Addiction is a disease that will be present in someone even after 20 years of sobriety. Those who achieve this feat of extended abstinence can follow a relapse prevention plan and manage their active addiction. Consistent monitoring of the disease is the difference between life and death for some. Addiction completely rewires the brain and how the body responds to stress. This behavior, in turn, becomes a regular part of the user’s life. While there is no cure, it is certainly a treatable condition.

Those struggling with addiction may only experience parts of the continuum of care. For example, if someone is sent to a court-ordered detox and released immediately thereafter, they have not treated the addiction. They have safely removed the toxins from their body and achieved a sober state, but the problems that drove them to use have not been addressed, this will often lead the user to fall back into old habits.

Treating the underlying issues that lead one to abuse addictive substances are a point of emphasis in stopping a relapse. The relapse rate for most drugs are astoundingly high, and there is no exemption when it comes to addictive drugs. Anyone who stops following a medical plan set in place by their physician is likely to relapse. These strategies are like road maps, and they guide recovering substance users toward a successful recovery if they are followed.

Relapse Prevention Strategies

It’s a common misconception that relapse is an impulsive action that leads someone to start using. A single action cannot diminish all the work that is put into achieving this state of mind. This is not how relapse works, and it is not the way it should be viewed. In fact, there are several warning signs that can indicate someone is about to relapse.

Relapse happens in stages, and that person will have decided to use quite some time before they actually follow through on their thoughts.

Relapse should also never be viewed as a failure; it just means that one’s treatment program must be reinstated to fine-tune some of the tools learned. In some cases, it is a part of the process.

Psychologist Gordon Alan Marlatt created the cognitive behavioral relapse prevention model in 1985. His research found a correlation between high-risk situations and relapse after a period of sobriety. The objective of recovery is to change behaviors in your life and continue to grow with your newly discovered mindset.

Over time, you will become more accustomed to managing the addiction that causes impulsive behaviors. There are still certain situations, however, that can pose a threat to someone’s control that leads to relapse.

According to Marlatt, four types of situations fit this criterion. They are as follows:

Emotional State

An emotional state that stems from negativity such as depression, anxiety, frustration, or boredom. These feelings can trigger desires to use and can be a result of events or your own perception of circumstances.


Triggers that come from a person or group as a result of a conflict. This could include a disappointment or a heartbreak. A majority of relapses are traced back to high-risk situations from an interpersonal relationship.

Social Pressure

Social peer pressure, whether it be direct or indirect, has an effect. Friends pleading with you to drink at a party would be an example of direct pressure whereas indirect pressure would be friends inviting you out to drink after work. It is natural not to want to disappoint, but being in the company of people who are drinking challenges your ability to maintain sobriety.

Positive Emotions

Even positive emotions can be risky when associated with an addictive substance. If you were to remember a good time that involved using, it could trigger cravings that urge you to use.

It can take one of these high-risk situations to occur and transition someone into a relapse. The purpose of a relapse prevention plan is to know how to deal with these negative emotions. Healthy coping mechanisms will protect your sobriety. Therapy sessions in treatment will help you identify triggers like this, but sometimes all it takes is a moment of weakness to give in to desire.

In that one moment, it is possible to begin coping negatively when your brain senses stress. While there may have been new behaviors learned and implemented in life, addiction has made a searing mark on your brain. It is normal to revert back to old habits, but it is imperative that you rely on what you have learned in treatment. That is the sole purpose of these prevention plans due to the commonality of these matters. Everyone who leaves treatment will run into these issues at some point or another.

Creating A Relapse Prevention Plan

To begin preventing a relapse, you must create a strategic response to high-risk situations. To do so, it is vital that you engage in behavioral therapies that help identify these high-risk situations and act accordingly.

A relapse prevention plan will not work unless the person is sober and in control of themselves.

For example, if you were to see an old friend and the person reminds you of the days you were using, this is a high-risk situation that requires strategies to deal with it.  A positive way to deal with this would be to go to the gym afterward to release that tension.

These situations can and will occur as you progress through life. Some of these high-risk situations can present themselves strictly because of stress, or others may arise in the fashion mentioned above.

Behavioral changes will allow you to recognize how you’re feeling, and channel that energy into positive holistic rituals such as meditation, exercise, or yoga.

Identifying High-Risk Situations

A certified therapist in addiction studies will help you become aware of these situations and how to cope through a steady mix of therapies. These sessions will allow you to understand the warning signs and what to do when your stress levels rise. Once this is identified, it will help you avoid high-risk situations

Developing High Self-Efficacy

While a therapist can help you determine what increases your stress levels, it will be your own self-efficacy that allows you to get through these situations with success. Remember, this will not happen overnight, and you should not feel bad if you find it difficult at first. It will become second nature in time.

Managing Lapses

Addiction is a chronic disease that will persist no matter how much therapy is involved. Lapses are a possibility, and you must understand that it is not considered a moral failing. All this means is that you need to fine-tune your strategies. The main objective in lapse management therapy is the abstinence violation effect. Your therapist will happily help you create a plan to assess and respond to lapsing after sobriety.

Start Your Journey To Recovery Today

If you or someone you care about is struggling with chemical dependence or is on the brink of a relapse, it’s important to get recovery help now. Family Recovery Specialists can help you or your loved one. We offer an outpatient detox treatment that allows for a seamless transition into our intensive outpatient program. Our main priority is to ensure our clients feel safe on their road to recovery. In this program, families are encouraged to participate, and they also receive education and training.

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