December 1, 2022

Building a Relapse Prevention Plan into Your Home Environment

Relapse is when someone returns to substance use after a period of sobriety. One key sign of addiction is being unable to stop or cut back on using substances, even when you try to.1 This is why relapsing is often the reason people seek treatment.2 After attempting to stop many times, you may realize you need help. A relapse prevention plan can help interrupt the relapse cycle.

Why a Relapse Prevention Plan Matters

A relapse prevention plan can help someone abstain from substance use and is a necessary part of recovery.3 While relapse is a normal part of the recovery process and should not be considered a failure, it needs to be prevented as much as possible.3 Plus, relapse is not guaranteed—many people quit drugs and alcohol without ever returning to use. But it’s essential to emphasize that relapse is common and nobody should feel ashamed by it.

A treatment provider like an addiction specialist or mental health therapist can help you create a relapse prevention plan that is tailored to your unique needs and circumstances. This can be done in rehab, intensive day programs, or outpatient treatment. However, if you are not in treatment, you can still build one. There are several parts to a relapse prevention plan, including:2

  • Understanding the signs and phases of relapse
  • Knowing the risks of relapse
  • Learning and using coping skills when triggered

These things are best learned in therapy or rehab so that you then have the skills outside of rehab to avoid relapse and maintain sobriety.

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Understanding the Signs and Phases of Relapse

Relapse happens gradually, so understanding the signs and phases of relapse can help you get back on track. The phases are emotional, mental, and physical.2

Emotional

During this stage, you are not thinking about using substances again. You may feel motivated to stay sober. However, your emotions and behaviors are paving the way to using again.2

This typically happens because you are practicing poor self-care, such as not eating or sleeping well. Other signs of emotional relapse include:2

  • Stuffing your emotions
  • Not attending 12-step meetings or sharing during meetings
  • Isolating
  • Focusing on other people’s problems instead of your own

Mental

Mental relapse is when you start to feel torn inside. Part of you wants to use substances again, and another part doesn’t want to. Over time, the desire to abstain lessens while the need to escape or use substances increases. Signs of mental relapse include:2

  • Craving drugs or alcohol
  • Thinking about people, places, or things that are tied to past substance use
  • Minimizing consequences of past use
  • Glamorizing past substance use
  • Thinking of ways to be able to control substance use
  • Identifying ways it would be okay to use again
  • Looking for ways to relapse
  • Planning to relapse

Occasional thoughts or cravings for substances are normal and don’t necessarily mean you are in the mental phase of relapse. It is when these thoughts and cravings become more intense, last over time, and create changes in behavior that you are considered to be in the mental relapse phase.2

Physical

Physical relapse occurs when you actually consume alcohol or use drugs again. Often, people think relapse prevention is just about being able to abstain during the moments they are tempted. The phases of relapse show that a good relapse prevention plan will give you strategies to cope with each phase of relapse.2

Creating and Following a Relapse Prevention Plan at Home

Recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction requires you to do more than to stop using substances. Recovery also means making lifestyle changes.2 One lifestyle change would be integrating relapse prevention strategies into your life at home. Some aspects of your plan may center around where you live.

For example, if you are a resident in a sober living or transitional housing, your relapse prevention plan is likely going to look different than someone who is living independently. If you are living independently, you may need coping skills and a plan for taking care of yourself if you find yourself in a situation where someone else is using substances. Someone in sober living may have less exposure to situations like these, but they may need coping skills on how to handle conflicts with housemates without relying on substances.

Relapse prevention techniques may include:2,3,4,5

  • Maintaining a healthy diet: A healthy diet is more than choosing nutritious foods that are good for your body. Eating healthy also means eating regularly and getting the right amount of food. You can meet with a registered dietitian to make sure your food choices are the right for your body and unique nutritional needs.
  • Proper sleep hygiene: Make sure you are getting enough sleep, as well as preparing for bed in a way that optimizes sleep (e.g. turning off screens hours before bed time).
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy: Having fun is important. If you experienced addiction, you might have lost touch or interest in things you used to love. Spending time doing things you like is an important part of self-care.
  • Build a support system: Relationships make a difference in the recovery process. Spend time with other people who are supportive of your recovery. This can be friends, family, people from 12-step meetings, or other people in your sober living house.
  • Exercise: Physical activity and exercise are shown to improve overall mental health and be helpful for addiction recovery. It can be a simple activity, such as walking outside. Choose something that is realistic and enjoyable for you and make it routine.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a practice of becoming aware and focusing on the present moment. Research shows that mindfulness can be helpful during addiction recovery.
  • Stay consistent with medication: You may be on medication that your primary care doctor or psychiatrist has prescribed. There are certain medications that are used to treat people with substance use disorders. Medication may also be used if you experience another mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia along with substance use disorder.
  • Attend peer support groups or 12-step meetings: These groups provide support and accountability during the recovery process.
  • Ask others for suggestions: If you are still in therapy, you can ask your therapist for relapse prevention strategies. Your therapist might also include relapse prevention worksheets into therapy sessions or give them to you to complete outside of sessions. It can also be helpful to talk with peers to see what strategies have worked for them.

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Relapse Prevention and Continued Treatment

Recovery happens in stages. In the beginning, addiction treatment likely focused on getting you to a place where you can abstain from drug or alcohol use.3 This is the first stage of recovery.

Part of relapse prevention could include continued treatment and aftercare once you’ve finished a rehab program. This is because once you reach a point where you can abstain, therapy can shift into supporting you during the other phases of recovery. The final two stages include:3

  • Repair stage: This stage means focusing on repairing the damage the addiction caused. You might also begin working on past trauma or difficult life experiences that contributed to you developing an addiction in the first place.
  • Growth stage: After repairing the damage caused by the addiction, you can shift your focus to growth. Every stage involves growth to some degree because you are making progress. However, this stage is about developing skills or having positive experiences that were missed due to experiencing an addiction.

Working through these stages of recovery with a therapist can help prevent relapse through ongoing support.

If you are experiencing signs of alcohol or drug addiction, contact 800-661-1690 (Who Answers?) to speak with a treatment support specialist. We can help you find a rehab program that’s right for you.

Resources

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Substance-related disorders. In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (pp. 483). American Psychiatric Publishing.
  2. Melemis, S.M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88, 325-332.
  3. Guenzel, N. & McCharge, D. Addiction Relapse Prevention.
  4. Taylor, C.B., Sallis, J.F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public Health Reports, 100(2), 195-202.
  5. Khanna, S. & Greeson, J.M. (2013). A narrative review of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21(3), 244-252.
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