Even after you’ve completed treatment and achieved sobriety, trying not to fall back into harmful old patterns can be challenging. For example:
Unfortunately, there’s no off switch to make the weight of all these changes go away. But having a relapse prevention plan can help you get through some of the more challenging parts of recovery without losing all the progress you’ve made. Here’s what you need to know about relapse prevention planning.
A relapse prevention plan is a written list of strategies that can help you avoid relapse. The goal of the plan is to help you recognize the signs of relapse, avoid triggers, and keep you from reengaging in any form of substance abuse. Generally, your recovery specialist or sponsor will work with you to create a relapse prevention plan after you complete an addiction treatment program. The plan can be as detailed or open-ended as you like as long as you include a wide range of strategies and tools that’ll help you maintain your sobriety. For example, you may want to include self-care ideas, stress-relieving strategies, techniques to deal with cravings, and a list of people to reach out to when you need a helping hand.
Before creating this kind of plan, it’s important to understand what relapse is and how it works.
Relapse is a return to substance abuse after experiencing a period of sobriety. Even though most people think of relapse as tangibly and physically using drugs or alcohol, relapse doesn’t typically happen spontaneously. Generally relapse happens in 3 distinct stages.
Experts believe that before individuals fall back into substance abuse, they go through an internal process that leads them back to using drugs or alcohol again. Remember, addiction is a brain disease. This means that your emotions and mind can contribute to relapse. In fact, relapse typically begins emotionally, then mentally, and finally, physically.
In this stage of relapse, your emotions and behaviors pave the way for relapse. This can take the form of hiding emotions, not wanting to go to recovery meetings, avoiding family members and friends, and refusing to take care of yourself. You may not even be thinking about using drugs or alcohol, but the way you’re handling stressful and distressing emotions can make you more likely to relapse. Frustration, irritability, anger, isolation, defensiveness, and moodiness are common signs of emotional relapse.
Oftentimes, emotional relapse begins with stress. But instead of dealing with the stress in a healthy way or asking for help, individuals dealing with emotional relapse become overly anxious or depressed. When you feel this way, contact a sponsor or express your feelings in a peer support group. Not dealing with these feelings can start to encourage unhelpful or harmful thoughts which can lead to mental relapse, the next phase.
At this point, you may feel like there’s a war going on in your mind. Part of you may want to use addictive substances again while another part of you wants to maintain your sobriety. You might find yourself fantasizing about drugs or alcohol or glorifying your old life of substance abuse. As your cravings increase, you may:
Experiencing these signs doesn’t mean you’re going to relapse, but they do indicate that you need to check in with a sponsor or supportive network, let them know what’s going on, and ask for help.
By the time you’ve reached the stage of physical relapse, you’ve used drugs or consumed alcohol again — even if it’s just once. Even though this stage is the easiest to identify, it can be the most devastating to experience. You may feel lost, confused, and ashamed. You might even feel like a failure. You may even question yourself, wondering how you went from treatment to sobriety to abusing substances again. But this isn’t the time to beat yourself up, isolate yourself from others, or totally surrender to the relapse. Instead, this is the time to remember that you can’t get complacent about your recovery. This is also a good time to contact someone you trust who can help you get back on track.
Physical relapse is a common, normal part of addiction recovery. Here’s what to do if you relapse:
Approximately 40 to 60% of people in recovery relapse within the first year after treatment. Although shocking, this number is similar to the relapse rates of other chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. The good news is that recognizing the signs of emotional and mental relapse and getting help at those stages can help minimize your risk of physical relapse. Creating a relapse prevention plan can also help.
While you can create a relapse prevention plan on your own, developing a plan with the help of a sponsor, treatment specialist, or substance abuse counselor can be really helpful. They can help you identify triggers, self-care practices, and supportive people to include in your plan. They can also help you talk through important aspects of recovery relapse prevention, such as:
Whether you choose to create your relapse prevention plan on your own or with their help, there are a series of steps you can take to create an effective relapse prevention plan. Here’s how:
As you think about ways to prevent relapse, it’s important to think about the nature of your addiction. Ask yourself if:
As you create your relapse prevention plan, keep your recovery goals in mind. You might even want to create a section in your plan that lists your recovery goals. When you’re dealing with cravings or unhelpful thoughts, you can read over these recovery goals as motivation. Your recovery goals should include all aspects of your life, including your:
Write out a list of scenarios and warning signs that could cause you to relapse. These could be feelings, thoughts, or behaviors that typically indicate emotional, mental, or physical relapse. Being familiar with these signs and recognizing them in yourself can help you avoid relapse.
Some of the most common signs of relapse include:
Now that you’ve listed out the days, times, thoughts, people, and circumstances that have contributed to your substance abuse as well as other common warning signs of relapse, it’s time to establish and write out your plan of action. Write out what you intend to do when faced with these obstacles instead of turning to drugs or alcohol. If attending restaurants during happy hour entices you to drink, write out other activities you can do during that time of the day. You could exercise, meditate, spend time with friends, listen to music, journal, or watch television at that specific time instead.
Whatever you decide to do is up to you. Just make sure your plan of action is healthy and efficient enough to keep you away from the triggering situation, person, or place. The more specific your plan of action is, the better.
Thinking through your history of addiction, talking about relapse, and listing out potential triggers can be daunting. The entire process can unintentionally evoke fear and self-doubt. But you need to keep a positive mindset. Instead of worrying about all the things that can cause relapse, focus on the fact that you’re preparing and empowering yourself. Shift your perspective. Instead of thinking of the relapse prevention plan as a doomsday plan, think of it as a way of protecting everything you’ve accomplished so far. Don’t forget to celebrate yourself, either. The mere fact that you’re creating a relapse prevention plan means that you’ve changed your life, completed treatment, and obtained and lived out a certain level of sobriety. Keep a positive mindset.
Now that you know how to create a relapse prevention plan, here’s a little insight into what you should include in your plan.
Every relapse prevention plan is different. However, all plans, should include:
At Aftermath, we know that relapse is a common part of the recovery process. At the same time, we understand that relapse can be incredibly dangerous. Getting sober decreases the amount of drugs and alcohol your body can handle. Using drugs or alcohol after being sober for a period of time can increase your risk of overdose or death. The good news? Relapse doesn’t mean the end of recovery.
Our treatment programs and dedicated team can help you avoid relapse. We can also help you recover from relapse and help you get back on the path to sobriety. Your aftermath can be better than your past. Let us help you get there. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you live the sober life you deserve.