logo 11

What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Relapse prevention is a crucial step toward addiction or illness recovery. Find specialists and create a comprehensive relapse prevention plan. 

What is Relapse?

Addiction relapse is generally understood as a return to substance or alcohol use after a period of sobriety/abstinence. NIDA estimates that 40 to 60% of people with a substance use disorder relapse at some point in their recovery. Relapse can happen to anyone and can happen for many reasons. That is why it is essential to understand and use relapse prevention techniques.

Addiction is a disorder of the brain. Psychological cravings for a substance can continue long after physical withdrawal is complete. Stress, trauma, environment, and other factors can increase the risk of relapse. For these reasons, it is vital for those in recovery to be familiar with relapse prevention models.


relapse prevention

Understanding Relapse

It is not unusual for people to view addiction relapse as a personal failure or an indication that treatment doesn’t work. However, major research bodies offer a different perspective. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as a treatable, chronic disease that is comparable to other chronic health issues like hypertension or asthma.  

According to NIDA statistics, 50 to 70% of people with hypertension experience a relapse in their condition. When this happens, it is a sign that treatment needs to be modified, not that the patient or treatment plan has failed.1

Adopting the same attitude toward substance use disorder relapse can help reduce the surrounding stigma and encourage those who relapse to modify their relapse prevention plans instead of feeling shame and failure.

The 3 Stages of Relapse

As defined by relapse and recovery expert Terrence Gorski, the relapse process has many phases and warning signs.2 Many experts today use a scaled-down version of Gorski’s model to understand the three main phases of relapse.3  

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse could be considered “pre-relapse.” It is defined as a general lack of self-care, such as poor sleeping habits, isolation, missing support meetings, or not sharing at meetings. Poor self-care leads to feelings of discontent and increases the risk of relapse. Mindfulness-based relapse prevention can be especially effective for mitigating emotional relapse.4

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is often described as “thinking about drinking.” People experiencing mental relapse may romanticize past behaviors by bargaining (saying, “I’ll only do it once”), lying to themselves or others, looking for opportunities to relapse, and dwelling on the possibility of returning to substance use are signs of mental relapse. Relapse prevention planning helps stop mental relapse before it leads to physical relapse.

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is when drugs or alcohol are finally ingested. Some experts separate a “lapse,” only one drink or one dose of drugs, from a full-on relapse, which is typically defined as heavy, continued use.

The first step to relapse prevention is seeking appropriate support as soon as you realize you are not following the self-care guidelines that have been laid out in your relapse prevention program.  

Why is a Relapse Prevention Plan Important?

Comprehensive addiction treatment typically includes working with a patient to create an effective, personalized relapse prevention plan. 

A typical relapse prevention model includes tips, techniques, tools, resources, and any other measures a person can use to decrease the risk of relapse. The goal of relapse prevention planning is to teach an individual how to protect their recovery in high-risk situations.

What Does a Relapse Prevention Plan Look Like?

A substance abuse relapse prevention plan might include:

  • Tips for identifying personal triggers
  • Suggestions on avoiding triggers and increasing tolerance
  • A plan for learning and applying healthy coping skills 
  • A daily routine to eliminate boredom, loneliness, or excessive unstructured time
  • A commitment to strengthening positive social connections

Curating a Personalized Plan

Relapse prevention strategies are often written documents that include contact numbers of sponsors and other key support sources available in times of need. 

Every relapse prevention plan is personalized to meet the individual’s needs, but all relapse prevention plans can be distilled down into three basic steps: recognizing triggers, avoiding triggers, and taking action to protect your recovery if you are triggered.

How to Write a Relapse Prevention Plan

Acknowledging that relapse is possible is the first step in most relapse prevention programs.  

Unfortunately, some rehab patients leave treatment feeling overly confident they will never relapse. Accepting that you could relapse and need a thorough relapse prevention program to protect your sobriety is a more effective approach.

relapse prevention plan

Relevant Considerations

To begin, take an honest assessment of your history, and determine the warning signs that you are at risk for relapse. With a better understanding of your triggers, you can establish an action plan if and when triggers occur.

A complete relapse prevention plan also includes emergency contact information. For instance, you may choose to enter a treatment program or seek support from a recovery group in the case of relapse. Having no plan increases the chance of a momentary lapse becoming a major relapse.


Recovery Rules to Avoid Relapse

Recovery patients learn new skills and are exposed to new ways of thinking when they go through addiction treatment. You can help yourself avoid relapse by following these simple recovery rules:

  • Change your life
  • Be honest
  • Ask for help
  • Practice self-care
  • Don’t bend the rules

Practicing your relapse prevention skills before you need them will help ensure you are ready to make healthy choices when things get difficult.

Recovery from Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Relapse prevention therapy is one of the most important aspects of our recovery program because we understand the various pressures people in recovery face once they complete treatment. Swift treatment and steps toward relapse prevention are the most crucial factors in illness and addiction recovery. Additionally, the experience of addiction treatment builds self-esteem and increases confidence—which is a positive outcome. 

Recovery is possible for every individual, but comes easiest with an encouraging and empathetic support system in place. 

Opportunities for Wellness at Alta Centers

Patients at Alta Centers have the opportunity to plan for relapse prevention during recovery. We understand that progress isn’t always linear and that everyone’s recovery journey is unique to them.

If you or someone you know needs the support of a compassionate and experienced addiction treatment team, find professional help now at Alta Centers.

Contact us today and get a head start on treatment for illness and addiction recovery. 


Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.