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In Recovery? Stay Sober with a Relapse Prevention Plan

Get yourself a solid relapse prevention plan and support network!

Anyone who has ever tried to quit using drugs or alcohol after an extended period of use knows how tough it can be just to get sober. However, staying sober can be even harder unless you have a strong relapse prevention plan in place to help you succeed.

What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse prevention plan is a tailored strategy designed to help a recovering person avoid the temptation of returning to self-destructive patterns of behavior associated with addictive drug or alcohol use.

Learning how to develop a relapse prevention plan is a major factor in maintaining sobriety over the long term. The actual elements of each person's individual strategy will be different, as the underlying triggers behind dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors associated with using are different for everyone.

How to Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan

When a recovering person enters into an addiction rehab facility, they attend multiple counseling and therapy sessions. A primary part of those sessions is learning to identify their unique addiction triggers.

When triggers and high-risk situations are identified and recognized, the person is then encouraged to consider actions that will help them reduce the risk of returning to self-destructive patterns of behavior.

Recognizing Early Warning Signs of Relapse

A strong aspect of any relapse prevention strategy is understanding your own individual early warning signs of a potential relapse. It's common for most people to assume that relapse is the actual act of 'falling off the wagon', or the event of taking drugs or having a drink after a period of sobriety.

However, the reality is that relapse is a series of events that leads up to the act of taking a drink or using drugs. When a recovering person is learning to develop a relapse prevention plan, they are taught to recognize and identify the early warning signs of a potential relapse. These are:

Emotional relapse: During early relapse the recovery person isn't actively thinking about relapsing. However, their actions and emotions could be setting them up for a future relapse if they aren't careful.

Common signs include:

  • Uncontrolled stress levels
  • Bottling up emotions
  • Not attending meetings
  • Bad eating habits
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Not asking for help

Mental relapse: If the early signs of emotional relapse are ignored, it's likely the person will slip into mental relapse. During this stage the mind is at war with itself, with a part of the consciousness wanting to remain sober, but the other part actively thinking about using again. The person actually starts to think that using will be easier than the constant struggle to remain sober. Common warning signs include:

  • Craving drugs or alcohol
  • Believing the addiction is now under control and using just once won't hurt
  • Thinking about people, places or situations associated with past use
  • Fantasizing about using again
  • Glamorizing past use
  • Planning a relapse around other people's activities in order to avoid getting caught

Physical relapse: Physical relapse is the act of seeking out a dealer or driving to the liquor store in order to begin using again. Once a recovering person reaches this point, it's extremely difficult to stop. It's important that earlier warning signs are recognized and acted on in order to avoid the stages progressing this far.

Creating a Customized Relapse Prevention Plan

Each person should be encouraged to create their own customized relapse prevention plan. The actual recovery tools and resources that will be effective may be different for each person, so it's important to explore all the options available.

The objective is to create a plan of action to manage cravings and cope with high-risk situations when they do occur. Learning healthy, natural ways to deal with stress and negative emotions can be helpful for many people. Regular attendance at group meetings can also provide ongoing motivation to stay sober, as well as providing a mentor or sponsor to call when things get tough.

Practicing self-care can play an integral role in ongoing sobriety. Eating well, keeping healthy sleeping patterns, and avoiding people who are associated with past use can all be useful in maintaining motivation to stay sober and reduce the risk of relapse.

The list of relapse prevention plan ideas is only limited to your imagination. If you're not sure where to start in creating a relapse prevention plan that works for your individual needs, discuss your options with an addiction specialist in a drug or alcohol rehab center. You'll be surprised by the addiction recovery resources and tools available.

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