How to Prevent Relapse: 10 Relapse Prevention Techniques

relapse prevention techniques

Not everybody relapses, but many do. Relapse may not be guaranteed, but it does happen often. Luckily there are some relapse prevention techniques that can help you maintain control. The definition of addiction is “a chronic brain disease characterized by an inability to control substance use.” The “chronic” nature of the definition means that relapse is a part of the disease. The idea that relapse is an expected part of addiction is controversial because people like to believe they have some control.

This article will be all about relapsing. Understanding some triggers and statistics regarding relapse may help you be prepared when faced with this aspect of being in recovery. If you find yourself considering giving in to your drug and alcohol cravings again after a substance abuse treatment, follow these techniques to keep yourself sober.


Can I Relapse After Being Drug- or Alcohol-Free?

The latest statistics from National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) show that approximately 60% of people who struggled with substance use disorder relapse to their addictive behaviors within one year of addiction treatment. 

The percentage of relapses gets smaller and smaller the longer someone is sober, but it always remains a factor.

Do not let these tragic figures discourage you. For many people, relapse is a part of addiction recovery and should be viewed as an obstacle on the path rather than the end of the road. Sometimes we fall, but when we fall, we get back up.


Why Does Relapse Occur?

Many potential triggers may pull us back into drug addiction. When we’re not in a good state of mental health, we put ourselves in high-risk situations for mental relapse and to fall back to old habits.


Some of the common relapse triggers are:

  • Boredom
  • Stress and anger
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Certain sights/ smells
  • People
  • Places
  • Withdrawal Symptoms

There is a risk of relapsing at any stage of recovery, making relapse prevention skills highly essential to know.

What Are Triggers?

Triggers are feelings, thoughts, emotions, situations, things, places, or relationships that literally “trigger” an urge to go back to drug use. Triggers can happen randomly, without expectation, even after so many years of abstinence.
For instance, running into someone from your drug days who is still using the drugs can bring up unwanted memories that inspire intense drug craving. Or driving past your favorite bar while visiting your hometown can result in the curios temptation to check it out “one more time”.


Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

While everyone’s relapse plan can be unique based on their needs, the following are some of the steps you might follow to create one:

  • You should do some self-assessment and reflection to create your plan. If you went to an addiction treatment program, you might have already spent a lot of time on this. You can integrate what you’ve learned about yourself into your plan to prevent relapse. You want to think about the usage patterns you see in yourself and situations that led you to use drugs or alcohol in the past.
  • From there, you can begin to think about your potential triggers and your warning signs. A trigger can be anything, including a person, event, or a certain experience that causes you to use substances. Triggers can be stressful situations but they can also be happy things or celebratory occasions. You may not be able to avoid all of your triggers. You should have specific ways you’ll deal with them when you encounter them.
  • Make a plan for worst-case scenarios. For example, a question many people have is what type of treatment plan is available for someone who relapses. You can take an actual relapse into account as part of your prevention plan. You can develop strategies that you’ll use if you do relapse to get back on track as quickly as possible.
  • Include other people in your plan. Other people can be a source of support and also accountability for you.
  • Have goals for self-care and an overall healthy lifestyle. The healthier you are in general, the more you can reduce the likelihood of relapse because you’ll have a good quality of life. 
  • Your plan for preventing relapse can have coping mechanisms that you know work well for you. These coping strategies become like a toolbox that you rely on when you need to.


Relapse Prevention Techniques

Relapse prevention tools will help you lead a happy life in recovery and reduce the chance of relapse. Treatment programs will teach you a range of strategies to control relapse triggers, but we don’t always have access to treatment centers for help.


Here are ten quick relapse prevention techniques:

Self-awareness, Know What Triggers You

Triggers can be internal (anxiety, irritability, stress, anger, low self-esteem) or external (people, places, or things that remind one of their past addictive behaviors). Make a list of internal and external triggers to gain awareness, reduce the risk of relapse and increase the degree of control.


HALT; Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired

The most common and recurring triggers for many recovering alcoholics and addicts are hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. By keeping a regular check on HALT, one can help prevent the risk of emotional relapse.



The New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) suggests that insomnia and fatigue are the common triggers of relapse. By engaging in sober activities and implementing physical exercise, following a structured sleep and eating schedule, one can reduce the risk of relapse.


Practice Mindful Meditation 

The concept of mindfulness teaches individuals to become more self-aware and learn to “roll with” their cravings rather than fight them. Using mindfulness-based relapse prevention will help you have fewer cravings and increased awareness.


Join a Support Group

An excellent way to remain clean and sober is by regularly participating in a support group, like alcoholics anonymous. These groups provide support, accountability, education, and the opportunity to meet peers who can relate to what you are going through.


Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing is an excellent relapse prevention technique. Deep breathing releases feel-good chemicals in your brain resulting in relaxation, happiness, and pain reduction.
Try 4-7-8 breathing; you should feel a difference!

  • Close your eyes breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat this process at least four times.


Grounding Techniques

A helpful relapse prevention skill is a grounding tool called the “5-4-3-2-1 technique.” It takes you through the five senses to focus on the present moment and avoid thoughts of using alcohol or other drugs.

The five steps begin by taking a few deep breaths, followed by the following:

5: Acknowledge 5 things you see

4: Acknowledge 4 things you can touch

3: Acknowledge 3 things you can hear

2: Acknowledge 3 things you can smell

1: Acknowledge 1 thing you can taste


Make an Emergency Contact List

A beneficial relapse prevention tool is making a list of supportive people, family members, or friends who may also be in recovery that you can call for support.

