7 Key Steps to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan


Making the commitment to get sober is difficult right from the first step. Even after treatment, the urge to use does not simply disappear. Unfortunately, many recovering addicts will eventually relapse. One way to prevent a relapse from happening is to create a detailed, realistic relapse prevention plan.

With an effective relapse prevention plan, a recovering addict will not only be able to resist the urges to use, but he or she may be able to prevent the urges from ever becoming too strong, to begin with.

What kinds of things should go into a relapse prevention plan? Here are seven steps to take to help prevent a relapse:

Step 1: Have a plan to resist early relapse

The first few weeks after detoxing from a substance is when the urges are hardest to resist. The withdrawal process can be downright excruciating for many, making the urge to use a nearly impossible one to overcome. It’s not just because of the withdrawal process that the urges come on so strong. The basic disease model of addiction means that cravings will push many recovering addicts back into using within the first few weeks of being clean.

Being prepared for this early period is critical. Though it will undoubtedly be difficult, if you are prepared then it is a lot easier to manage. Have an emergency contact available in the event that the cravings become too strong. If you reach the point that relapse is imminent, go ahead and call your emergency contact. Just because you are going through the consequences of an addiction, it does not mean that you need to go through detox alone.

Step 2: Identify Triggers and Key Signs That Could Lead to Relapse

Whether you have relapsed before or this is your first time through recovery, try to be aware of potential triggers. Triggers are life situations that can spring intense urges on you within a matter of seconds. Common triggers include certain family members, emotionally charged relationships, stressful workloads, and even inanimate objects that simply remind you of using.

Also be aware of your own emotions as cravings arise. Notice not only which emotions arise during certain situations but also how your body responds to these situations. If you find yourself feeling anxious or angry, each of which is often accompanied by an upset stomach and increased heart rate, be prepared to call your emergency contact.

Step 3: Focus on self-care

Many turn to drug abuse in order to cope with unresolved traumas and stressors, although poorly. These same warped coping mechanisms are what will lead many recovering addicts back into using. One way to help develop healthy coping mechanisms is by focusing on self-care. Self-care allows you to process and balance emotions in a healthy way so that you don’t feel the need to turn to any substances in order to cope.

Self-care is not all that difficult to do. A few daily habits can make an incredible difference. Focus on getting enough sleep and eating well so that your body has the resources to resist cravings. Also make sure to take some leisure time and to see friends and family, as feeling loved and supported is also an important part of self-care.

Step 4: Make a Letter or Tape

A helpful exercise in preventing relapse is to record a video or write a letter addressed to yourself, explaining why you shouldn’t use again. Include both positive self-talk as well as discussing the consequences of use. Don’t be afraid to remind yourself of all of your strong, powerful qualities. It is with these characteristics that you will be able to resist a craving, after all. In fact, taking care of your >self-esteem during recovery is an important part of the healing process.

The idea is to provide a powerful reminder of why you decided to quit and why it is important to remain sober. This exercise is not just a one-time activity. Recovering addicts can help tame cravings by this journaling technique when used as needed. You can write a letter to yourself once or a thousand times, each of which serving a powerful purpose: coping with cravings in a healthy way.

Step 5: Make a List of Quick, Easy Distractions

This list should include fun and entertaining activities that can be picked up immediately as soon as the addict feels the urge to use. Though addicts spend much of their time thinking about drugs, urges tend to last only about fifteen minutes to half an hour.  They usually weaken shortly after that, so having a quick distraction ready at hand is important. Distractions might include taking a walk, an ongoing art project, or going on a food or coffee run. As soon as the craving arises, turn to one of these quick distractions until the urge disappears.

Step 6: Avoid Tempting Environments

Because of certain environments, whether it be a physical location or a group of people, are conducive to drug use for many addicts, it’s important to avoid situations that make it easier or more likely to relapse. If there are parties where drugs may be used, you may want to make other plans. Or if there’s a particular spot where the addict often went to do drugs, avoid that spot. It may even be necessary to distance oneself from friends who are users or often provided drugs since many addicts will associate a certain group of people with their drug use. It may not be fun to start seeing certain friends less, but if they’re true friends, they’ll understand the need for space during recovery.

Step 7: Take it One Day at a Time

Perhaps most importantly is to understand that recovery is a process that must be taken day by day. Many addicts fall into the trap of questioning how long their recovery will take or if they’re strong enough to resist relapse. As part of a relapse prevention plan, include reminders, whether in writing or verbally from friends, that recovery is a step-by-step process and that any day spent sober is another victory.

In addition, keep the relapse prevention plan fluid, adapting it as needed. Over the period of recovery, some strategies may become more or less effective, so don’t be afraid to change the plan. By keeping a relapse prevention plan flexible and taking recovery one day at a time, addicts recovering from any substance can boost their chances of remaining sober.


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