6-Step Guide to Relapse Prevention Planning

Relapse doesn’t happen overnight. At the time of the relapse, it may feel like a sudden, unexpected reaction. You may think you had one moment of weakness, and at the same time, your substance of choice appeared. That’s not how it happens. Relapse prevention planning can help during this process. According to medical experts and researchers, relapse happens in three stages:

  1. The first is the emotional stage of relapse, where you stop making your sobriety a priority over weeks and months. Some people stop going to meetings, sacrifice sleep to work overtime, or get overconfident. Because you are not doing all you can to stay sober, you become weaker in the next stage, mental relapse.
  2. The second is the mental stage of relapse. During this stage, your thoughts become more focused on using, you may even fantasize about using and convince yourself you can relapse on your terms and be okay.
  3. The third and final stage is physical relapse when you start drinking or using drugs again.

With thorough relapse prevention planning, you can worry less about the stages of relapse by staying focused on recovery steps.

The Fundamentals of Relapse Prevention Planning

The easiest way to reach that goal is to establish specific steps that help you succeed when you set a goal. You also create a backup plan if one of those steps doesn’t work. The same is true for a relapse prevention plan. It consists of goals you want to reach, such as long-term recovery and how you will achieve success. Relapse prevention planning is a unique process and is based on only your past, present, and future. Using the six steps below, start relapse prevention planning.

Step 1: Identify Your Recovery Goals

Your long-term recovery goal is to maintain sobriety. You must create short-term goals that will help you achieve your long-term goal. Make sure your goals are realistic and specific. Examples of short-term goals to help you achieve long-term recovery may be to attend 12 Step meetings and get a job. Create actionable steps to help you reach each one for each short-term goal.

Step 2: Reflect on Your Drug and Alcohol History

Step two helps you take a hard look at your past drug and alcohol misuse to avoid those things in the future. If you’ve entered recovery before but could not maintain it, what made you relapse? Make a list of every substance on which you may relapse. What challenges do you foresee? What scenarios may cause you to think about using drugs or alcohol again?

Think about everything that caused a relapse or prevented you from seeking help previously. For example, you completed detox successfully in the past, but once you returned home, some old friends stopped by your house. While there, they offered you alcohol or drugs. You accepted. Why?

Step 3: List Your Triggers and Cravings

Step three involves taking what you learned in step two and sorting through the triggers and cravings that led to your relapse. A trigger is something that causes a feeling or emotion. Seeing an old drug-using friend may make you feel nervous. Your boss asks you to work overtime for no pay, `making you angry.

Triggers are very personal and can lead to cravings. Cravings are the urges you get to use drugs or alcohol. If you’re angry with your boss, you may start thinking about getting high to take away the negative emotion. Learning to recognize and manage triggers and cravings can help you maintain recovery.

Step 4: Fill Your Recovery Toolbox

Coping tools are what help you manage triggers and cravings. They prevent relapse by giving you something to do instead of using drugs or alcohol. Some of the most important coping skills are relaxation and stress-management techniques. Deep breathing, laughter, journaling, listening to music, or taking a walk are evidence-based ways to help regulate emotions.

Other coping tools include meeting with a counselor, attending a support group, meditation, yoga, prayer, and exercise. Triggers and cravings are temporary distractions from recovery. Finding new distractions to replace the negative ones quickly can help you stay on track.

Step 5: Create a Support Network

Recovery is not something any person can do alone. Having a system of support helps you get through the more challenging times. You’ve likely heard it many times, having a sponsor, attending meetings, and asking people to provide support and guidance help you maintain recovery. There is a reason these suggestions become cliché, they work.

People in your support system should hold you accountable, encourage you to keep learning about yourself and recovery, and can relate to what you are going through. Your support network should also give you access to counseling. They just want you to succeed, help you find a sense of purpose, and understand your goals and dreams.

Step 6: Improve Your Lifestyle

Step six is a lifelong journey. As you change, it’s essential to make improvements along the way. Your relapse prevention plan should also be adapted to meet the needs of your lifestyle as you grow and develop in recovery. Continue educational pursuits, learn new skills, volunteer in the community, and hold yourself accountable.

Let every experience be an opportunity to learn something new. Improving your life also means practicing self-care. Self-care activities support healthy emotions, mental health, spirituality, relationships, and everyday living. For long-term recovery, you must participate in activities that enhance and support your mental and physical health, including (but not limited to):

  • Creating a healthy sleep routine.
  • Discovering your talents by trying new hobbies.
  • Participating in individual therapy.
  • Saying “no” to the numerous requests for help at work, school, or community.

Finally, if you are struggling to create a successful relapse prevention plan, reach out for help. Work with a recovery counselor at a local treatment facility. They are experts with worksheets, templates, and outlines you can use to ensure you create the best recovery plan. It doesn’t matter what stage of recovery you are in. You can start creating your relapse prevention plan. So, start today, and if you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out.


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