Your emergency contact list should be made up of people you can trust who will focus on helping you without judgment. The focus should only be on helping, so any contacts that could possibly make the situation worse, either because of disappointment or attitude should be left off this list.

People to consider for your list:

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Sponsor
  • Close Friend
  • Spouse
  • Counselor
  • Therapist
  • Life Coach


Think of the Consequences

If you find yourself debating whether to drink or get high, play out what will happen in your mind. Try to visualize the consequences you will face in the short and long term if you decide to drink or give in to your drug cravings. Think of all the progress you’ve made and how disappointed you and your support group will be.


Relapse Treatment Options

Thеrе аrе numеrоuѕ treatment centers thаt оffеr relapse recovery. Wіth а fосuѕ on brеаkіng dоwn еасh реrѕоn’ѕ relapse сусlе, thе іntеgrаtеd bеhаvіоrаl аnd mental health treatment tеаm wіll:

  • соntіnuаllу еvаluаtе раtіеnt’ѕ 12-Stер еffоrtѕ
  • fосuѕ on ѕріrіtuаl соnnесtіоn аnd рrасtісе (if that’s relevant to the individual)
  • wоrk on thе соnсерt of еmоtіоnаl ѕоbrіеtу in соnјunсtіоn wіth ѕріrіtuаlіtу
  • buіld а ѕеnѕе of реrѕоnаl ассоuntаbіlіtу
  • аddrеѕѕ со-оссurrіng dіѕоrdеrѕ, еѕресіаllу lооkіng аt аnxіеtу аnd dерrеѕѕіоn
  • tеасh соріng ѕkіllѕ tо mаnаgе іѕѕuеѕ lіkе сhrоnіс раіn
  • bе on thе lооkоut fоr аnd аddrеѕѕ quаlіfіеrѕ thаt thоѕе whо hаvе rеlарѕеd uѕuаllу ѕау: “but I саn’t,” “but thаt wоn’t wоrk bесаuѕе,” еtс.
  • іdеntіfу аnd аddrеѕѕ аrеаѕ of rеѕіѕtаnсе tо treatment.
  • іdеntіfу relapse triggers tо substance use disorder аnd tо relapse аnd tеасh ѕресіfіс соріng ѕkіllѕ tо соuntеr thеm
  • tаlk аbоut rіѕk-tаkіng bеhаvіоrѕ in tеrmѕ of relapse, ѕhоwіng hоw јuѕt mіѕѕіng а соuрlе of mееtіngѕ or аllоwіng а соmmunісаtіоn
  • brеаkdоwn wіth family or wіth а ѕроnѕоr іѕ tаkіng а rіѕk
  • еduсаtе аbоut аnd trаіn раtіеntѕ tо mоvе раѕt thеіr dеnіаl ѕуѕtеmѕ

Family Involvement

Lіkе thе раtіеntѕ thеmѕеlvеѕ, fаmіlіеѕ hаvе bееn thrоugh thіѕ bеfоrе, аnd mау bе fееlіng fеаr, fruѕtrаtіоn, аngеr, or еvеn араthу. Eduсаtіоn on thе relapse рrосеѕѕ іѕ раrаmоunt fоr fаmіlіеѕ. Treatment centers lооk аt еlеmеntѕ thаt соntіnuе tо bе unhеаlthу in thе раtіеnt’ѕ rеlаtіоnѕhірѕ аnd wоrk dіrесtlу on thе реrѕоn’ѕ relapse рrосеѕѕ. Family members uѕuаllу аlrеаdу knоw аbоut kеу іѕѕuеѕ, ѕuсh аѕ соdереndеnсе аnd еnаblеmеnt, ѕо experts are аblе tо gо rіght tо thе center of thеѕе іѕѕuеѕ аnd wоrk tо іmрrоvе thеm.

Continuing Care

At a treatment center, gоаl іѕ fоr еасh раtіеnt аnd thеіr family tо асhіеvе а lіfеtіmе of recovery. Thrоughоut treatment, а раtіеnt’ѕ іntеgrаtеd treatment tеаm wіll wоrk tоgеthеr аnd соntіnuаllу аѕѕеѕѕ аnd еvаluаtе раtіеntѕ tо саrеfullу сrаft а thоrоugh, еffесtіvе соntіnuіng саrе рlаn. Evіdеnсе-bаѕеd rеѕеаrсh ѕhоwѕ thаt lоng-tеrm recovery іѕ bеѕt ассоmрlіѕhеd wіth ѕtruсturеd support fоllоwіng treatment, whісh еnсоurаgеѕ ассоuntаbіlіtу, buіldіng ѕеlf-еѕtееm аnd іnvоlvіng thе family.


Get Help

The fear of relapse can be debilitating, especially in stressful situations. But you can get fully prepared with a relapse prevention plan of healthy coping strategies by simply calling a treatment facility.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one practice that is widely used in counseling and treatment that helps to retrain the brain to better cope with cravings. The practice can be utilized and revisited as needed.

Ask your treatment center if cognitive behavioral therapy is a treatment they offer. If relapse prevention is a big concern of yours, you may even be better off finding a drug and alcohol treatment center that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy.

If you are ready to make a change and gain personal control then give us a call at (949) 264-0191.

Opus Health addiction professionals will educate you on relapse prevention techniques and give you the tools to maintain lifelong sobriety.

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