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How to Make a Relapse Prevention Plan That Works

How to Make a Relapse Prevention Plan That Works
Written by Seth Fletcher on July 20, 2022
Last update: May 15, 2024
Mitigating hazards, efficient strategies for success, reducing the occurrence of high-risk situations… No worries, keep on reading, we promise this isn’t an article about finances! As a matter of fact, these terms can also apply to your road to recovery and various stages of relapse. Discover how to make a relapse prevention plan that works for you and your individual needs, filled with practical tips and tricks to identify the warning signs and triggers as well as set recovery goals and foster mental health. 
Table of contents

1. What Is Relapse Prevention?
2. How to Start a Relapse Prevention Plan?
3. Know the Stages of Relapse and Ask Yourself the Right Questions
4. Develop Strategies for Avoiding Relapse
5. Set Recovery Goals

What Is Relapse Prevention?

Relapse prevention or substance abuse prevention planning first consists of recognizing patterns of behaviour that are contributing to your addiction to offset the chances of a setback.  Secondly, it’s about drafting an action plan filled with tools, techniques and strategies to help you stay sober and out of high-risk situations. You can write it, type it up or enunciate it, as you prefer, but the important part is customizing it to your own reality, tailoring it to your addiction cycle. Always keep it handy! Creating a relapse prevention plan can be done on your own, but most often individuals tend to build it with the help of a professional, like a substance abuse counsellor.  

How to Start a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Have you decided to construct a relapse prevention plan but have no clue where to start? First, you need to identify cues that might lead to a relapse. Then, think about the actions you can take to prevent it, and identify the next steps and workarounds. This exercise may seem clear and concise, but it may prove to be harder than you think when creating your plan. Finding your exact triggers and defining ways to cope with them both involve digging deeper within, which can sometimes be emotionally draining.  Identification is key to prevent you from falling back into old unhealthy patterns. The challenge has proven to be well worth it after decades of this sobriety tool being used by professionals for long-term recovery.

Know the Stages of Relapse and Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Although you may not always know what they are, triggers are present before any relapse. Often, drugs, alcohol or substances are used to act upon feelings caused by your environment, the people that surround you, the events in your life, instead of coping with reality.  There are three stages of relapse that will help you understand triggers:
  • Emotional relapse: you don’t know it yet, you’re not conscious of its presence, but your mind is slowly edging you towards relapse, unconsciously
  • Mental relapse: you know it’s happening; the inner struggle begins and you’re fighting it, remembering the good times substance abuse procured and you’re starting to bargain with yourself
  • Physical relapse: this is the moment when you indeed relapse and use your drug, alcohol or preferred substance
To act before emotional relapse but also help you in the following phases, be aware of the most common triggers and ask yourself very important questions that you will document throughout the process.
  • What played a role in your substance abuse? 
  • What times were worse than others? 
  • Why do you think you got addicted or relapsed? 
  • Are there people in your life that played a part in it or that remind you of these situations? 
  • What locations and places did you use in that you need to be wary of? 
  • Are there feelings, emotions, or addictive thoughts that you know could make you relapse?
  • Are there specific seasons or holidays that you need to be particularly careful around?
  • Are there objects in your home, workplace or environment that trigger you?
  • Do certain behaviours clue you in on a forthcoming mental relapse?
  • How can you deal with triggers that you can’t avoid?
Document the warning signs and brainstorm all the potential difficult situations. The more you prepare, the more you imagine and the deeper you reflect, the better your relapse prevention plan will pan out.

Develop Strategies for Avoiding Relapse

Avoiding relapse is an ongoing process, but there are multiple strategies that can help you, which you can document in your plan. It may seem self-evident but knowing what and whom to avoid is important. For examples, staying away from people or places where drugs are easily accessible dramatically reduces risks.  Having a routine, keeping busy and preventing loneliness is a great insurance against setbacks. Document ways to foster community, build new healthy relationships and keep a positive mindset. How can you combat your emotional distress and build coping skills? Set boundaries, know what surrounds you and be conscious of risk. Stay in touch with your feelings and what’s going on inside. Maybe try meditation, breathing exercises, stretching or healthy distractions to deal with stressful events. Vigilance and caution are the operating words! Include in your relapse prevention plan a list of solutions if you feel at risk or have cravings, this way you’ll know what to do if or when it occurs. Resolutions can include going to a meeting, calling a friend or sober companion, going to rehab, scheduling an appointment with a treatment specialist, focusing on mental health, etc. Even if you’d most likely prefer not to imagine it, it’s also important to have a specific plan if relapse does happen.

Set Recovery Goals

This plan is a tool, it’s not only about preparing for the worst outcome, but also about rewarding your successes, being proud and setting clear recovery goals to work towards. Sometimes, knowing and clearly stating the direct consequences of falling off the wagon or using again become ways to prevent this from happening.  Short-term and long-term goals help you project yourself and maintain a clear vision of your life, and what you want. It can be health-wise, financially, or even physically, within your relationships or in your professional life. Also determine how you will achieve those goals!

Get Help With CCFA

If you struggle with addiction and the stages of relapse, our treatment teams can support you with the creation of a recovery plan and offer various treatment programs to meet your needs. Contact us at 1-855-499-9446!
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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