Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan

Not everyone is doomed to relapse! But if they do, there is always help available and a way to get back on track. With a relapse prevention plan, it is possible to acknowledge and act in order to avoid a physical relapse and its consequences.

The Stages of Relapse: How and Why Does It Happen?

Alcohol or drug relapse usually doesn’t just happen in the spur-of-the-moment. Typically, relapse happens in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical. Before someone falls back into old habits, they go through a rough internal process that leads to substance abuse. Addiction is a brain disease, and it is more than just a chemical dependency. This is why emotions and mental health also have a role in the relapse process.

Relapse goes beyond craving or having opportunities to engage in substance abuse again. It is a mixture of elements, factors, and triggers that bring a person to act on said cravings. A person will usually go through a period of “resistance” while having thoughts about using. So even if they were successful in resisting it once after treatment, it doesn’t make them immune to it.

And relapse is not that rare, either – about half of people in recovery relapse within the first year after treatment. This number is similar to the relapse rates of other diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. Most people might even experience it more than once after treatment.

As mentioned, there are some steps that come before actual physical relapse. Multiple signs and red flags can point out that something might be wrong. Likewise, there are measures and mechanisms meant for relapse prevention. 

Signs of Addiction Relapse

The emotional and mental relapse stages are what break the person down into actually drinking or using drugs. The signs might not be clear at first, but if they become recurrent, they are a clear red flag. Knowing these is a good way to both avoid relapse and to come up with a relapse prevention plan.

First, it is important to look into emotional signs. This initial phase is more about feelings rather than actual thoughts of relapse. 

Some commonly experienced symptoms and emotions are:

  • Feeling anxious, more than often
  • Being easily angered, sometimes by meaningless things
  • Experiencing mood swings constantly, from mild to severe
  • Self-isolation and lack of social engagement, both in their personal and professional lives
  • Being defensive when discussing relapse or the need for getting help
  • Not wanting to get help when struggling
  • Not properly attending meetings or sessions for treatment and during recovery, or being absent-minded when doing so
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits (either doing it too much or too little)
  • Feeling depressed, hopeless, or guilty, to the point of even being suicidal

Eventually, people in recovery will experience an inner conflict. This is when the emotional and mental stages start to blend together, as the mental effects start. Now, thoughts around relapsing will begin, and might affect actions. At this point, many will start to:

  • Romanticize substance abuse
  • Recall only of the good memories associated to substance abuse
  • Miss, think about, and/or meet people they used to be with when using and/or drinking
  • Lie about having considering or engaging substance abused
  • Hang out with people that are not sober or might be addicts themselves
  • Fantasize and imagine scenarios that they could make happen in order to relapse
  • Plan a possible relapse while alone and considering people’s schedule in order to make it possible
  • Actively avoiding people that could hold them accountable

Although these feelings and thoughts are common, not addressing them is what might lead to relapse. That, added to a lack of attendance in support group meetings or therapy, can be a dangerous combination.

How To Create A Relapse Prevention Plan

It is not hard to create a relapse prevention plan on your own. However, it may be helpful to walk through the process with someone who has knowledge of the topic. A substance abuse counselor, a psychiatrist, and/or another individual in alcohol or drug recovery can help you.

Relapse prevention plans can just be verbal, but writing them will give you a clearer outline of what steps to take. Regardless, it is important to assess certain factors before creating a concrete plan.

1. Determine any signs on an alcohol or drug relapse and have an action plan for each one

If you’ve relapsed before, you might have an idea of what signs you displayed that something was wrong. This, in turn, helps you figure out how it could have been avoided. If not, you can look into common signs to help you check yourself better.

Write a list of scenarios that could lead to potential relapse and have a plan for what you will do if it happens. For example, if going through a breakup could lead to relapse for you, think of other outlets for your feelings. Instead of drinking or using, you attend a support meeting or call a family member or close friend right away. The more specific your action plan is, the better, as this means you will be less likely to come within close reach of a relapse.

2. Have a step-by-step plan of what will happen if you do relapse or come close

Know who you will call first, what you will ask of them, and if you will attend a meeting or return to a rehab facility. The more detailed this plan is, the more likely you will be to get yourself back on track quickly. Talk to the people included in your plan and make sure they have the necessary knowledge should you need their assistance.

3. Identify triggers

First, list people, places, and things that have the potential to lead to a relapse. No matter how long and hard you think, it may not be possible to list every potential trigger. Sometimes, you won’t know a trigger until it has already affected you, in which case it is important to have a plan to confront it. The following questions could be helpful when listing triggers in a relapse prevention plan:

  • Who are the people that remind me of my time abusing substances?
  • Where did I use alcohol or drugs, and how could this trigger me?
  • What addictive thoughts could lead to a relapse?
  • What can I do if there are things that trigger me that I cannot avoid?

4. Positivity and rewarding oneself

Your mindset will make a difference in the long run, so you must try to keep a positive outlook in general. This includes being kind to yourself, focusing on what you did right rather than what you did wrong. Rewarding yourself for staying sober, for resisting cravings, these are all good ways to prevent relapse. It helps you realize how far you’ve come, how much you can do, and to be thankful for that. Celebrate even the little things.

5. Have a support system

A support system comprises everyone who will help you and hold you accountable. This could mean your friends and family, a support group, or a therapist. Staying sober might mean having to restructure your social life, not keep toxic people around. A support system must bring you up and help you stay sober while also not enabling you. Additionally, both support groups and therapy are crucial for follow-up and to keep on working on your sobriety.

6. Learn about healthy coping mechanisms

Compile a list of coping mechanisms that have been helpful in your recovery and that you discussed with licensed professionals. Think about what you could do instead of use, and how such activities would point you back on the right track. Typically, therapists and psychiatrists can also help you find what works for you.

Cravings usually last from 15-30 minutes, and though it might seem quick, it can feel like forever. Therefore, knowing what you can do to occupy your mind will make things easier. Some examples include playing music, exercising, journaling, or writing a gratitude list.

As time goes by, you might need to revisit your relapse prevention plan. The components you acknowledged might change over time. Likewise, the people who are a part of your support system can also change. You can do it on your own or by talking to a professional, either the one who helped you the first time or a new one. Everyone’s needs will vary. Therefore, it is important to assess where you are in your recovery and what your needs are at that point.

How Can Footprints At Recovery Help?

No matter what stage of recovery you are in, we can provide the services you need to address your addiction. And if relapse has become a part of your journey, we can help you get back on track.

If you or a loved one need help with relapse prevention, contact us today. We can answer all of your questions and give you the information you need to know what to do next. Bumps in the road to recovery are in no way a life sentence, and you can change your future today.

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