A relapse prevention plan is designed to promote long-term sobriety after treatment has ended. This program will include effective trigger coping techniques to avoid relapse and continue to resist drugs and alcohol. These healthy coping skills will be practiced to become habits. Then, these sober habits can be used to replace thoughts and actions associated with addiction

Why Does Relapse Happen?

Relapse Prevention Plan

Because so much hard work has undoubtedly been done to overcome substance abuse and addiction, relapse can be difficult to understand. This is especially true for those still in rehab, or freshly viewing the world through the eyes of sobriety. However, even with seemingly the best relapse prevention program, relapse still happens. 

Just as addiction had been able to mutate and grow more aggressive as time went by, so must relapse prevention. Throughout the course of life there will be many unexpected elements that can arise, and some may threaten sobriety. A relapse prevention plan must function for both the present and future triggers, in order to be effective. 

Some of the most common reasons that a relapse prevention plan must work to prepare for include:

  • In order to relieve uncomfortable or painful side effects of withdrawal
  • Peer influence or enabling
  • Development of poor quality, substance abusing, or unsupportive relationships
  • Possession or temptation of abusable drugs, alcohol, or paraphernalia
  • Feeling void of meaningful purpose 
  • Loneliness, boredom or isolation
  • Break-ups or unhealthy romantic relationships
  • Loss of job or financial assistance
  • Death or injury of a loved one
  • Injury of oneself and temptation of medication
  • Skewed enjoyable memories of substance abuse
  • Lack of a relapse prevention plan

Unfortunately, there are many more factors that can contribute to relapse. Yet the most important takeaway is understanding the difference between sober thoughts, and thoughts of addiction. While MAT may be available, it may not benefit everyone on their individual path. Because of the potential risks of MAT for some, a more holistic approach may be necessary. Many holistic practices can be implemented into a relapse prevention plan, to better cope with triggers.

Relapse Starts Before You Think it Does

When a person is said to relapse, often the assumption is their actual physical return to active addiction. Yet it’s not that simple. In reality, many thoughts, emotions, and actions have taken place even before this. Even before an individual begins to abuse a substance again, they have already relapsed. 

These are the emotional and mental aspects of sobriety that have begun to falter. The physical side of addiction is likely addressed during or just shortly after detox. Once the body has been allowed time away from substance abuse, and given the opportunity to purge, detox is complete. By the time rehab lessons begin, the physical temptation of addiction is significantly lessened, if not voided completely. 

Left behind, is going to remain the tedious part. The process of developing and learning about ways to apply your relapse prevention plan that serves to combat internal relapse. Before the action, and even before the attempt (whether followed through or not), relapse has already occurred. So inevitably, the more that is understood about sober maintenance, within a relapse prevention plan, the less likely relapse becomes.

Recognizing The 3 Stages of Relapse

Ideally, a well-constructed and solid relapse prevention plan could lead to taking precautions before the first stage begins. This is not always the case, though. The good news is that all three stages exist. 

Understanding what each tier includes doesn’t only mean stopping relapse in its tracks, but physical sobriety can hopefully remain intact. Whether you are experiencing emotional, mental, or physical relapse with active addiction, it doesn’t mean the journey is over. However, the further into the stages of relapse a person goes, the more difficult the road back will be. Because of that, the sooner relapse is noticed, the sooner and more likely an addict can get back on track. 

If you or someone you know is in danger of relapse, talk with them about getting help. It’s never too late to reinforce or even add to a relapse prevention plan. Whether it means working to get sober again or preserve sobriety, rehab professionals can help. If you’re unsure about whether you are in danger of relapse, examine the following stages. And most importantly, be honest, and ask for help to strengthen your relapse prevention plan.  

Stage One: Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse may be difficult to identify at first, even for those experiencing it. This is because it revolves around mostly unconscious behaviors, such as isolation or feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiousness. Outwardly, many will not be able to notice emotional relapse unless they know you well. This means it may be up to the addict themselves to get back on track, and often back into treatment. 

However, just because emotional relapse is difficult or even unconsciously sneaky doesn’t mean it’s left out of a relapse prevention plan. This is practicing the lesson of awareness and becoming conscious of when these emotions occur. During rehab, or specifically during cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), individuals can do the work to break out of these addictive trends. By first identifying these emotions or isolating tendencies, and then replacing them with healthy thoughts and habits. To either prevent or treat emotional relapse, CBT is effective. 

Signs of Emotional Relapse

Recognizing an emotional relapse is important for two reasons. First, it’s the initial stage. While still in the first stage, the individual will have the opportunity to use their relapse prevention plan. Awareness of the symptoms allows the opportunity to adjust or take action to correct factors that could dangerously progress further.

