chances of getting back on track fast. Here are some things you can add to the plan to manage cravings and prevent relapse in triggering situations:

  • Have a plan in place for whom you will call when triggered, what you will say, and which meeting or rehab you will use for support through cravings, addictive thoughts, or difficult emotions. 
  • Make a list of people you can call if you experience cravings, ways you can distract yourself from them, and ways you can stop them altogether. 
  • Write down supportive and preventative activities like writing a list of consequences, attending a support meeting, or engaging in other healthy coping skills like exercise. 

Include a mix of coping strategies if calls or outreach to your sober support network fail, and make a plan for every stage of relapse, whether emotional, mental, or physical. The people in your plan should have the knowledge you need to help, including treatment providers, family, friends, sponsors, and other resources. Using substances is a damaging coping skill, so positive coping skills will stall relapse and provide positive outcomes into long-term recovery. 

Plan and Outline Positive Lifestyle Changes

Relapse prevention plans often include ways to address the damage addiction has caused in your life. It can be helpful to consider the different areas affected, such as relationships, criminal history, finances, or lost opportunities in education or your career. This reflection can help you understand why you initially sought sobriety, motivate positive choices, and help avoid or replace high-risk situations.

Review your plan as time progresses to ensure that it evolves with your new life in recovery. You acknowledged that the components of your recovery plan could change and develop over time. Similarly, the people in your support system can also change and develop over time. 

Individual needs vary, and assessing where you are in recovery with honesty can help you navigate your new life skillfully without relapse. Ask yourself what you want your life to look like in recovery, and plan the self-care habits that will lead to successful sobriety:

  • How can I regulate myself emotionally, physically, and socially?
  • How will I continue to assess my recovery, health, and happiness?
  • How should I keep learning to cope without drugs or alcohol?
  • What knowledge can I build about myself to prevent relapse?
  • What goals do I have during recovery to stay accountable for?
  • What will help me manage and reduce warning signs of relapse?

Consider when you will review your recovery plan with someone you know, such as a treatment provider, therapist, or person in your support network. Know who will be trusted and involved in your relapse prevention plan, such as who has access to a copy of the prevention plan to offer support, encouragement, assessment, and intervention as needed. 

Resources for Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

You can use the relapse prevention workbooks and other tools to maintain your recovery. You can fill out worksheets to perform self-assessment and complete the necessary sections of your relapse prevention plan. Or, you can learn more about relapse prevention, how to practice self-care, and the rules of recovery with these links:

However, it’s usually best to explore relapse prevention for you and learn how to reduce the risk of relapse by depending on your clinical treatment team for their patient resources, handouts, and prompts during therapy. 

Achieve Long-Term Recovery

Relapse is often an ordinary part of the recovery process, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your story with sobriety, health, and long-term happiness. 

If you are having addictive thoughts or simply want to maintain your sobriety, making a relapse prevention plan with a trusted treatment provider like The Haven Detox in West Palm Beach can help. Our therapy teams offer clients a chance to live a better life, think positively, and feel good about sobriety through private and group sessions that prepare patients for a lifetime of recovery. 

We offer 24-hour services for substance use disorders through our rehab center and detox facility. To prevent relapse and re-engage with treatment, call (561) 328-8627.