Aspects of an Addiction Relapse Prevention Plan

Updated on 10/26/23

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu

Recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) is a lifelong journey. During treatment, treatment plans must be created both intentionally and strategically to help meet the individualized needs of every patient. Throughout treatment, you will likely experience a wide variety of treatment approaches and interventions until you identify what approach is most effective for your unique recovery path.

One of the most important aspects of successful treatment and recovery involves identifying and implementing relapse prevention techniques. Along with an individualized treatment plan, you will work with your collaborative care team to develop a relapse prevention plan. These plans can be altered, updated and customized as needed throughout your recovery.

Relapse prevention plans are an incredibly important part of maintaining your progress after you complete treatment. As an essential component of long-term abstinence and recovery, you should know what a relapse prevention plan is and how to create one.

Understanding Relapse in Addiction Recovery

Recurrent substance use alters brain structure and functioning in severe ways. Addiction, or substance use disorder, develops when your thoughts, emotions and behaviors become motivated by substance use.

The 4 C’s of Addiction Relapse

Additionally, addiction is characterized by the 4 C’s, which include:

  1. Control
  2. Compulsions
  3. Cravings
  4. Consequences

Knowing that, it is no wonder why recovering from chronic substance use is a lifelong process.

Due to the complex biological mechanisms of SUD, addiction is known as a chronic, relapsing disorder. In other words, the challenging condition is characterized by setbacks of drug relapse. This means that individuals working to recover from SUD will likely experience relapse as a part of their recovery process, especially if they are not engaged in long-term and/or permanent treatment engagement. Among those who have SUD, relapse rates are nearly 40-60%.

Risk Factors for Addiction Relapse

What many people may not know is that several factors can increase your risk of relapse. For example, many people who attempt to detox or begin recovery at home are more likely to relapse. They are not being held accountable by a treatment program or peer group. Similarly, those who complete a treatment program, but do not stay engaged through continuing treatment, are also at an increased risk of relapse for the same reason. All in all, relapse does happen. Luckily, it can be prevented through the use of relapse prevention plans.

What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse prevention plan is a plan of action for how you can prevent relapse throughout your long-term recovery. Relapse prevention plans are most effective when they are developed during treatment. Treatment helps you understand your personal relapse risks, identify substance use triggers and overcome any barriers that may keep you from sustaining long-term abstinence.

Everyone in recovery experienced unique circumstances that led them to substance use. Similarly, everyone has unique triggers that could lead them to relapse. A relapse prevention plan addresses each and every one of these triggers and puts them on paper. This allows you to visualize the challenges you may face throughout your recovery. Additionally, these plans outline valuable coping techniques and additional resources you can use if you find yourself in a situation that could jeopardize your recovery.

Tips for Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan

There is no set framework for how to create a relapse prevention plan. However, there are some tips worth sharing that can help you better understand what to include in your plan.

#1 Identify internal and external triggers.

Triggers are an experience, thing, person or event that may instigate a relapse. In a relapse prevention plan, this list may be ever-changing. Triggers that you may have in early recovery could be vastly different from your triggers several years into recovery. Having your triggers physically written out can help you visualize what areas in your life may be stumbling blocks for you to work through.

#2 Learn your personal and objective warning signs.

Another valuable category to include in your relapse prevention plan is warning signs. During treatment, you will be educated about physical, mental and emotional warning signs that could lead to relapse. After treatment, you should reflect on warning signs that could help you identify if you are becoming more vulnerable to a relapse. Know and list your red flags and be as descriptive as possible.

As an example, say you used substances in the past in an attempt to relieve feelings of loneliness. A present warning sign that relapse could be on the horizon is if you are isolating yourself more than normal.

#3 Manage adversity, stress and sobriety.

One of the most crucial components of a relapse prevention plan is identifying healthy coping mechanisms and other vital efforts to manage your sobriety. Often, this will include a continuing care plan. First, ensure that you are involved in support groups, continued individual therapy and healthy hobbies to sustain your sobriety.

Next, curate a list of coping mechanisms and strategies you can use in a crisis or pre-crisis situation. Some people may rely on mindfulness strategies, while others need words and a listening ear. This aspect of a plan could also include emergency contacts you can alert if you experience drug cravings.

Finally, a relapse prevention plan must also include useful strategies for self-care. When you’re working to sustain sobriety, you must engage in daily self-care to increase confidence in your ability to remain sober.

Cliffside Malibu is an addiction treatment facility that understands how prevalent relapse can be when recovering from addiction. Don’t wait to get the treatment you deserve. To learn more about our luxury treatment facility and program options in beautiful Malibu, California, give us a call today at (855) 403-5641.