Relapse Prevention Plan

Relapse Prevention Plan

Planning to Prevent a Return to Substance Abuse

A relapse is not the result of a single incident. A person in recovery goes through a continuous process that is characterized by major warning indicators. These red flags can lead someone back to drug or alcohol abuse. To avoid relapse and maintain a healthy, sober lifestyle, a relapse prevention plan is a useful tool for spotting and dealing with relapse triggers.

Keep reading to find out more about how to prevent relapse, the warning signs to look for, and how Icarus Behavioral Health helps each of our clients craft a plan as unique as you are!

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How Do You Define a Relapse?

A relapse is defined as a return to substance abuse and even social isolation after a time of abstinence. However, a physical relapse might be understood differently depending on the individual. It’s possible, for instance, that some people will view a single instance of substance use as merely a “lapse” rather than a full-fledged relapse. Experts see relapse as a three-stage process, even though many people regard it as a single event (i.e. sipping a beer after weeks or months of abstinence).

Relapse occurs in three distinct phases:


Denying feelings, avoiding recovery sessions, isolating from loved ones, and neglecting one’s own well-being can be the emotional hallmarks of relapse thinking and planning.

Cognitive Stage

Symptoms include daydreaming about using, experiencing cravings, romanticizing one’s past drug abuse, looking for relapse opportunities, and making plans to use again.

Physical Stage

This is the physical act of relapsing. The use of drugs and alcohol can have a significant impact on your physical health (even just once) and set the stage for an ongoing return to active addiction.

The emotional and mental setbacks a person experiences after even a single episode of substance abuse may require them to return to treatment, though this is not always the case.

Why Is Relapse So Risky?

Drug addict craving for drug

Lowered tolerance levels are the greatest risk of relapse, as this can lead to an overdose or even death. Substantial neurocognitive changes occur in response to chronic drug addiction. In a short amount of time, after you stop using it, your brain will go back to normal.

These adjustments are possible after only a little period of abstinence, and they will disappear very immediately. Returning to substance abuse is extremely dangerous and can have fatal consequences, even with only a few doses.

Is Relapse Normal?

Yes, it is quite common. Your risk of relapsing increases significantly if you stop participating in your treatment program. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that the relapse rates for substance use disorders are comparable to those of other chronic conditions such as hypertension and asthma.

Even though relapse occurs in an estimated 40% to 60% of those in recovery, this does not suggest that therapy is ineffective. Instead, it indicates that the current course of treatment should be reconsidered.

Actions to Consider in a Relapse Prevention Plan

If you feel a physical relapse coming on, there are a number of things you may do to prevent it.

  • When cravings strike, it’s best to keep busy until they pass.
  • Learn to identify your triggers and take steps to avoid them.
  • Meditation can help you feel more stable and centered.
  • Maintain a regular exercise routine.
  • Try getting some assistance from a friend or family member

You should not dwell on the relapse itself but rather on how you will react to it if it occurs. If you reach out to your support group as soon as you see a setback in your recovery, rather than trying to hide it, you will be able to learn from it and continue to progress.

What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Recognizing the warning symptoms of relapse, avoiding relapse triggers, and preventing a return to chronic substance misuse can all be accomplished with the support of a relapse prevention plan. When you’re done with treatment, your recovery specialist or sponsor should help you establish a written strategy to avoid relapsing. It will most likely include specific steps to take to kickstart your own self-care plan, determine how you’ll handle cravings and impulses, and compile a support network in case you relapse and start using again.

A key point to keep in mind while creating your relapse prevention plan is that addiction is a long-term health condition. Relapses are a problem that some people will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. But that doesn’t make them a quitter or suggest they have given up on getting better. There are a variety of potential contributors to relapse, including:

  • Stress
  • Issues related to finances
  • Problems in relationships

A relapse is not the end of the road to recovery. Having a relapse prevention plan in place is not a guarantee that you won’t relapse. It only makes things easier in the event that you do and helps you get back on track fast if you do.

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Developing Your Relapse Prevention Plan

An actionable relapse prevention plan can help you avoid relapsing by describing strategies you can use to deal with cravings and triggers when they arise, such as meditation or exercise. It’s possible to make adjustments and additions to the relapse prevention plan as time goes on and new requirements arise. There are many circumstances in which a well-thought-out relapse prevention plan would prove useful; the more specific it is, the better.

A solid relapse prevention plan can include these relapse prevention strategies:

  • Specific triggers
  • Helpful resources for managing stress and avoiding triggering situations
  • Healthy lifestyle tactics and self-improvement concepts
  • A routine upkeep schedule
  • Communication ideas for family and loved ones
  • Control strategies

Template for Your Relapse Prevention Plan

Template for Your Relapse Prevention Plan

For assistance in formulating an effective relapse prevention strategy, consider the following outline.

The first step toward a successful recovery is to reflect on what is driving you to make these kinds of adjustments in your life.

Everyone is different, which means that no two people’s plans for relapse prevention will look exactly the same. In order to get the most out of your time in recovery, it is crucial that you take some time to consider your long-term aspirations.

