Relapse Prevention Plan

Seeking treatment for addiction is the very first step on a lifelong journey of healthy living.

Seeking treatment for addiction is the very first step on a lifelong journey of healthy living. However, once your rehabilitation program is completed, it can be a bit challenging to reintegrate with the world around you. Unfortunately, this struggle can seem unbearable for some and lead to a relapse.

The Possibility of a Relapse

All of those who go through an addiction rehabilitation program know that a relapse is always a possibility. It doesn’t matter if you’re freshly out of rehab or you’ve been sober for eight years. Relapses can happen to anyone. However, studies have consistently shown that the possibility of relapsing decreases with time. While the possibility never actually hits zero, it does drop significantly the longer a person is sober.

What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

One of the most effective tools that any recovering addict can utilize is a relapse prevention plan. This plan will assist you in recognizing specific behaviors that suggest you may be heading toward relapse in the near future. You’ll come up with outlines for combatting these suggestive behaviors and get back on track with your lifelong journey of sobriety.

Most people don’t realize that relapse isn’t typically an impromptu event. Rather, it actually develops over a three-stage process. These include:

  • Emotional Relapse
  • Mental Relapse
  • Physical Relapse

The whole point of enacting a relapse prevention plan is to help you acknowledge when you’re experiencing certain events and feelings. This can stop you from reaching the third relapse stage of physical relapse.

Steps to Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

With an effective relapse plan being extremely vital to your journey of sobriety, expediting its creation is a must. While you can definitely ask for assistance from your substance abuse counselor to construct your relapse prevention plan, you don’t necessarily have to.

doctor consultation

It’s not unusual for recovering addicts to opt to formulate their relapse prevention plan on their own. Just make sure that you don’t stick to only verbalizing your plan. You need to write it down so that it’s a clear outline you can follow. As soon as you put your relapse prevention plan on paper, it becomes a useful tool for when the possibility of relapse is high in your life.

Closely Examine Your History With Alcohol and/or Drugs

Determining what the causes of your prior drug/alcohol addiction and any previous relapses that you’ve had are the keys to avoiding both of them in the future. You’ll want to start creating your relapse prevention program by asking yourself a few key questions, which include:

  • Did any particular people factor in when you used?
  • What specific patterns of thought happen when you’re more likely to use?
  • Was there a particular time that you were more likely to abuse substances?
  • If you’ve relapsed in the past, why did you?

Taking the time to ask yourself these questions and think through your past history can help to reveal so key information that you can use to your advantage in the future. We encourage you not to skim through this part of the process. Rather, take your time and really think about the true answers to these questions.

What Signs Could Signal You’re Headed to a Relapse

Creating a list of key warning signs that you’re on the path to relapsing is an absolutely essential component of any successful relapse prevention plan. These warning signs will allow you and others in your treatment network to have imperative information about when you’re most likely to relapse.

Take a few moments and really brainstorm a list of scenarios where you’re more likely to relapse than avoid temptation. Be honest with yourself, as identifying your unique warning signs is going to be the absolute key to giving yourself an alert. This alert will reveal that you’re on the wrong path and provide you with the opportunity to fight it before you give in to a potential relapse.

While it can be difficult to reveal your list of relapse warning signs to those on your treatment team, it will do you a world of good. Sometimes even being able to recognize your own warning signs isn’t enough to stop you from relapsing. Sometimes you may need the help of others to give you that extra traction to make the right decision to avoid relapsing.

Create Your Action Plan

The last and most important part of your relapse prevention plan is to craft what you’re going to do when you notice your warning signs. By thinking up other actions that you can take apart from relapsing, you give your mind another outlet for action.

For example, let’s say that a romantic breakup has been a known warning sign of drug or alcohol abuse in the past. Your pain and frustration tend to lead you to the bottle. Instead of letting this scenario play out, come up with an alternative. This could be attending a support meeting, talking with a specific family member, or starting a new hobby.

When formulating your action plan, be sure to make it as specific as possible. The more specific your plan is, the more likely you will take that alternative route instead of heading straight to a relapse. Have a plan of who you’re going to call first for assistance and provide them with this necessary knowledge ahead of time.

Simply coming up with a code word for when you’re experiencing a particular scenario and are reaching out for help can make getting that help easier. Your chosen support person will be more alert and helpful when they specifically know that you’re reaching out for help because you’re headed for a relapse.

What to Include in a Relapse Prevention Plan

While relapse prevention plans are going to be individual-specific, there are some key components that all good plans should include. We’re going to go over five key elements that we believe every successful relapse prevention plan has.



Consider your relapse triggers anything that could lead you to abuse drugs and/or alcohol again. While it may be overwhelming to list all of your known triggers, do your best to get the majority of them down on paper. Just starting with one can lead to another and another.

When thinking about your triggers, they’re going to be comprised of things, places, and people. We’ve included some key questions below that should get you on the right track to identifying your specific triggers.

  • What places did you use in the past?
  • What people remind you of drug or alcohol use?
  • What feelings do you link with relapse?
  • Do any specific times of the year trigger relapse?
  • Do you have addictive thoughts that could lead to relapse?
  • What can you do if you can’t avoid particular triggers?

Ways to Manage Your Cravings

When we refer to a craving, we’re specifically referring to a feeling that you get that makes you want to use again. Cravings can sometimes lead to a relapse, and having a solid plan in place to confront your cravings is a great way to help avoid relapsing.

Take a while to compile a list of things you can do when you’re dealing with overly tempting cravings. What specific people can you call? What actions can you take to distract yourself from those cravings? Is there anything else you can do to physically stop the cravings altogether?

Realize that relapsing is a negative coping skill. You want to create your own list of healthy coping skills that will be your tool to prevent future relapses. The more possibilities that you can add to your list to deal with cravings, the more likely you’ll be to utilize one of these outlets over relapsing.

Identify Preventative Tools

Developing a list of preventative tools can be a worthy investment for those heading into life after addiction recovery. Apart from just the things that you can do when specific craving scenarios take place, it’s a good idea to come up with a general list of preventative tools that can be called on whenever you need them.

Some common examples of preventative tools to include in your relapse recovery program include:

  • Writing a list of consequences of relapsing
  • Writing a gratitude list
  • Journaling about your feelings
  • Exercising
  • Attending a support meeting
  • Online rehab and other continuing programs
  • People you can call for help
support groups

Support Programs and Groups

Whenever you get tempted by a relapse, renewing your commitment to sobriety through reinvesting some of your time and energy in a support group can be a great option. These groups can easily allow you to revisit those 12 steps and provide you with a sponsor when necessary.

If you’re not comfortable with the traditional 12-step model, there are other support groups that you can turn to. Take some time now to explore your prospective options so that when your temptation arises, you know exactly where to turn.

Active Lifestyle Changes

It can be exceedingly helpful to break down various components of your life into sectors, such as financial, legal, relationships, and education. Determine active changes that you’re making in each of these areas that allow you to regain your journey to sobriety. Simply revisiting this list and setting new goals can give you the insight you need to avoid a relapse and get back on track.

If you or someone you know needs help with relapse prevention, then contact Long Island Treatment Center to get the professional help that you need.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center