What Is A Relapse Prevention Plan?

relapse

A relapse prevention plan is comprised of measures, techniques, and many different tools to avoid falling back into bad habits. A relapse is an act of abusing substances again after a period of abstinence. Since recovery is not a linear process, it has its ups and downs, and relapse can be one of them.

Currently, studies show that relapse is more than typical among recovering individuals. Previous studies said about 40% to 60% of people tended to relapse. Now, recent findings state that this number went up to 85% just in the first year of recovery. More than 60% of people relapse in about weeks to months after starting addiction treatment.

At this point, the medical community understands enough about relapse to know how it works – and how to best avoid it. Relapse triggers and chances differ from person to person. However, by understanding how relapse works, one can use many techniques to prevent it. A relapse prevention plan is precisely that, and different things work for different people.

There are many things to consider when avoiding relapse. Each factor should be approached differently. All of the triggers and symptoms could require meds, therapy, or support groups. There are many solutions to multiple situations.

Are There Stages and Warning Signs of Relapse?

A relapse is not a sudden event; it is a gradual process. Generally, a person will start experiencing some smalls symptoms or notice a few changes in behavior. Ideally, it is best to start looking into a relapse prevention plan as soon as possible. However, some people might not catch or notice these things early on. While it is still possible to prevent a relapse in later stages,  it might require a more intense approach.

Relapse Happens in the Following Stages:

Emotional relapse – This initial phase is much more subtle and harder to notice for some. Though most people are not aware of it, this is when you start engaging in behavior that might lead to relapse. You are not actively or directly thinking of abusing substances. But you might begin isolating yourself or have strong feelings of anxiety, anger, or sadness. And usually, you do not share those feelings. At times, you might notice changes in your behavior and not do much about them. For example, eating or sleeping habit changes.

Mental relapse – Now, the actual thoughts of using start entering your mind. This might be the highest point of the internal conflict. You do not want to fall back into substance dependence, but you start missing aspects of consuming the substance. Like in a toxic relationship, you start focusing on the good memories and feelings, while forgetting the downside. You could even find yourself hanging at the same spots and with the same people, creating an opportunity for relapse.

Physical relapse – This is considered the final stage of relapse — the actual contact with the substance you were addicted to. The first slip is enough to put a person on the wrong path. Just because they don’t start using heavily right away, doesn’t mean they won’t. By then, any action to stop yourself is not part of a relapse prevention plan. It is an actual remedial action toward relapse.

Symptoms And Signs

For each of the relapse stages, there are different signs one might give out. Knowing what to look out for will help you know what part of a relapse prevention plan might be best for your situation. If you know an individual in recovery, knowing these might help you know when someone might be in trouble with relapsing.

During the emotional relapse stage, one might experience:

  • Anxiety (in general, about anything)
  • Intolerance and/or short temper
  • Easily angered, constantly angry
  • Mood swings, moderate or severe
  • Isolation in social situations, at work, and even amongst family
  • Defensiveness, primarily when the subject of relapse or getting help is addressed
  • Not asking for help when clearly struggling
  • Not attending meetings or sessions for recovery
  • Changes in eating habits (eating either too much or too little)
  • Changes in sleeping habits (sleeping either too much or too little)

These are classic behaviors for those going through an emotional relapse. While one or other might be common to the recovery, too many can be a cause for concern. And after these, there are other signs to look out for on the mental relapse stage.

The second part of this process, as mentioned, is of great conflict. After emotions start to play a more significant role in affecting thoughts, the person might:

  • Romanticize/glamorize substance use, thinking only of the good times
  • Think about the people you used with and places you’d go, missing it all
  • Lie about substance abuse-related thoughts and habits
  • Hang out with people that are not sober
  • Fantasize about using, imagining scenarios they could make happen in order to relapse
  • Plan a possible relapse around other people’s schedules

This could be considered the transition phase from thoughts to actions. Taking preventative action at this stage might be the difference between re-starting an addiction process and staying clean. But if you or a loved experience this, how should you deal with it, according to a relapse prevention plan?

Dealing With Urges – The Relapse Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan is not something set in stone, but rather, a list of possible measures. There are many proven, effective ways for each step. Nonetheless, having the right mindset is crucial for any of them to work. It might be hard, but the focus on recovery needs to be a priority.

Before anything, one of the most defining factors of relapse prevention plans is triggers. You need to understand what it is making you crave or abuse substances in order to avoid it. Substance dependence is the result of external stressors being too much to handle for current, known coping mechanisms. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms and wanting to make them stop
  • Being surrounded by enablers
  • Bad relationships, people who are not supportive
  • Having drug supplies and/or paraphernalia around
  • Feelings of loneliness and/or purposelessness
  • Depressing events such as unemployment, deaths, breakups
  • Places that remind you of using

More often than not, there are deeper underlying causes of substance use disorder. These can be a trigger for relapse someone might not be aware of. This is one of the main reasons why therapy is of utter importance. Not just to help with recovery and for a relapse prevention plan, but to help you improve and understand yourself better.

From the list above, it is possible also to conclude two things. One is that finding a way to manage withdrawal symptoms isn’t just about comfort or not wanting to feel pain. And second, that caring for yourself is a way to heal. Rewarding yourself for any wins, taking time for pleasant activities, and being generous and positive with yourself – these are some of the ways to avoid relapse. 

There are also some other tips on how to deal with urges, both emotional and mental. According to research, while urges can be strong, they might last about 15 to 30 minutes. When facing them, it might feel like an eternity, but having this in mind might help. Finding something to do and occupying yourself might be the best way to resist these urges. 

When thinking of substance use disorder, you need to remember the reasons why you quit. Though there might have been good times, you quit because addiction was significantly hurting you and others in your life. Maybe write these reasons as reminders, or have people remind you of it — anything to make you remember that quitting was the best decision.

Finally, one of the most important measures is to remember you are not alone. You should ask for help that is available to you because staying clean is not easy. Calling friends and family who support you is a great way to keep yourself on track. Recovering alone is not only hard, but it can be painful, and to some, almost impossible. There is a way to make things easier, and there are many who can help.

Get Help For Substance Dependence and Prevention at Sana Lake Recovery Center

Recovery is a rough road to walk through, full of turns and ups and downs. But in the end, that journey can be worth it, and much less dark and going down the path of addiction. Having the right people helping and supporting you can make the journey easier and much lighter.

If you or a loved one need help to recover from substance use disorder or preventing relapse, we at Sana Lake Recovery Center can help. We provide services designed to improve mental health through behavioral methods. From therapy to group activities, our goal is to give you all the tools to overcome alcohol or drug use and make it through the recovery stages.

Visit our website or contact us today at (636) 707-2097 for any more information. Whether you are still seeking help for substance dependence or if this is not your first time, our doors are open for you. We will give you an assessment to understand what will be the best course of action. Recovering can be difficult, but it is not impossible – and it can certainly be better with a team behind you.

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.