How To Design A Relapse Prevention Plan

young people sitting at table

at this time of the year is a good idea. Why? Because more people in recovery for drugs and alcohol, relapse during the month of December than at any other time of the year. The 2 primary reasons are, of course, Christmas & New Years. It’s no secret they are the biggest drinking and partying holidays of the year. They are also times of family involvement, anxiety, stress and reminiscing about the “good old days”.

When a recovering substance abuser relapses, this means they return to using alcohol or drugs following months of sobriety. Some recovering addicts relapse once and never use again. Others may relapse repeatedly, only to return to an addiction program for further treatment and another attempt at sobriety.

One of the first things addiction therapists tell their patients early in their program is that relapsing should never be viewed as a negative action. In fact, it is not uncommon for patients who have been clean for several months (or even years) to suddenly relapse. Relapse often indicates several things may be happening, such as a problem with the original treatment program or that the patient may have developed a co-occurring mental illness that now needs addressed.

High-risk situations identified as relapse “triggers” include:

  • Hanging around places and people the addict used to associate with when they were using
  • Feeling angry, stressed, bored or lonely
  • Ruminating about past mistakes made as an active addict
  • Romanticizing their time as an addict, i.e., remembering only the fun, exciting times and not the bad times
  • Feeling impatient. Resentful and irritated when things don’t go their way
  • Engaging in other addictive activities such as overeating, gambling, hypersexual behavior and sleeping more than 12 hours a day

Today, relapse prevention embraces a cognitive behavioral therapy approach that provides the skills necessary for people in recovery to identify and manage potential triggers leading to substance abuse. Included in any good relapse prevention plan is an understanding of the psychology of relapse, which examines the self-efficacy of a recovering alcohol abuser, their expectations and motivation for remaining sober, interpersonal factors and the availability of support services when they need them.

Relapse prevention plans are designed to minimize or prevent recovering addicts from giving in to cravings for their drug of choice. By developing coping strategies with the assistance of therapeutic counselors, patients will benefit from an individualized relapse prevention plan that helps them understand and manage powerful emotions provoked by situational or personal triggers.

Since relapses can occur two days or two years following completion of a treatment program, RPTs are a vital component of any comprehensive addiction program. Recovering addicts working with addiction therapists specializing in Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT) learn to understand and recognize personal coping deficits that may be intensified by low self-efficacy, lack of life skills and emotional problems exacerbated by depression or anxiety.

RPT therapists employ specific teaching techniques involving cognitive behavioral therapy, rational-emotive therapy or other treatments that help patients learn to moderate their emotions when challenged by unexpected relapse triggers. In addition, problems considered complicated by recovering addicts are viewed as things to be tackled and mastered rather than things to be avoided or minimized.

Relapse prevention plans prepare recovering addicts for the possibility that at any minute of the day, a trigger may suddenly appear that makes them feel so stressed that the thought of taking a drink or getting high enters their mind. By learning how to use effective coping skills, relaxation techniques, visual imagery and other self-monitoring tactics when confronted with difficult situations, rehab patients can minimize their chance of relapse and establish a deeper, more solid and reliable relationship with their inner self.