Step 1

What adjustments can you make, and why do you want to make them? Some good examples of goals to work for in recovery and incorporate into a relapse prevention strategy are maintaining gainful employment, making amends and improving relationships with loved ones, consistently fulfilling family responsibilities, getting healthier, and improving one’s sense of self-worth.

Step 2

Identify particular obstacles and strategies for overcoming them while managing cravings and triggers.

A trigger is an event or circumstance that raises stress levels and may result in an increased desire to use substances. Everyone has their own unique set of stressors. Events, locations, individuals, and situations can all have a role. For instance, you and your friends may have a regular beer-drinking spot that you need to stop going to for the time being. Since stress is inevitable, it’s useful to have strategies for dealing with it constructively in place.

What will be the most difficult obstacles for you to overcome, and how will you face them? Include in your plan ideas for relieving stress, dealing with difficult situations, and other helpful methods that you may refer back to as needed.

Step 3

The third step for a good relapse prevention strategy is to learn how to better care for oneself and to stick to a healthy routine.

Establishing regular habits like going to bed at the same time every night, eating the same healthy foods, and exercising can go a long way toward ensuring your physical well-being and avoiding a mental relapse. Having a solid base to work from can be facilitated by doing things like sleeping enough and eating right.

Normally, mental relapse and emotional relapse start by not giving these seemingly physical areas enough attention. However, they eventually play a huge role in emotional and mental relapse, as physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. Taking care of your body can improve your mental clarity, reduce your stress levels, and boost your confidence.

One effective method for relapse prevention plans is to engage in mentally and physically stimulating activities. Participate in a yoga class, learn a new dance move, or start a painting journal to help you unwind. Identify what you need to do to stay healthy mentally and physically, and put that into your daily agenda to avoid thinking about drug and alcohol addiction.

Step 4

The fourth step is to set up a means of communication and a network of support.

To prevent relapse, you need support after drug addiction treatment. You need people around you who are aware of the warning signs. The people around you can be excellent resources in recovery. Surround yourself with individuals who support your aspirations.

Relapse prevention tools such as peer support and 12-Step groups can be invaluable during the recovery process. According to research published in the Journal of Addictive Disorders, alcoholics who regularly engaged in the 12-Step, mutual-support organization Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) were more likely to maintain sobriety than their non-AA counterparts.

Having someone to confide in when you’re feeling down can be a real blessing. Develop your communication skills, and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance when you’re stuck. Always have the contact information of a trusted friend, family member, or professional on hand, and never be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.

Step 5

Devise techniques to remain accountable to your plan.

To improve your chances of succeeding, you can devise strategies such as rewarding yourself for reaching milestones and setting manageable short-term goals. Write down some of the people and things in your life that have helped you stay sober. Keep this as part of your plan to avoid falling back into old habits. It will serve as a constant reminder of your progress and a source of inspiration for staying sober.

Similarly, you might want to think about compiling a set of fallouts. It’s a good idea to document the potential outcomes of a relapse. Do you fear for your livelihood, your loved ones, or both? Maybe you should worry about going to jail. To help keep in mind why abstinence is preferable, it can be helpful to review a list of the probable outcomes of addiction.

A Completed Example of a Relapse Prevention Plan

Example of a Relapse Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan can help you get your life in order and force you to take responsibility for it. If you want to stay motivated and on track, you need frequently review your plan. The strategy can evolve as you learn more about yourself and as you set goals for other areas of your life.

The following is a case study of a relapse prevention plan that can be used as a relapse prevention plan template for your own recovery support strategy.

Action Strategy for Preventing Relapse


  • I need to get back into shape if I’m ever going to feel healthy again.
  • I’m looking to either get hired back at my previous company or find a new job entirely.
  • The time has come for me to resume my visits with my kids.
  • I want to begin supporting charitable causes and providing help to addicts.

Possible roadblocks and triggering events:

  • Getting together with old buddies who use.
  • Visiting old hangouts that I used to use at
  • Movies with drug themes
  • Failure to remain busy
  • Harping on failed relationships

Techniques for reducing stress and coping with stressful situations:

  • To better my physical and mental well-being, I plan to make greater use of holistic treatments.
  • For my various psychological issues, I plan to start visiting a psychologist.
  • When I’m feeling particularly exposed, I’ll reach out to a trusted confidant.
  • Play a larger role in the lives of my family members

Everyday living and strategies for self-care:

At the very least, I’ll work out five days a week.

  • At the end of each month, I plan to treat myself to something I’ve been contemplating buying
  • I’m going to make an effort to be more generous with my compliments to strangers
  • I’ve decided to switch to an organic diet.

My pillars of strength:

  • My parents
  • My sister
  • Group meetings

What I’m thankful for:

  • I’m grateful for this second chance to be a part of my kids’ life.
  • Having both of my parents around in my life is a blessing
  • The fact that I can still get up and go to work every day

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Therapy for Relapse Prevention at Icarus Behavioral

At Icarus Behavioral Health in New Mexico, we’ll work with you to develop a strategy for avoiding relapse and will instruct you on how to deal with warning signs and challenging situations during your time of healing and in the future.

Nobody ever claimed that getting better would be simple, but it is doable with the proper people on your side. Please reach out to a member of our Admissions staff today for a completely confidential discussion of how we can help in your situation!

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