For individuals seeking recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), there are a plethora of treatment options available. Typically, if one’s substance use is more severe, short-term, inpatient treatment programs are recommended to effectively kickstart one’s recovery journey. Contrastingly, outpatient programs allow individuals to receive treatment while they live at home and keep up with other responsibilities, such as work or school. Outpatient programs are best for individuals with mild to moderate SUD or as aftercare treatment following an inpatient program.

Regardless of which treatment options one chooses, recovery programs offer individuals an opportunity to temporarily remove themselves from substance use and environmental triggers. While this is necessary to establish initial sobriety, it is not realistic to avoid these triggers completely throughout all of recovery. Fortunately, recovery programs have many approaches at their disposal to help individuals prepare to navigate triggers post-treatment. One of these approaches is known as roleplaying.

What Is Roleplaying in Addiction Recovery?

Roleplaying is practicing (through simulation) a new behavior in place of an unwanted behavior. In addiction recovery, roleplaying helps individuals practice ways to overcome substance use and relapse triggers. It is most commonly used when individuals feel anxious about new situations that could jeopardize their sobriety. This treatment approach can be used within both individual psychotherapy and group therapy sessions. In either case, it can help individuals prepare for and respond to triggers when they surface both inside and outside of the treatment setting. Ultimately, avoiding triggers or responding appropriately will minimize or eliminate the risk of relapse.

The Value of Roleplaying in Addiction Treatment

For individuals who are new to recovery, understanding the value that roleplaying can have on the overall recovery process is important. Throughout treatment, individuals learn many new skills that can be applied to their lives. As they learn to identify their triggers, they will also discover new coping mechanisms and stress management techniques.

Those participating in an outpatient program have the opportunity to actively practice the skills they learn in treatment once they finish their sessions and return home each day. On the flip side, those participating in an inpatient program may have fewer opportunities to practice their new skills until they complete their program and transition back to life outside of treatment.

Roleplaying can be a helpful tool regardless of the program, but especially for individuals in an inpatient program. Through roleplay, they can directly apply the lessons they are learning to real-life scenarios. This can help ease anxieties and anticipation about life after treatment.

What Is an Example of Roleplaying in Addiction Recovery?

In an individual therapy setting, one example of roleplaying would involve the therapist asking an individual if they would like an alcoholic beverage. The patient will then come up with a response to use one day. For instance, if they were thirsty, they might respond with something like, “I would like a drink, but perhaps something non-alcoholic, please. Maybe a tea, juice, seltzer, water or soda?”

Roleplaying exercises help people better prepare to respond with conscious intention. From there, the individual and the therapist can generate scenarios to work through together and rehearse responses, ultimately preventing relapse.

The Benefits of Roleplaying in Addiction Recovery

Roleplaying can offer incredible breakthroughs in treatment. In addition to feeling better prepared to navigate triggers outside of the treatment setting, the benefits of roleplaying in addiction recovery include the following:

1. Strengthened communication skills.

Roleplaying stimulates greater communication between a therapist and a patient as well as between patients and their peers. In an individual therapy setting, a therapist encourages their patient to communicate their emotions clearly and respectfully. To compare, in a group therapy setting, a therapist may request that each participant play a different role. This encourages overall engagement and conversation with one another. Additionally, it can generate more ideas and allow for discussion.

2. Increased self-awareness.

Roleplaying increases self-awareness by learning how the requests and behaviors of others may trigger certain emotions. Throughout treatment, patients must identify scenarios and circumstances that may induce anxiety so they can work through it during roleplay.

3. Increased awareness of one’s environment and surroundings.

Although patients can’t possibly prepare for every trigger they will encounter after treatment, roleplaying can help them recognize what situations may put themselves and their recovery in a vulnerable place. Additionally, roleplaying can teach them how their responses and reactions to triggers may impact others. This awareness can enhance one’s interpersonal relationships as well.

Cliffside Malibu is an addiction treatment facility that believes in preparing our patients for life outside of the treatment setting. To learn more about our treatment programs and options, give us a call today at (855) 403-5641.