Top 10 Relapse Prevention Tips

  • Written by:

    Bedrock Recovery Center

  • Dr. Langdon M.D.
    Medically reviewed by:

    Kimberly Langdon M.D.

Relapse Prevention Tips

Addiction is a chronic disease that affects millions of Americans and can take years to heal from physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

Returning to drugs or alcohol after a period of sobriety is commonly referred to as relapse, or a lapse into addictive behaviors that are self-destructive or otherwise harmful.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, one of the primary focal points of our addiction treatment programs is relapse prevention. That is, teaching clients how to achieve and maintain recovery long-term.

10 Best Tips For Avoiding Relapse

Addiction recovery is a marathon, not a race. While relapse is common, it’s not inevitable, and there are steps you can take to prevent relapse in recovery.

Read our top 10 drug abuse relapse prevention tips:

1. Stick With Your Treatment Plan

It’s common for those in treatment for drug or alcohol use disorder to experience what’s known as “treatment fatigue,” or weariness with the treatment process.

Addiction treatment can be exhausting, physically and mentally. But stopping treatment too soon can also come with risks. 

It takes time to develop the skills to effectively face the challenges that arise in recovery. Be patient. If you’re worried your treatment isn’t working, talk to your treatment team about alternative treatment options.

2. Identify Your Triggers

Preventing relapse relies at least in part upon avoiding, or learning how to effectively manage, triggers in addiction recovery. Relapse triggers can vary from person to person. 

Common triggers may include:

  • easy access to drugs or alcohol
  • difficulties at home, work, or in school
  • relationship problems
  • depression
  • stress
  • boredom
  • isolation
  • job loss
  • intense emotions
  • returning to old habits
  • certain people, places, or smells
  • trauma-related flashbacks

Figuring out your triggers individually or with the guidance of a counselor can allow you to prepare for triggers in recovery, when and if they do occur.

3. Create A Relapse Prevention Plan

Another key strategy for relapse prevention is coming up with a plan. Your plan can be personalized, based on your own needs for ensuring adequate support.

What might be included in a relapse prevention plan:

  • an emergency contact list
  • a description of your support system
  • a list of your triggers
  • coping skills for responding to specific triggers
  • an exit plan for physically removing yourself from a trigger
  • ways to district from yourself if you’re feeling urges to use
  • a list of positive affirmations for self-soothing and confidence

Be as specific with your plan as possible. Consider what your best game plan will be in different scenarios. 

For example, what you can do if you’re offered a drink at a bar, or get into a fight with a family member or other loved one. What will be most helpful for you in that moment?

Preparing for those scenarios beforehand will give you the tools ahead of time to protect your sobriety.

4. Remind Yourself Why You Quit Substance Use

Considering the ways that addiction has affected your life, and those of people you care about, can be an important motivator for staying the course in recovery.

Drug addiction can affect people in multiple ways. It can harm physical health, mental health, destroy relationships, cause financial problems, and decrease quality of life.

If you’re having an urge to drink alcohol or return to a drug, ask yourself:

  • Why am I having this urge right now?
  • How would drinking/using this drug serve me?
  • How would this affect my goals for the future?
  • What else can I do right now instead of turning to alcohol or drug use?

Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness in high-risk situations can help you stay grounded in the moment and make rational decisions to avoid relapse.

5. Structure Your Life

Studies on drug addiction and recovery show that boredom and idleness are common predictors of relapse for people with a former drug or alcohol addiction.

Creating structure in your life by developing a daily routine can help you combat urges and distract you from physical withdrawal symptoms, including cravings.

What you can do to add structure:

  • finding a job/working
  • joining a gym or fitness club
  • joining a book club
  • volunteering
  • exploring new hobbies

Attending treatment, such as counseling, can also offer structure. That’s why entering a treatment center for inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment can be helpful for those in early recovery.

6. Join A Support Group

Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and AA alternatives can be a useful source of ongoing support and structure for people in recovery.

From here, you can learn from the experiences of others.

Self-help support groups can also:

  • reduce feelings of isolation
  • help you learn new coping skills
  • connect you with those who can relate to your struggles
  • serve as a reliable source of social support
  • help you remain accountable for staying on track

7. Keep A Journal

Throughout the treatment and recovery process, it’s normal to sometimes feel discouraged about your progress and even question whether recovery is “worth it.”

Keeping a journal in recovery or blogging online can be a useful way to document your progress.

You can document your wins, your challenges, and have something to look back on to remind yourself of where you were—and how that compares to where you are today.

8. Engage In Self-Care

While seemingly simple, engaging in basic acts of self-care can be highly protective of one’s recovery in the process of overcoming a substance use disorder.

What this can look like:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • eating a nutritious, balanced diet
  • engaging in physical activity
  • getting a massage
  • practicing mindfulness meditation
  • taking time to rest
  • getting in a full six to eight hours of sleep each night
  • engaging in activities you enjoy (e.g. reading, hiking, playing a video game, spending time with friends)

Self-care is a demonstration to yourself that you value your well-being. This stands in stark contrast to substance abuse, which can have negative effects on health and quality of life.

9. Be Patient

Getting past an addiction isn’t easy. 

For some, the beginning of the recovery process is the hardest part, while for others, urges to return to drugs or alcohol can become strongest months or years into sobriety.

But it’s important during this time to be patient with yourself, and your treatment. Some treatments, including certain medications, can take time to fully take effect.

10. Ask For Help

One of the biggest mistakes you can make if you’re struggling with urges to return to drugs or alcohol is keeping it to yourself.

Addiction thrives in silence and secrecy. By asking for help, you can share the burden of your struggles and get one step closer to finding the support you need.

Tips for asking for help include:

  • Find someone you trust to speak to.
  • Find a private place to talk.
  • Be honest.
  • Try to stay calm.
  • Be open-minded to suggestions.

How Common Is Relapse?

According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 40 to 60 percent of people who receive drug and alcohol abuse treatment relapse at some point on their journey.

Studies show, some predictors of relapse include:

  • stopping treatment too soon
  • missing treatment (e.g. skipping counseling sessions)
  • high stress
  • difficulties at home
  • denial of a drug or alcohol problem
  • lack of supportive coping skills
  • lacking stable housing or social support

While it can be difficult for some to talk about, and admit to, the truth is that it’s not uncommon. Anyone, regardless of their progress in treatment, can be vulnerable to relapse. 

How Do I Know If I’ve Relapsed?

For those in addiction recovery, relapse generally looks like a return to a former drug of abuse. For instance, having an alcoholic drink or using drugs.

Some define relapse as a single slip, while others consider relapse to look more like a series of slips that guide them back into a harmful, addictive cycle.

Relapse can happen to anyone. And it’s not something to be ashamed of. What’s most important is asking for help to address the relapse sooner rather than later. 

Treatment Options For Relapse At Bedrock

Our treatment professionals at Bedrock Recovery Center understand how important it is to teach clients the best relapse prevention skills for a successful future in recovery.

Treatment services for relapse prevention at Bedrock include:

Find Help After Addiction Recovery Relapse

We understand that relapse happens. We’re here to help. 

For more information about Bedrock Recovery Center treatment programs, call our helpline to speak with an admissions specialist today.

Sources:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the U.S. Results from 2020 NSDUH https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf  

U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Treatment and Recovery https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery 

U.S. National Library of Medicine — Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1976118/ 

U.S. National Library of Medicine — Focus: Addiction: Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/