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Relapse Prevention for Drug Addiction and Alcoholism
Relapse prevention is an important component of alcohol and drug rehab and of the continuing care plan. Indeed, once one successfully learns and applies relapse prevention strategies, they will be used for a lifetime and become second nature.

A relapse prevention plan is not only used in reference to drug and alcohol relapse, but can be applied to dual diagnosis (mental health) disorders, eating disorders, relationship issues, financial spending, and process addictions, such as gambling, internet usage, gaming, and sex. Surprisingly, the coping skills and relapse prevention strategies used in these various disorders have considerable overlap.

Relapse Warning Signs

Even though one may participate in various and intensive aftercare solutions, many are still at risk of relapse; or, unfortunately do experience a relapse because of the lack of a readily available recovery plan. It is essential that the recovery plan include triggers such as people, places, and things, as well as emotions and the common and distinctive life stressors.

What may work well for one individual may not work so well for another. Thus, it is critical that each relapse prevention plan be tailored to the individual’s personality and unique life situation and triggers. It is also highly recommended that the family and social support network be involved in developing this plan. The family may have insight into triggers and some solutions that the patient has not been aware of.
Recognizing the warning signs is one of the keys to prevention. It’s important to note that relapse is a process, rather than an event. There are several stages that are involved in the progression from full recovery to full relapse in which a recovering drug addict or alcoholic has a chance to pull in supports and practice his/her coping strategies to prevent the event of substance use or other consequences, such as a mental or emotional breakdown, or the return to self-destructive behaviors.

During an emotional relapse, a person isn’t thinking about using the drug. However, he or she is exhibiting:

  • Intolerance and anger
  • Anxiety
  • Defensiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Inability or complete refusal to follow an aftercare plan
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Not spending quality time on recreational or social activities

A mental relapse may follow an emotional relapse. Although the recovering person has not yet used a substance, they may begin to:

  • Think about past drug use
  • Remember the “good times” that happened while using, but not the consequences
  • Spend time with old friends who use drugs or alcohol, or who are not otherwise stable and supportive of recovery
  • Develop using fantasies
  • Not be honest with others, especially other people in recovery, treatment providers, and family members
  • Experience increased cravings
  • Think about how to plan a relapse without anyone knowing

Without the proper application of prevention skills, an emotional and mental relapse could be flowed by a full-blown relapse. The physical relapse is likely to lead to substance abuse that is more severe than the use was prior to entering recovery. This is a period of a heightened risk of consequences, up to and including death due to physical complications, overdose, or suicide.

Relapse Prevention

There are many things that people can do to help prevent a full-blow relapse. In addition to recognizing the warning signs, people also need to make sure that they practice self-care. This includes things such as eating properly, exercising and sleeping well. Self-care also involves spending quality time with others while participating in activities that support recovery, and participating in hobbies and other recreational activities. This prevents the at-risk recovering person from isolating.

Learning how to cope with stress is of utmost importance. Unregulated stress is the single biggest factor that leads to relapse. Many people get the urge to use a drug when they are under a great deal of stress. This is because drugs or alcohol can temporarily give the user a false sense of security, happiness, and tranquility. Additionally, the body produces certain substances during times of high stress that can interact with the brain to induce cravings, such as cortisol and epinephrine.

Taking care of your body is not only essential for relapse prevention, but it will also improve your overall health. Finding a way to distract yourself will help you deal with the cravings. When you find yourself experiencing cravings, you can call a friend or go for a walk. It is at this time that it is extremely helpful to discuss your feelings in a meeting or group therapy, with your therapist, and your friends. The more people you openly share with, the more likely you are to heal.

Watching where you go and who you socialize with is also essential for prevention. For example, going to a bar or club may trigger cravings for the drug or alcohol you were once using. Going to the homes of certain family members or friends may also trigger substance cravings.

Many people attempt to quit using substances on their own, before exploring different recovery options. Ultimately, when things get bad enough for the substance user and the family, the addict or alcoholic eventually enters treatment, or alternatively is sometimes incarcerated. There are a number of recovery options available. The fact that there are so many recovery options available can make it difficult to make the right decision.

However, if you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, then professional drug and alcohol rehab is likely your best option. Not only will you learn how to overcome your substance use during treatment, but you will also learn about recovery protection. It’s important for people to learn about prevention techniques prior to discharging from a drug and alcohol treatment center.

If you or a loved one requires the expertise of a treatment center, Behavioral Wellness and Recovery can help you get started on the road to a successful recovery. You may reach us 24/7 by calling 800-683-4457. Your information is confidential.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

Your decision to regain your life helps and heals your entire family. Do it for them. Do it for you.


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