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How to Make a Relapse Prevention Plan that Really Works

Managing to stop the abuse of drugs and alcohol is a major step in the right direction. However, this isn’t where the journey ends; preventing relapse becomes the next important step. Why is a relapse prevention plan so crucial? A JAMA study suggests that the first year of recovery is the most relapse-prone period; between 40 and 60 percent relapse. This is the reason why having a relapse prevention strategy or plan that works is so important. 

10 Minutes Read | Published Sep 15 2023 | Updated Jan 24 2024
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Write it Down

Creating an effective relapse prevention plan starts with writing it down. By writing it out on your computer or a piece of paper it can help to solidify the plan, and it gives you something to turn to for advice in times when relapse looms overhead.

Steps for Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

Take your time in creating your plan because it isn’t something that has to be completed in one sitting, and you may have several other relapse prevention plan ideas that you might want to add as the plan takes shape.

In summary, a plan to prevent relapse should include the following:

  • Your triggers
  • Stress coping tools and skills to be used
  • Self-improvement ideas and a healthy lifestyle guide
  • A daily maintenance plan
  • Support systems, such as the people and programs that you can rely on in times of crisis, and communication tools
  • Short- and long-term goals
  • How you plan to keep yourself accountable

The flowing explores the steps one should take to create a plan that works.

Goals and Motivation

To start your plan, take some time to think about what staying clean and sober really means to you. Addiction is a devastating disease that can consume you and hurt all the people close to you. In your goals and motivation section, you should explore all the reasons that prompted you to stop, and what your goals are for staying clean.

Think about your short- and long-term goals. It’s important to have both because if you only have one goal of staying clean and sober for the rest of your life, it can seem like too much when faced with the really bad days. Short-term goals can help to make you feel accomplished and that you are progressing. These can be as simple as making it through this week. Feel free to reward yourself for achieving your goals.

Think about the things that are the biggest motivating factors for you. Whether it is not wanting to put those you love through that experience again, or wanting to build the life you’ve always dreamed about, you should outline your motivators so that you can turn to them to remind yourself why you are doing this when things get tough.

Your Triggers and How You Will Cope with Them

Understanding your triggers is crucial to understanding how to overcome them. Make a list of all the things that may trigger cravings. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What places remind me of drug abuse?
  • What things can trigger my abuse?
  • What emotions caused me to turn to drugs or alcohol?
  • What thoughts caused me to think about substance abuse?
  • Which people in my life can cause triggers?

By closely examining and listing all of the things that personally make you crave substance abuse again, you can then either avoid the situations altogether, or create exist strategies for when the situations arise. Each trigger should also have a method of how you plan to cope or avoid it. It can also open the door to relapse preventixon activities that take you away from your triggers, such as avoiding bars with friends and opting to go see a movie instead.

Stages of Relapse

Another of the relapse prevention plan ideas is to remind yourself about the stages of relapse because it can be helpful for recognizing the subtle signs that you are headed for a relapse. You may not want to talk about small problems that are slowly becoming bigger, but stopping the process of relapse is very important.

The signs that one is headed toward a relapse includes the following:

  • Emotional stage – The signs can include not being able to cope with certain strong emotions such as anxiety, anger, or depression. At this stage, relapse isn’t a thought yet, but the continual buildup of emotion can start the process.
  • Mental stage – In this stage, cravings start and the person may begin to close themselves off to the help around them. They may stop going to support group meetings or lie to others about how they really feel. Past drug use also tends to be romanticized, forgetting about all the negative effects it had on their life.
  • Physical stage – The last stage of relapse is where a person is driving to a bar or bottle store, or going to their dealer. This is the last point before a relapse occurs, and the last point where you can reach out to someone.

Self-Care and Lifestyle

An important part of creating a new way of life that doesn’t include the abuse of drugs or alcohol is creating strategies and plans for taking care of yourself, usually by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Some of the things that that should be included in your plan for a healthier lifestyle include regular exercise, a sleep schedule, a healthy eating plan, and free time to destress. This is also where you can add other relapse prevention activities such as new hobbies that you’d like to take up and dedicate time to, such as fishing or sports.

Support Systems and How to Communicate

Support systems, such as support groups and a network of friends and family that will help you with your sobriety goals, are a cornerstone to recovery. There is no need to go it alone. People who regularly go to support group meetings are more likely to remain clean and sober. This part of your plan is important because it will be used during the mental stage of relapse – the stage where you are stating to think about drug use again.

In this section, one should add various numbers for people in your support network, which can include family, friends, sponsors, and support group meetings in your area so that when you need a helping hand, you have ample people to contact.

You can also think about how you plan to communicate your problems, such as a prepared paragraph on what to say when you need help.

Resources

bullet McKay JR.
"Making Relapse Prevention a Reality. Alcohol Research & Health. 2009;33(2):127-138"
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bullet Marlatt GA, Donovan DM.
"Relapse Prevention: Maintenance Strategies in the Treatment of Addictive Behaviors. Guilford Press; 2005"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
"Relapse Prevention and Recovery Promotion in Behavioral Health Services. SAMHSA; 2012"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Donovan DM.
"Assessment of Addictive Behaviors: Implications of an Emerging Conceptual Framework. In: Mieczkowski T, McDonell JR, Anglin MD, eds. An Expanding Research Program on the Treatment of Alcoholism. Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies; 1981"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Brown TG, Seraganian P, Tremblay J, Annis HM.
"Process and Outcome Changes with Relapse Prevention Versus 12-Step Aftercare Programs for Substance Abusers. Addiction. 2002;97(6):677-689. doi:10.1046/j.1360-0443.2002.00127.x"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Irvin JE, Bowers CA, Dunn ME, Wang MC.
"Efficacy of Relapse Prevention: A Meta-analytic Review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1999;67(4):563-570. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.67.4.563"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Kelly JF, Humphreys K, Ferri M.
"Alcoholics Anonymous and Other 12-Step Programs for Alcohol Use Disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2022;2:CD012880. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012880.pub2"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Witkiewitz K, Marlatt GA.
"Relapse Prevention for Alcohol and Drug Problems: That Was Zen, This Is Tao. The American Psychologist. 2004;59(4):224-235. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.59.4.224"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Carroll KM, Onken LS.
"Behavioral Therapies for Drug Abuse."
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
bullet Daley DC.
"Relapse Prevention Therapy: A Cognitive-behavioral Approach. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2006;31(2):125-135. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2006.03.010"
Retrieved on November 15, 2018
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