Relapse is generally not attributed to one single event. Often times, there are many red flags and warning signs that precede the relapse. These warning signs are commonly indicative of the individual returning to old perceptions, emotions, and ultimately behaviors. The purpose of creating a relapse prevention plan is to recognize and take action against the warning signs of potential relapse.


Why is a Relapse Prevention Plan Important in Recovery?

Relapse is a common component of recovery. Studies estimate that more than 2/3 of individuals in recovery relapse within weeks to months of beginning addiction treatment. Addiction is a chronic disease. Some individuals may struggle with relapse for many years before they are able to maintain long-term sobriety. Individuals who relapse are not failures. In fact, relapse may be caused by a variety of factors such as:

  • Money problems
  • Undiagnosed mental health problems
  • Stress
  • Relationship problems
  • Smells/Triggering Environments
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Poor self-care
  • Isolation
  • Pride/Overconfidence

Experiencing a relapse does not equate to the end of your recovery. Creating a relapse prevention plan helps to minimize and mitigate the potentially damaging signs of relapse and help you get back on track in your recovery.

Signs of Mental Relapse Before the Physical Relapse

When experiencing a mental relapse, many individuals are experiencing war within their own minds. You may feel as if you want to use, but there’s a part of you that doesn’t. In the early phase of mental relapse, you may be just subtly thinking about using but not acting on it – yet. Eventually, you may begin to obsess about using drugs and alcohol.

Signs of mental relapse may include:

  • Lying/Deceitfulness
  • Glamorizing your past drug/alcohol abuse
  • Romanticizing about old people, places, things you used with
  • Hanging out with old friends who are not sober
  • Thinking about relapsing
  • Isolating
  • Avoiding commitments within the recovery community
  • Disconnecting from sober friends and support
  • Minimizing negative consequences from your past use
  • Justifying how you will be able to control your use this time

Play the Tape Through

When you begin to realize that your thoughts are consumed with the obsession to use drugs or alcohol, you are most likely convinced you will be able to control your use this time. You believe you’ll be able to have just one drink. The insanity of this delusion must be smashed. Play the tape through. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (pg. 30) discusses this idea very clearly:

“The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”

If you are the real alcoholic or addict, it is not a matter of if you’re drinking will progress after one drink, but when it will. If you truly believe that you are powerless over every mood/mind-altering substances then you must believe that even one drop of the substance will reignite the physical allergy and mental obsession – thus the vicious cycle begins again. Playing the tape through to its logical conclusion will remind you how unappealing the end result will be.

Take Time for Inventory and Reflection

Take time to reflect on why you continued to use drugs and alcohol, despite negative consequences. Were you trying to numb unpleasant feelings? Were you trying to cope with a traumatic experience? Or, were you simply just looking to have a good time, all of the time? Taking an inventory of your usage patterns will help you identify triggers that may ultimately lead to your substance abuse. If you have experienced a relapse in the past, it’s also very important to identify potential patterns and causes that lead to your substance abuse.

Acknowledge Your Triggers

A trigger is generally described as an experience, person, or event that may provoke an individual to step away from sobriety and back into active addiction. It is common for every person to have different triggers based on their own previous experiences. It is important to develop an awareness and make a list of triggers to you can actively avoid them. Some triggers may be certain places you were actively using in, hanging out with a person who caused trauma in your life, or even attending a concert where alcohol is present. You don’t want to hide away from every situation and some are unavoidable. However, it is wise to make a plan of action that you can execute when these triggers come up.

Early warning signs of relapse often come long before an addict actually relapses. Perhaps high demands at work lead to stress that may eventually trigger you to use. Conflict within your interpersonal relationships seem unmanageable, and your tendency is to rely on substances to cope. Identifying early signs of relapse gives you a plan of action to respond with before things are out of control.

Stay Connected With Your Sober Support

Whether you choose to get involved in a Twelve-Step Fellowship or you meet with another sober support group weekly, connections with other recovering addicts is a way to maintain accountability and have support when you’re struggling. Tell someone when you are having thoughts of using. Pick up the phone, call a friend and share with them what you are going through. Sometimes, the simple act of sharing the unhealthy thoughts and exposing your negative energy demolishes the urge to use. You may realize your urges or struggles are not as big as you thought and you will not feel as if you are walking through recovery alone.