Addiction Treatment
Addiction Treatment

What is Relapse Prevention?

Last updated: 04/12/2019
Author: Addictions LLC

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Relapse prevention helps you identify and prevent triggers and high-risk situations that may lead to substance abuse. This treatment program is key to helping you experience a successful, long-term recovery from addiction. Relapse prevention should be included in everyone’s addiction treatment plan.

Why is Relapse Prevention So Important?

Relapse can happen at any point in your recovery — from the start of treatment to months or years later after being sober for an extended period. Relapse prevention begins with addiction treatment, where you or your loved one will learn useful skills and techniques for preventing and avoiding relapse.

Relapse prevention is important because it helps you stay on track with recovery and avoid potentially dangerous situations that could lead to relapse and overdose. After you overcome drug or alcohol dependence and have been sober for a period, your body loses its tolerance for the substances you once used. When you relapse, you face the risk of alcohol poisoning or a fatal drug overdose if you use too much. You also face the risk of resuming old, unhealthy habits that could put you quickly back on the path to drug abuse and addiction.

Which Therapies Are Available for Relapse Prevention?

Relapse prevention is available in the form of medications and behavioral therapy. Medications help prevent relapse by reducing the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, minimizing your cravings, and causing unpleasant reactions when substances are used. Relapse prevention medications are only available for specific substances like opioids and alcohol, and may not be possible to treat other drug use disorders.

Behavioral therapy helps you change the way you view substance abuse and identify the reasons you started using it in the first place. Therapists work with you to modify harmful thinking-patterns and behaviors that may be driving your addiction so you can navigate through life with a smaller chance of relapsing.

What Challenges Will I Be Facing in Terms of Relapse?

Treatment can play a major role in helping you prevent and avoid relapse. However, common relapse triggers such as stress, drug cravings, and post-acute withdrawal symptoms like depression and anxiety may increase your risk for relapsing. Learning more about common triggers like these along with your triggers can help with recovery. Relapse prevention at rehab can help you better understand and prepare for any challenges you may face throughout your recovery.

Steps you can take to reduce your relapse risk:

  • Learn of healthier ways to manage stress that don’t involve drugs and alcohol, such as listening to soothing music or going for a walk.
  • Exercise regularly to naturally reduce stress, cravings, and anxiety, and to help restore brain chemistry imbalances caused by substance abuse.
  • Practice mindfulness, meditation, or yoga — all of which heighten awareness surrounding your feelings and help you control your actions more efficiently.
  • Get plenty of quality sleep to reduce stress, cravings, and anxiety, and to benefit from healthier, normalized brain chemistry.
  • Practice what you learn in treatment since the skills you learn at rehab are only useful if you apply them to your daily life.
  • Attend regular mutual support group meetings, which allows you to bond with others who have already spent time in recovery.
  • Follow up with your therapists regularly, since therapists offer good psychological support that enhances your recovery.
  • Write or journal about instances and experiences that threaten a relapse, since writing is a therapeutic activity that can boost your recovery.
  • Be honest and transparent with yourself and others about times you may be struggling so you can seek and receive support as needed.

Is Having a Support System Important for Relapse Prevention?

Yes – overcoming addiction is a long-term process and journey for many, and it isn’t easy to go through on your own. Friends, family members, and other people who truly care about you will be invested in your recovery from addiction. Don’t be afraid to reach out to these people for help and support when you suspect a relapse may be on the horizon.

Friends and family can help you feel stronger at times of weakness, and lend an ear so you can talk openly about your struggles with addiction. Your loved ones can often provide you with all the support you need to avoid relapse and continue with recovery.

Other sources of support may be 12-step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, online support groups, and your therapists and counselors at rehab. While receiving treatment at a facility, you will encounter a network of patients and staff who can become your support system.

Does a Relapse Mean I’ve Failed?

Sometimes, no matter how much work you put into avoiding relapse, a relapse can still occur. Relapse rates for drug use disorders are between 40 and 60%, which means relapsing after receiving treatment is a normal, common occurrence. A relapse should not be seen as a failure but rather an indication that it is time for you to seek further treatment and learn new skills to help you fare better next time around.

The moment you relapse, confide immediately in a friend, family member, therapist, or AA sponsor about your relapse and the circumstances leading to your relapse. These supportive individuals can make you feel better about the relapse and your recovery and may help facilitate your next steps — whether it’s returning to rehab, learning new stress management techniques, or resuming attendance at AA meetings. Keep in mind that recovery is a journey and not a sprint to the finish line, and that help is always available and nearby to get you back on track.