What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Discover the importance of relapse prevention skills and how to develop a relapse prevention plan.

What Is Relapse?

Statistics show that between 40% and 60% of those who achieve addiction recovery experience relapse at least once. Sometimes, relapsing one or more times is part of the process before achieving lasting sobriety.

Relapse is when an individual returns to past compulsive behaviors and drug or alcohol use after a period of improvement. Note that drug or alcohol relapse does not occur suddenly. Unlike injury or sudden illness, relapse is a combination of trigger exposure and multiple events that leads to a return of poor coping strategies. 1

Relapse Prevention

Addiction and Relapse

Addiction is an illness that does not have a cure. For this reason, medical and mental health professionals refer to addiction or substance abuse as a chronic, relapsing illness. Like any chronic illness, the symptoms of addiction can occur even after someone has completed an addiction treatment program.

Participating in relapse prevention planning as part of a comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment program can help reduce the impact of triggers and the potential for relapse in the future. 2

Why Are Relapse Prevention Skills Important?

Relapse typically occurs due to exposure to certain triggers. Triggers are different for everyone, but they are generally people, places, or circumstances that lead to stress or trauma.

These triggers are often the root or cause of addiction; therefore, it is important to know and understand what sets them off to mitigate their impact. Working with treatment providers at a rehab like Essence Healthcare to develop and practice relapse prevention skills is essential to reducing relapse risk.

The Importance of Managing Triggers

Some triggers may be difficult to avoid, despite comprehensive relapse prevention planning. That is because they may be part of day-to-day obligations or responsibilities, such as stressors, financial difficulties, boredom, anger, difficulties with personal and social relationships, and exposure to old habits or social circles.

In particular, exposure to old habits can quickly lead to cravings and a return to drug or alcohol use because they are commonly present in daily routines. Thus, it is important to know how to cope with them instead of just attempting to avoid them—as that is not always possible.

What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Many people think of relapse as a singular occurrence; however, this setback occurs in stages. One goes through several steps before fully relapsing, including emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse.

Understanding the three stages of relapse can help people better utilize the relapse prevention strategies learned during therapy. 3

Stage One: Emotional Relapse

The first stage of relapse consists of neglecting to utilize relapse prevention strategies taught during treatment to help cope with triggering events and maintain sobriety. While this emotional relapse does not involve returning to or even considering falling back into old patterns of substance use, it is a stepping stone that can greatly impact sobriety.

Stage Two: Mental Relapse

In stage two, turning to substances to manage triggers or stressors becomes increasingly more tangible. This is where people begin trying to use tools learned in relapse prevention therapy; however, a negative mental state often overpowers learned coping techniques.

Mental relapse is when triggers, such as places, people, and events associated with past addictive behaviors, can activate powerful cravings. Individuals may start to look for opportunities to relapse or make a relapse plan.

Stage Three: Physical Relapse

The transition from mental relapse to physical relapse occurs when one “slips” and acts on their cravings, resulting in drug or alcohol use again. Therefore, it is essential to return to a treatment center like Essence Health and Recovery to solidify the relapse prevention plan for substance abuse to avoid returning to dangerous addiction patterns.

Preventative Tools

In addition, it is important to identify preventative tools that can be utilized in the event of trigger exposure or when cravings become challenging to manage alone. Preventive tools may include meditation, yoga, or participating in support groups or programs with like-minded peers who share similar challenges and struggles.

Steps to Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan for substance abuse is different for everyone. When patients begin treatment to overcome addiction, their treatment team will guide them through the steps of developing a relapse prevention plan. Every situation is unique, requiring different steps, methods, and actions to solidify recovery and lasting sobriety.

Step One

The first step toward developing a relapse prevention plan is to assess each patient’s history with drugs and alcohol, such as the type of substance, the duration and frequency of misuse, and the general amount used each time.

It is also essential to note whether they have completed addiction treatment before. This information is critical to helping the medical and mental health providers develop a relapse prevention plan for substance abuse focused on patients’ specific treatment needs and goals.

Step Two

The next step in creating a relapse prevention plan is trigger assessment. It is crucial to consider any circumstance that could lead to an increased risk of relapse.

The important question here is, are there specific people, places, events, or trauma reminders that trigger a craving for or thought of substance use? Part of drug and alcohol relapse prevention planning is considering the factors that will challenge one’s sobriety after completing treatment.

Step Three

Finally, patients will work with their treatment team to develop an action plan. An action plan consists of certain steps that should be followed when they worry about relapse or begin to relapse.

For example, it may consist of contacting medical or mental health providers, reaching out to peer support groups, or contacting a therapist. Regardless of what the action plan looks like, these are crucial steps built into a substance relapse prevention plan designed to help people in the event of possible relapse.

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What to Include in a Relapse Prevention Plan

When developing a relapse prevention plan for substance abuse, it is essential to note all specific factors and elements that may challenge sobriety. The plan will include multiple steps, such as trigger management, craving management, and lifestyle changes, to help patients successfully continue on their journey to sobriety.

Support Networks

As part of many relapse prevention programs connected to addiction treatment facilities like Essence Healthcare, patients will participate in peer support groups and learn about relapse prevention strategies. The skills learned during therapy will be key tools patients can use outside of rehab to help them successfully maintain lasting sobriety.

Relapse Prevention Models

The best relapse prevention programs ensure each patient’s relapse prevention model matches their treatment needs. The tools and coping mechanisms to maintain lasting sobriety look different for everyone. Therefore, medical and mental health providers have developed several relapse prevention models designed to ensure that each individual’s unique needs are met.

These include Gorski-Cenaps Relapse Prevention Model, Marlatt’s Model of Relapse Prevention, and support groups for relapse prevention. How these relapse prevention models integrate into patients’ overall treatment and relapse prevention program will differ depending on the therapeutic models used. 5

Contact Essence Healthcare for Treatment Today

Maintaining lasting recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is possible and requires a long-term commitment. As part of treatment, learning and practicing relapse prevention skills and tools is crucial in supporting lifelong sobriety. Contact us today at Essence Healthcare to learn more about how we incorporate relapse prevention planning into our drug and alcohol treatment programs.

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.