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Even after someone has become clean from drugs or alcohol, the chance of relapse is still high. This is because staying clean isn’t as easy as saying “no” to temptation. It is important that recovering patients have strategies in place so that they know how to respond to temptation before they are even faced with it. During rehab, they will learn about coping mechanisms when faced with social and emotional triggers.

Staying Sober Requires Help

Relapse prevention is all about building support networks, rather than expecting someone to go about it alone. Addicted people, by the very nature of their condition, are isolated. This is why a support network is so important for recovery. Those who are recovering should regularly interact with their peers and with professionals who truly understand them. Finding a support group, therefore, is vital to relapse prevention. Some of the benefits of these groups include:

  • Having help in designing relapse prevention plans
  • Having social interactions to reduce depression and stress.
  • Building positive friendships with people who don’t encourage substance abuse.
  • Empowering yourself and getting control over your life.
  • Having the benefit of anonymity.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has determined that men are more likely to experience relapse. This is because women are socially conditioned to seek help when they need it. Men, on the other hand, are more conditioned to bottle up their feelings.

Know to Recognize the Signs

Relapse prevention is about understanding how it develops. In most cases, someone does not go from being sober to relapsing overnight. Rather, it is a development with specific signs, after someone has been exposed to specific emotional triggers. Being aware of these, and knowing where to go for help, is a great way of ensuring relapse does not mean returning to the substance. People are most likely to have a relapse when they experience health issues, boredom, a change in marital status, conflicts, employment changes, major financial changes, and loss of a loved one. It is vital, therefore, that they have a support network around them who can check how they are responding to triggers.

Planning for Prevention

To plan for prevention means that you have to admit that you are not always in control. You cannot control the environment, or how other people act, for example. You can, however, have control of your responses to these things. As part of your plan, you will need to identify people who are recovering, and agree to contact them as soon as you feel a craving. This is known as the sponsorship structure, made popular with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Another important tip is to create an index card that contains your relapse prevention plan. This gives you something to turn to as soon as you feel any kind of difficulty. While your relapse card is based on your personal needs, some of the things likely to be included are:

  • The names and contact details of people you can speak to during those times when you feel a craving
  • Your sponsors and numbers of hotlines if applicable
  • Contact information for your family members who support you

On the other side of the card, try writing five motivational statements that help you remember why you have done it all, and what you are supposed to do now. Things such as attending meetings, taking part in a social activity, or going for a walk in nature, can all be included.

The next thing you have to remember is that avoidance is one of the most powerful tools you have. In fact, the American Journal on Addictions has stated that it is incredibly successful. The “do and don’t avoid” tactic means:

  • Staying away from places where you can easily access your substance
  • Ending friendships with other current users

Also, if you must enter a situation where your addiction can be triggered, ask your buddy to come with you. Do be aware, however, that there are things (your health, your relationship, your finances) that you should not avoid.

Relapse prevention is also about making progress every single day. And, with every day that passes, it gets a little bit easier. Your cravings will start to reduce in severity, and you will have more good days than bad days. And when you do experience cravings, you will be increasingly able to take appropriate, positive action.

Some Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is a relapse prevention strategy?

A. It is a tool designed to give you the biggest chance at lasting sobriety after you leave rehab. These strategies will be discussed regularly when you are in treatment. Dr. G. Alan Marlatt designed the original relapse model, based on cognitive behavior therapy. He went on to develop the mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) model. Both approaches are still very common today.

Q. Does exercise help?

A. Physical exercise is almost always part of a relapse prevention plan. Exercise improves overall health, which is important in everybody including those who are recovering from an addiction and who have often neglected their health. Furthermore, exercise releases endorphins, meaning you will feel happier without taking substances.

Q. What is self-monitoring?

A. This is a technique your therapist will introduce you to ensure you can recognize situations in which relapse is likely. They will also teach you how to respond to these.

Q. Will 12-step programs help?

A. 12-step programs are some of the most commonly used forms of relapse prevention. It is here that you can build a network of peers, and where you can meet your sponsors and buddies. These programs are vital to those who are in recovery.

Q. Are there alternatives to 12-step programs?

A. Yes. Not everybody likes the idea of the 12-step program because you must surrender to a “higher

Unfortunately, relapse is incredibly common in people who had addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. What matters is that you see a relapse not as a sign of personal or program failure. Rather, it means that you require a bit more treatment, and a reinforcement of what you already know.