In Self-care

Alcohol or drug relapse usually isn’t a spur-of-the-moment event. Typically, relapse happens in three stages: an emotional relapse, a mental relapse, and a physical relapse. With an alcohol or drug relapse prevention plan, it is possible to acknowledge and act upon certain feelings and events in order to avoid a physical relapse and its’ consequences.

While you can create a relapse prevention plan on your own, it may be helpful to walk through the process with someone who has knowledge of the topic, like a substance abuse counselor or another individual in alcohol or drug recovery. Relapse plans can be verbalized but may also be written to have a clearer outline of what steps to take should there be a likelihood of a relapse. Regardless, it is important to assess certain factors before creating a concrete plan.

1. Determine any signs that could lead to an alcohol or drug relapse and have an action plan for each one.

If you’ve relapsed before, you will probably have some idea of what lead to that relapse and how it could have been avoided. If not, this part may be a little bit more difficult. Regardless, try to brainstorm a list of scenarios that could lead to potential relapse and have a plan for what you will do instead of drink or use. For example, if going through a breakup could lead to a relapse for you, think of other outlets for your pain and frustration. Instead of drinking or using, you could plan to 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 alcohol and drug rehab. 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 the 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 is already in front of you, in which case it is important to have a plan to confront such triggers. states that the following questions could be helpful when listing triggers in a relapse prevention plan:

  • Who could I see that would remind me of alcohol or drug use?
  • What places did I use alcohol or drugs that could trigger me?
  • What addictive thoughts could make me relapse?
  • What can I do if I cannot avoid things that trigger me?

4. Identify Healthy Tools

Compile a list of tools that have been helpful in your recovery. Think about what you could do instead of use, and how such activities would point you back on the right track. Some examples of such tools include writing a list of consequences should you relapse, attending a support meeting, playing music, exercising, journaling, or writing a gratitude list.

As time passes, it may be important to revisit your relapse prevention plan. The components you acknowledged in your relapse prevention plan at the beginning of your recovery have the potential to change and develop over time, as do the people in your support system, so your plan may need to be revised. This can be done on your own or by sitting down with a professional such as a substance abuse counselor or another recovering addict. Everyone’s needs will vary, so it is important to assess where you are in your recovery and what you feel your needs are at that point in time.


Author: Joe Priolo, CADC – Footprints to Recovery – Primary Counselor

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