Second, this is the first stage of relapse threatening recovery, and there is enough time to get help. It’s not too late, and it doesn’t mean that advancing into stage two is inevitable. By getting involved in a partial hospitalization program early, restructuring of a relapse prevention plan offers success in maintaining sobriety. 

Partial hospitalization programs often don’t require as much time to be spent within the facility as would residential programs. This makes it possible to continue applying the relapse prevention program to everyday life while making the necessary corrections. 

Symptoms of Emotional Relapse

Those who are experiencing emotional relapse often become confused as to what’s considered normal reactions to making life-style changes. However, those who have suffered this first stage of relapse reported experiencing:

  • Feeling anxious, nervous, or overwhelmed
  • Mood swings, agitation, intolerance of others, or angry
  • Becoming isolated or withdrawn from family, friends or co-workers
  • Forwardly defensive of recovery, sobriety, or addiction
  • Refusal of meetings, lessons, group therapy or addiction help
  • Inconsistency or changes in sleeping or eating habits

Realistically, navigating life sober for the first time after rehab can be unfamiliar. This is why a relapse prevention plan is so essential. In order to avoid, manage, or correct these emotions, relying on the plan will help. However, if symptoms of emotional relapse persist, it’s crucial to sobriety to get help before it’s too late. 

Stage Two: Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is the beginning of an internal debate or conflict revolving around thoughts of substance abuse. Yet essentially there’s an understanding, or at least enough of one, that rejects turning back to addiction. 

Mental relapse typically consists of reminiscing about times when active addiction was taking place. However, just like with any memory, it’s usually the enjoyable times thought about instead of aspects that caused harm. The same is true of memories during mental relapse. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to making visits to old friends or places that once correlated with abusing substances. This in itself is a dangerous trigger.

When preparing your own personal relapse prevention plan, acknowledging how people, places, and things are associated with addiction adds awareness. Additionally, part of the process to create the plan requires socializing with new sober friends in group therapy. This goes along with filling up extra time with healthy practices and activities, leaving less chance to indulge thoughts of active addiction. 

Signs of Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is going to be treated much more seriously in a rehab setting. This is because it brings the individual much closer to physical relapse, which can be devastating to recovery. Some of the symptoms experienced by a person in mental relapse include:

  • Sentimentalizing or glorifying memories from active addiction
  • Missing or longing for people and places associated with substance use
  • Denying or lying about entertaining thoughts of addiction
  • Begin to socialize with individuals who aren’t sober, have relapsed, or not in recovery
  • Daydreaming or considering how and when to relapse
  • Synchronizing t plans around active users in order to attempt relapse

Stage Three: Physical Relapse

Just as it sounds, physical relapse is when there is actual action taken toward substance abuse, including active use. This is when it’s certain that relapse has occurred and a person is no longer sober. It means the relapse prevention plan wasn’t followed, nor was there sufficient dedication to it. This, however, is not when relapse started and not where recovery ends. 

It’s usually at this point that becoming overly confident has contributed to neglecting the relapse prevention plan. Physically relapsing doesn’t have to consist of heavily using again, nor does it have to involve the same substance. It’s simply the point in time that repeating detox and rehab become fully necessary to again establish sobriety. 

Once reaching a point of physical relapse, it’s likely that both emotional and mental relapse have already occurred. The best course of action is to get involved with a rehab professional and begin detox as soon as possible. After the detox process is complete, the individual will have the opportunity to reevaluate their relapse prevention plan. 

If you or someone you know in recovery is showing or discussing any of these signs, action must be taken. Even if a relapse prevention plan has discouraged the physical act of substance abuse thus far, more work is needed. You should work with a professional, or even consider moving into a sober living home. Sober living allows for socialization among others who are working to maintain their addiction urges, and can encourage healthy recovery. 

Resisting Relapse and Maintaining Sobriety 

Resisting relapse isn’t as easy as it sounds. This is particularly true for those that attempt to detox and rehabilitate without the help of professionals. The accountability factor that is enforced within the facility promotes the reinforcement of making sober choices moving forward. By utilizing a relapse prevention plan as the first, second and third line defense, the risk of relapse declines dramatically. However, this takes practice, education and dedication. 

In order to fulfill the intention of a relapse prevention program, rehab and recovery centers will make education a priority. This means ensuring that each individual receives essential lessons and opportunities to strengthen sobriety and understand relapse. 

Choosing to live and remain sober is what it means to be in recovery. It will always be the constant act of choosing to live healthy and free of substance abuse. The purpose of a relapse prevention plan is to compile the methods and lessons developed in rehab. Then, by determining the most valuable ways to approach and avoid triggers, they can be applied to everyday life. An effective and well-rounded relapse prevention plan is one of the most important programs to take away from rehab. 

