A relapse prevention plan is one of the most important things you can develop when you get treatment for addiction or a substance use disorder. A relapse prevention plan is one of the best overall relapse prevention strategies.
You’re planning ahead, thinking about potentially triggering or challenging situations, and pre-preemptively deciding how you’ll deal with those, lowering your risk of relapse in the recovery process.
When you have a substance use disorder and stop using drugs or alcohol for some time, you may regress. Relapse means you return to actively using the substance and is a common situation after completing treatment in your recovery journey. If you experience any type of retrogression, it doesn’t mean that you or your treatment failed.
However, understanding what happens during relapse, triggers, and what type of treatment plan would be beneficial, is important.
Why Do Relapses Happen?
A big part of prevention relies on knowing why it happens and understanding the complex mechanisms that can occur.
Addiction is a chronic medical condition. The key symptoms that characterize addiction include the inability to control your substance use, even when it leads to adverse consequences and harm.
Since addiction is a chronic disease, relapse can be part of it. Nearly half of people with a drug or alcohol addiction will also experience this as part of their recovery process.
The relapse rate is estimated to be anywhere from 40-60%. This is a similar rate for other chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.
Stages of Relapse
We often view relapse as something sudden and rapidly occurring.
This isn’t the reality, because it tends to happen in stages. When you learn about these stages, it can be part of your prevention plan. You’ll better understand red flags to watch for and how to identify potential risks before they grow more significant.
- Emotional: The first stage of the process is known as an emotional relapse. Warning signs of emotional relapse include not going to support groups or 12-step meetings, isolation from friends or loved ones, and not taking care of yourself mentally and physically. During this phase, you aren’t necessarily thinking actively about using drugs or alcohol. Your behaviors, however, may be setting you up for this to happen. You may find yourself in high-risk situations that could eventually lead to future mishaps.
- Mental: During the second stage, you may begin thinking about using drugs or alcohol again. You might want to use it again, but at the same time, you aren’t doing it yet. During this phase, you could fantasize about again using drugs or alcohol or social situations where you once used drugs or alcohol. Signs of mental relapse include cravings or urges, thinking about things associated with your past drug or alcohol use, or glamorizing your past use.
- Physical: The third stage is physical. When you don’t address what’s going on emotionally or mentally, you could physically relapse. If you find yourself at a point where you’re dealing with this phase, you may need to seek treatment again to get back on track for long-term recovery.
What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?
There are methods of prevention if you see any warning signs. For example, you can:
- Ask someone for help, whether it’s a therapist, sponsor, treatment professional, friend, or family member
- Know common triggers for you, recognize them and avoid them
- Distract yourself until the cravings pass
A relapse prevention plan may include strategies like the ones above. These plans should also be written to help you identify the signs, avoid triggers and prevent a full-blown physical reversion.
If you go to rehab, your treatment team should help you create your written plan.
Many relapse prevention plans have a detailed action plan. That action plan will include steps you take for self-care. The plan may have a list of techniques you’ll use to combat cravings and urges. You can add a list of people to reach out to if you’re experiencing anything that could lead to an incident.
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.
What To Do After a Relapse
If you experience a relapse, whether you had a prevention plan or not, you need to take it seriously. At the same time, it’s not the end of the world, and it happens to many people, especially early on in recovery.
If you already have a plan for prevention, you should also have a plan for what you’ll do if you do if your plan doesn’t work.
You can begin to practice the plans you created before the situation. For example, maybe you go back to treatment or once again begin attending your 12-step program meetings.
You should use this experience as a learning experience too. Think about what went wrong for you to lead to the relapse and how you can change things going forward, so it doesn’t happen again.
Key Takeaways—The Importance of a Relapse Prevention Plan
If you are currently inactive addiction, we encourage you to contact us to learn more about treatment options. We can help you learn not just about treatment in general but answer specific financial questions such as does Medicare covers rehab or whether or not private insurance covers the cost of addiction treatment.
If you have already gone to treatment and relapsed, we can also help you figure out what the best next steps are for you or perhaps for your loved one.