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A Complete Guide to Writing an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan

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If you’re in addiction treatment, most centers will have you develop a  relapse prevention plan at some point. The goal is to avoid relapse entirely, but life happens, and for many people, relapse becomes a stepping stone on the way to permanent sobriety.

A relapse is when you drink or use again after a period of sobriety. It’s not a sign of failure — it’s actually pretty common — so it’s not something to feel bad about.

However, it is something to be concerned about.

It’s also important to note that relapse isn’t a requirement for your recovery journey just because it’s common — it’s possible to get sober on your first try and stay that way.

While it’s often perceived negatively, a relapse can provide valuable insights into problem areas in your recovery program, especially if it wasn’t a “bad” relapse, which means you didn’t have a lot of consequences.

Once you’ve gotten sober again, you can review what happened leading up to and during the relapse. You can identify triggers, improve your coping strategies, and adjust your treatment plan so that it’s more effective.

This experience may even help you see where you weren’t doing what you should have been doing in your sobriety program (12-step-based or otherwise).

You can use all this information to create a relapse prevention plan (or modify one you already have). This plan acts as a roadmap, providing strategies to prevent relapse and a clear plan for what to do if you do relapse.

The idea of a relapse prevention plan comes out of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and has scientific evidence showing it’s effective (CBT can reduce relapse rates by up to 60% compared to traditional treatment methods).

Here’s what the relapse prevention model is all about.

The Relapse Prevention Model

The relapse prevention model is a cognitive-behavioral approach designed to limit or prevent relapses. It’s based on the idea that high-risk situations are often predictable and can be managed with the right skills.

This model focuses on a few things:

  • Reinforcing the fact that you have control over some things (who you hang out with, the places you frequent, what you do with your free time)
  • Recognizing and avoiding high-risk situations
  • Managing stress and cravings, especially when avoidance isn’t possible
  • Eliminating personal myths about alcohol and drug use (for example, reminding yourself that even though you’ve never had an alcohol problem, it’s still something to avoid)
  • Coming up with a clear plan in case of a relapse
  • Changing your perceptions about what relapse is and what it means

The relapse prevention model promotes lifestyle changes, encouraging a holistic approach to recovery. It highlights the importance of a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and positive social interactions.

It’s not just about abstaining from substances or certain behaviors but also about leading a healthy and fulfilling life.

Here’s how to write your plan.

Steps to Writing an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan

Creating a relapse prevention plan might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some steps to guide you.

1. Set Goals

Define what recovery means to you and set achievable goals. This provides motivation and a sense of direction. For example, you might have a goal of going to three SMART Recovery meetings a week or going for a run twice a week.

2. Identify Triggers

Start by listing potential triggers, such as specific places, people, or emotions that have led you to drink or use in the past. This helps you anticipate high-risk situations and develop effective coping strategies if you have no choice but to be in those situations.

A common acronym heard in the recovery world is HALT — hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. These are some common, simple triggers, but you might also be triggered by someone being confrontational with you, working too much overtime, having to attend an event with alcohol, or even passing the alcohol aisle in a grocery store.

Most people have very specific triggers — spend some time figuring out what your precise triggers are so that you can avoid them.

3. Develop Coping Strategies

Identify which coping strategies have worked for you in the past and which haven’t. Try to be realistic — what will actually help you if you are triggered? What are you most likely to do?

This could include calling your sponsor, exercising, going to a friend’s house, meditating, or going to a 12-step meeting.

4. Come Up with a Self-Care Plan

Proper self-care can ensure you’re happy and healthy, which makes dealing with unavoidable triggers much easier. If you’re in a good place mentally and physically, it’s easier to deal with things that might normally trigger you to drink or use.

For example, you might want to make sure you get over 8 hours of sleep no matter what, or you might schedule a massage once a month or have a date night with your significant other once a week. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are also great to add here.

5. Establish a Support Network

Identify people who can provide emotional and practical support when you find yourself triggered. This could include family members, friends, therapists, or members of your support group.

6. Define Skills to Work On

Once your triggers and coping skills are identified, spend some time figuring out the skills you need to work on or develop to ensure you can access them when needed.

For example, you may need to work on being assertive with people who frequently violate your boundaries, or maybe you need to get better at managing your time so you don’t get anxious about being late.

7. Review and Update

Regularly review and update your plan to ensure it remains relevant and effective.

Once you’ve written the document and decided to sign on to it, you’re more likely to do those things — you’ve promised yourself to do so and clearly identified what is and isn’t okay.

Now it’s time to put it into action.

Use the Tools Available to You

At the end of the day, a relapse prevention plan is just a piece of paper — it can’t save your life, and it can’t stop you from drinking or using if you’re determined to.

However, if you’re serious about staying sober, it can provide structure and guidance, empowering you to manage your recovery actively.

Remember, a relapse isn’t a sign of failure but a common part of the journey to recovery. With the right tools and support, you can overcome relapses and continue on your path to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

guest author c clark

About the Author: Cristal Clark, LPC-S, is the Medical Reviewer for ASIC Recovery Services. She reviews all website content for quality and medical accuracy. She is a master’s level Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and graduated from Liberty University in 2011. She has worked in the behavioral and mental health field for over 12 years and has a passion for helping others. She has been Clinical Director and CEO of a 200-plus-bed facility, PHP, and IOP, with experience managing a team of counselors, individual/group/and family therapy, and coordinating continuum of care. Cristal is trained in EMDR and certified in non-violent intervention. She is a member of American Counseling Association and American Association of Christian Counselors.

IOP at ASIC Recovery

If you’re going through treatment, have developed a relapse prevention plan, and are thinking about getting into a sober living or IOP program to augment your recovery, we can help.

At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping you develop healthier coping skills and build a supportive recovery network so that you can achieve long-term sobriety.

Click to learn more

Photo by George Milton: https://www.pexels.com/photo/concentrated-woman-taking-notes-in-diary-7015022/

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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