Avoiding Relapse Means Having a Plan

Relapse is a serious issue affecting the recovery community. In the U.S., as many as 40% to 60% of addicts have successfully completed treatment but have resumed active addiction. As troubling as these rates are, it does suggest one very important action to be taken. 

Essentially, the more developed, practiced, and easily implemented a relapse plan is focused on during treatment, the better it works. This is why a great deal of importance is placed on lessons and training during rehab. The more often a routine is repeated, the more likely that it’ll become a habit. The goal is to make sobriety less of a choice and more of a natural way of living. By imposing a strong focus on a relapse prevention plan, ideally, the sober lifestyle could supersede the temptation of relapse. 

Relapse is Not Failure

Relapse isn’t and shouldn’t be considered failure. Addiction is an illness without a cure. Experiencing relapse does not mean that the chances of living healthy and sober are out the window, either. It simply means that there was more work to be done in rehab. 

By making sure to re-enroll in a rehabilitation program, you’re capable of solidifying the process and trying again. Often the best course of action is to participate in a residential treatment program to resume lessons and therapy. After detox, it will be extremely important to adjust the measures of your relapse prevention plan. Seeing as though what was already included was not covering enough area, the plan can be adjusted and improved upon. 

Updating or Creating a Relapse Prevention Program

After admissions, assessment, and detox, individual therapy and addiction education will begin. It will be at this point where triggers can be discussed, discovered, or disclosed. Using an accumulation of knowledge, gained from therapy, lecture, and during active addiction, a relapse prevention plan takes shape. 

For some, this is the first time they’re developing their relapse prevention program. For others reevaluating after relapse, it will be time to determine where the gaps were. To do this, each individual will need to understand the signs shown in each stage. Then within each area, or the area lacking effectiveness, focus can be given to strengthen. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Relapse Prevention

For those having a more difficult time with symptoms of withdrawal, medication-assisted treatment may be available. The use of certain drugs can lessen the urges and pain of withdrawal and promote a healthy recovery. However, it may not be the best option for everyone. This is determined on a case by case basis and is subject to change throughout the rehab curriculum. 

Essentially, the medications that are available for medication assisted treatment (MAT) can’t completely exclude risk of dependency and abuse. Most importantly, MAT shouldn’t be solely relied on in place of a relapse prevention plan. However, it may be included for encouraging and adjusting to sobriety. 

Helpful Relapse Prevention Tips to Cope With Triggers

Although coping with triggers may be more difficult, there are helpful habits to rely on when confronting them. In fact, incorporating them into a relapse prevention program can reduce the stress of triggers, and add to quality of life. 

Some of the helpful hints associated with relapse prevention plans include:

  • Relying on your support system. Having others around that support and celebrate your accomplishments holds you accountable and provides encouragement to succeed.
  • Regularly attending support groups and sober meetings. Regular reinforcement as well as open peer conversation allows for a judgement-free space to vocalize and accept the past. 
  • Getting healthy and moving. A relapse prevention plan encourages moving forward toward a healthy body and mind. Get involved in a gym, sport or club where you can meet new people with similar interests. 
  • Learning and practicing reflection, awareness and grounding. Meditation and yoga are fantastic ways to build confidence and remain centered and focused on the big picture. 
  • Speaking to yourself with kindness. It’s okay to remind yourself of the progress you’ve made and how well you follow your relapse prevention plan. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself. Understand that by actively making change to remain sober, you are succeeding. 

These are some helpful ideas to reinforce your relapse prevention plan. It’s important to remember that you’re never alone and that many others are cheering for your sober success. If you feel as though you are getting close to any stage of relapse, reach out before it progresses. When in doubt, turn to the lessons and coping strategies that make up your relapse prevention plan. And remember, rehab is designed to help at any stage of addiction and relapse, allowing sobriety to remain indefinitely possible. 

Find Relapse Prevention at Harmony Ridge

If you find yourself wondering how you can ever live a happy sober life, remember the value of a relapse prevention plan. If you feel as though you may be on the verge of relapse, help and support are available. Reach out to rehab professionals if you’ve relapsed and don’t know what to do next. Updating your relapse prevention program can make a difference and encourage a healthy recovery. Our staff members are ready and available to ensure that you get enrolled for the type of treatment you need. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late to face your addiction. Don’t miss the opportunity to protect your delicate sobriety. Remember, you’re worth it and you deserve to be healthy, happy, and sober. 

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/injury/pdfs/bsc/NIH-Advancing-Addiction-Science_BSCJune2018_Compton-a.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

https://www.healthline.com/health/opioid-withdrawal/relapse-prevention-plan

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/relapse-prevention

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4437594/