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What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse is when a person permanently abstains from drinking or doing drugs but returns to it despite not wanting to. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), up to 60% of people struggling with a substance use disorder relapse. In order to avoid this, it’s important for patients at an addiction treatment center to have a relapse prevention plan. 

Alcohol and substance use disorders are considered chronic brain disorders. Even when a person wants to stop, he or she might not be able to because of psychological and physical dependence. Plus, something or someone might trigger them to start drinking or doing drugs when he or she thought they were totally fine. 

Since the majority of those suffering from an addiction relapse, even after treatment, it’s crucial to combine coping techniques and life skill tools to avoid a relapse. A plan can also help individuals get back on their feet if they do relapse. 

Defining a Relapse Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan is typically a written document of how to positively respond and cope to situations where a person might give in to the temptation of drugs and alcohol. Usually, this outline is written with an addiction treatment team that can help them come up with the most effective solution. Also, this plan will instruct recovering individuals on what to do if they do relapse.

Just because a person in recovery relapses doesn’t mean that the treatment was a failure. It just means that it might need to be adjusted. That could be in terms of the program or the length of time. Alcohol and substance use disorders are chronic, meaning they are health conditions people will need to manage their whole lives. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not treatable in any sense. 

A relapse usually happens because of a combination of factors. In other words, it doesn’t happen overnight and for one reason. Certain triggers can push a person to use drugs and drink again. Though, having a plan in place to cope with these triggers can stop him or her from going through with it. It’s easy to think of a prevention plan for relapses as a safety net in case someone slips. 

The Stages a Relapse Prevention Plan Looks Out For relapse stages

Again, relapsing is more often than not due to an accumulation of factors. It can start with a small thought about craving a beer or taking a sip of a friend’s alcoholic beverage during a party. Also, it can begin without being mindful of thoughts or neglecting to reach out to a support network for help when experiencing cravings. A relapse comes about gradually and in the following stages. 

Stage 1: Emotional Relapse 

This is the first stage of relapse. The stage begins when a recovering individual isn’t mindful of their thoughts and behaviors. One of the main pillars behind cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is recognizing automatic thoughts that are self-destructive and self-deprecating. 

These thoughts might be about feeling worthless, angry, or sad and can lead to negative behaviors as well as habits. Habits may include not sleeping enough, self-isolating, and neglecting to eat or eat well. This stage can be subtle, but recognizing these signs and symptoms of an emotional release can help stop it before it gets worse: 

  • Increased irritability 
  • A change in eating patterns 
  • Sleeping too much or too little 
  • Feeling stressed most of the time
  • Feeling sad, numb, or depressed most of the time 
  • Mood swings 
  • Not going to therapy, meeting, or not taking medication 
  • Neglecting to reach out for help 
  • Getting defensive about mental state or substance use 

One sign may not indicate that a person is about to relapse. However, it could mean that, especially if there is a combination of signs. Catching a recovering individual in this stage could prevent it from progressing to the second stage. 

Stage 2: Mental Relapse 

relapse prevention planThe second stage is typically characterized by cravings. The first stage leads into this because self-care techniques and harmful thoughts aren’t monitored. Slowly but surely, these thoughts turn to a bad solution: using drugs or drinking alcohol.

An internal struggle takes place. On one hand, people in recovery want to stop feeling bad about themselves or their lives. On the other hand, they don’t want to go back into drinking and doing drugs. During the mental relapse stage, they might begin to convince themselves that they can handle drinking and doing drugs. 

Then, they might surround themselves with people who won’t actively discourage them to stop thinking this way. Such people might even hang around spots, like bars, where they used to drink before recovery. In this stage, no action is taken. But, it’s only a small bridge to cross to the next phase. 

Stage 3: Physical Relapse 

This stage is the part of relapse that most think of. It’s characterized by physically returning to drinking and doing drugs. Yet, it’s key to keep in mind that a physical relapse is when a person engages in drinking or using substances without wanting to. Some individuals may choose to have a glass of alcohol at a celebratory event after overcoming their addiction. Yet, actions like these are a slippery slope and can lead to needing to return back to an addiction treatment center. 

Just because a person in recovery relapses, doesn’t mean that they’re a failure. People who suffer from a relapse, whether it’s emotional or physical, should practice radical self-love. Being kind to oneself can help him or her get back on the road to recovery much quicker than self-deprecation. 

How a Relapse Prevention Plan Helps With Coping Positively 

Coming up with a relapse prevention plan helps recovering individuals cope with urges and triggers in a positive way. A plan like this doesn’t isn’t simply one measure; it’s a list. Also, it can be adjusted as time goes on and an individual identifies more triggers that they weren’t aware of when they created the plan. The first step of a relapse prevention plan usually starts with identifying triggers. 

Here are the basic steps to creating a relapse prevention plan: 

  1. Identify triggers 
  2. Learn how to manage cravings and urges 
  3. List coping tools and techniques
  4. Join a sobriety group 
  5. Write down reasons to abstain and read them during cravings

The steps don’t go in any particular order, but it can be helpful to go down the list during relapse prevention planning. It’s very important to figure out triggers because knowing what makes an individual want to relapse is how he or she can avoid it. 

A way to do this is to figure out what made a person resort to drugs and alcohol in the past. Was it visiting an ex? Maybe it was working at a particular job? Going back to places or people that trigger cravings or drug use must be avoided in order to maintain long-term sobriety. 

Managing cravings can be done through engaging in a healthy lifestyle. That can include exercising regularly, eating well, and socializing often as well as actively. This ties into coping tools and techniques. Those in recovery should try to do little things every day that bring them joy. These are the activities they should turn to when they feel stressed or upset when they face a trigger.

The Importance Of Support During Relapse Prevention Planning

A huge part of relapse prevention planning is figuring out who to call on during difficult times. This can include when one feels emotionally unwell, has been triggered, or has relapsed. Support from peers and loved ones can help those suffering from a substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder feel stable for multiple reasons. 

Support networks act as a safety net. People that are a part of the support network could come from a sobriety group or could be friends and family. Sometimes people need someone to talk to in order to see that they are worthy of love and that they are not alone. group support

Having an addiction can be an isolating experience. The same is true when a person has a relapse or is even thinking about it. When it happens, it’s essential to be around people. For one, they can identify if their loved one or peer is in any danger or is different than usual. Additionally, they can distract a person from potentially self-destructive behaviors. It may feel embarrassing or burdensome to reach out, but peers and loves ones want to help the ones they care about. 

We Help Patients Find Relapse Prevention Planning Resources 

Many addiction treatment centers offer tools for relapse prevention planning. However, it’s tough to narrow down which one to rely on. Searching for detox clinics and addiction recovery facilities can be overwhelming and tiresome. This is especially true for individuals suffering from a substance use or alcohol use disorder. 

What people in this situation should know is that Addiction Intervention can help them find the best match for them. We’re here to help and glad to do it. Contact us now to learn more about planning to avoid relapses along with more information about long-term recovery.