How to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan

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Unfortunately, relapse is a part of many recovering addict’s stories. Oftentimes, relapse can not be singled out as one event. More often than not, many events lead up to and eventually cause an individual to relapse. However, there are ways to prevent a relapse from occurring. By paying attention to red flags and warning signs of relapse, individuals in recovery can create a relapse prevention plan.

Continue reading to gain a better understanding of what relapse is, what causes it to occur, and how to avoid relapse.

The Importance of Having a Relapse Prevention Plan in Recovery

According to research, more than ⅔ of individuals in recovery relapse within weeks to months of beginning treatment. While this is unfortunate, it is important to remember that relapse is preventable when armed with the proper facts and tools. Addiction is a chronic and ongoing disease that individuals must treat and maintain for the rest of their lives. Therefore, people who relapse are not failures.

Relapse is caused by several factors, including:

  • Financial issues
  • Stressors of any kind
  • Undiagnosed or unmanaged mental health conditions
  • Relationship or familial issues
  • Symptoms of withdrawal
  • Exposure to trauma or untreated trauma
  • Triggers (people, places, or things)
  • Poor self-care
  • Pride or overconfidence that leads to the neglect of sobriety management techniques

If you or a loved one experience a relapse, you must remember it is not the end of your recovery. Creating a relapse prevention plan will help you to minimize your symptoms and treat the signs of relapse, allowing you to continue to focus on your recovery.

The Mental Signs of Relapse

Before the physical relapse, there are red flags and warning signs of mental relapse. In other words, there are mental factors that cause an individual to be more susceptible to physical relapse. For example, individuals may feel as if they want to use, while a part of them truly doesn’t. In the beginning phases of mental relapse, you may subtly think about abusing drugs or alcohol with no intention to use (yet). Eventually, this turns into a mental obsession to use substances.

Common signs of mental relapse to be aware of:

  • Lying
  • Romanticizing your past drug/alcohol abuse
  • “Daydreaming” about old friends, places, or things associated with past drug/alcohol abuse
  • Hanging out with friends who are not sober
  • Thinking about relapsing
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Avoiding commitments with your recovery community
  • Disconnection from sober support
  • Minimizing the negative consequences you faced from past substance abuse
  • Justifying the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Believing you can effectively use this time

If you or a loved one are displaying the previously mentioned signs, it may be time to double down on your sobriety maintenance methods. This may include attending more recovery meetings, going to therapy, or spending more time with sober support.

4 Tips on How to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan

Oftentimes, relapse prevention plans are created during aftercare planning with the help of a therapist or addiction specialist. However, if you or a loved one are attempting to create your own, consider the following 4 tips on how to create an effective relapse prevention plan.

#1: Play the Tape

If you have been thinking about using drugs or alcohol again, it is likely that you have convinced yourself that your addiction wasn’t that bad. You may have come to the conclusion that you can control your drinking or drug use this time, or that you can have just one drink.

Unfortunately, recovering addicts and alcoholics cannot successfully drink or do drugs. If you begin to have these delusions, it is important to play the tape back. In other words, you must remember what it was like when you were using and how you felt. In doing so, you may be able to prevent yourself from romanticizing the idea of drinking or using drugs again.

#2: Complete a Daily Inventory and Reflect

Next, you should take time to reflect on why you continued to abuse substances despite the consequences. What was your goal? Were you trying to numb undesirable feelings? Were you trying to cope with trauma or a mental health condition? Or, were you simply just trying to have a constant, good time? Taking an inventory of your usage patterns will allow you to identify triggers that led to your substance abuse. Then, you can begin to work through these triggers to ensure that you do not succumb to them again.

#3: Acknowledge your Triggers

To begin, triggers are defined as a person, place, or thing that provokes an individual to crave substances. Every single person in recovery has unique triggers based on their personal experiences. It is vital that recovering individuals make a list of their triggers so they can actively avoid them or cope with them as they appear. If a trigger is unavoidable, you must have a plan in place to make sure that your triggers do not lead to a relapse.

The early warning signs of relapse appear long before the individual physically relapses. Whether it be a high-stress work environment, financial issues, or marital problems, it is imperative for you to be aware of your triggers. When you identify the early signs of relapse and your triggers, you can create a plan of action to prevent a physical relapse.

#4: Remain Connected with Sober Support

Being connected with sober support in recovery is one of the most important aspects of sobriety. Whether you attend a 12-step meeting or another form of support group, these venues of connection may be the barrier between yourself and a relapse. When you are connected with a recovery community, you will receive accountability and support when you are struggling. Additionally, your sober support will be there for you when you are having thoughts of relapsing. This is extremely beneficial, as sharing unhealthy thoughts and plans can allow people to diminish their urges to use. Overall, being connected with sober support helps individuals to realize that they are not alone.

Relapse Prevention Planning during Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are in need of treatment and have dealt with relapse in the past, New Jersey Addiction Interventions is here to help.

“Our addiction specialists will help you and your family stage an intervention and convince your loved one to seek professional help. Our innovative and solution-based techniques will help guide your loved one to the drug and alcohol rehab facility that will best meet their individual needs. We will be with you every step of the way. If you or a loved one is in need of addiction resources for drugs and alcohol in Edison, New Jersey, contact us today for an assessment.”

New Jersey Addiction Interventions understands the necessity of helping patients create effective relapse prevention plans. Our addiction specialists can provide you with the resources you need to find an addiction treatment program that includes relapse prevention planning and aftercare.

Medically Reviewed: September 18, 2020

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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