What is Relapse Prevention (And is it Necessary for my Recovery?)

For anyone entering addiction treatment, long-term sobriety should be the number one goal. However, for far too many individuals, resorting back to their substance of choice is all too common. The tools and resources learned in recovery can be forgotten or pushed to the side when a triggering situation arises.

Relapse prevention is a type of service offered by many drug rehab centers to ensure individuals stay on the path to recovery, even after their treatment program has come to a close. Using a specific methodology aimed at helping patients abstain from alcohol and remain sober, relapse prevention is oftentimes the tool needed to get sober and stay sober – for good.

The Purpose and Theory Behind Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention theory stems from the belief that substance abuse is a coping skill for handling difficulties and challenges that come about throughout one’s life span. This theory implies that to avoid relapse, an individual needs to develop strategies, determine potential triggers, and learn healthy coping mechanisms to overcome life’s challenges without substance use. For the right individual, these types of coping mechanisms can be life-saving.

The Stages of Relapse

There are three main stages that one goes through before relapse occurs. Understanding the relapse process and developing relapse prevention strategies are essential to staying on track with the recovery process. Remember that many programs will also offer aftercare programs that can assist you when you feel overwhelmed or at risk of relapse.

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is often misunderstood as thinking about drinking or drug abuse again. However, emotional relapse is actually the presence of negative thoughts, emotions, and stress that can later lead an individual to think about using drugs or alcohol again.

If you begin to notice mental health challenges arising, such as depression, anxiety, or even a feeling of restlessness or irritability, you may be experiencing an emotional relapse. During this stage, an individual may stop attending their support groups or meetings, such as alcoholics anonymous, and may stop seeing the purpose of remaining sober.

One prevention strategy during this stage is to make sure you are getting proper sleep and maintaining a healthy diet. Although these seem like simple tasks, once one starts lacking sleep or has poor nutrition, it can trigger negative emotions and unhealthy coping skills. Another point to improve upon is to talk to a mentor or attend a meeting again to help you get back on track.

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is when an individual reaches the stage of thinking about substance use again. At first, it may just be a passing thought and not necessarily a thought turned into action. In the early stages, there is almost a mental battle happening between the individual knowing that the right choice is to remain sober, mixed with the growing desire to go back to substance use again.

In the later stages of mental relapse, however, the passing thought becomes more of an endless stream of thoughts and focuses on substance use again.

One prevention strategy during this stage is to focus on healthy habits and find positive distractions when your mind begins to fantasize about drinking or using drugs again. You can also try thinking of the long-term outcome of what would happen if you began taking up drug use or drinking again. There are no positive outcomes to that scenario. Additionally, it can be beneficial to openly talk with someone about how you’re feeling and wait for the urge to pass.

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse involves taking action, such as purchasing or finding alcohol or drugs. If you get to this stage, it is very difficult to prevent relapse. As challenging as maintaining recovery can be, several lifestyle factors and challenges can trigger negative outcomes.

One prevention strategy is to have an emergency call list. Even if you are already on your way to using it again, text or dial someone on your emergency call list. Oftentimes, this list is created before you get to this point and has a few trusted contacts who have agreed to come to your aid should you get to this point. You may already have a code word to make it easier to reach out during the hardest days.

Remember to give yourself grace if relapse does happen and focus on the positive aspects of recovery. Try to focus on self-care again and get back on track to recover.

Relapse Prevention Model

A big component of the methodology behind relapse prevention involves identifying early warning signs of relapse and substance use. Once risk factors are identified, therapeutic methods are used to determine the thought process in the individual that occurs once triggered and how it leads to relapse. Once an individual better understands how relapse occurs, they can then develop harm reduction treatment goals and strategies to overcome challenging situations and prevent further relapses.

Strategies such as mindfulness-based relapse prevention can be used during treatment. This process mixes cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga. The aim is to relieve stress and develop healthy coping skills for substance use disorder and mental illness.

The Importance of Having a Relapse Prevention Plan for Substance Use Disorder

There will be times during the recovery process that may feel isolating, challenging, and frustrating. While in recovery, it is important to understand yourself, your body, and your environment well enough to know how to meet any triggers that may come about. Having a prevention plan can minimize the impact of triggering scenarios such as being in the presence of alcohol, lacking sleep, or even just having a bad day. 

When these situations arise, you can turn to the plan you worked hard to make in partnership with licensed counselors and the treatment facility. This plan will help you maintain sobriety even on the most challenging days.

Find Help Today

When you’re stuck in the cycle of addiction, you can experience hopelessness, isolation, and frustration. For those seeking addiction treatment, reaching out for help and finding the right addiction treatment program and treatment provider for you is a major first step in your recovery journey. Contact our Malibu drug and alcohol rehab and detox center today at (424) 234-2027 to discuss your personalized treatment plan today.

Take the Next Step

Taking the first steps toward treatment can be emotionally and mentally draining. At Malibu Detox and Residential Treatment Center, we have designed our admissions process to remove the stress commonly associated with exploring treatment centers and obtaining treatment. With specialists in virtually every discipline, our staff compassionately guides each new client through the necessary steps to facilitate their healing journey.

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