Relapse Prevention Plan Writing Tips

Legacy Healing Center Blog

What Relapse Means

To relapse is to slip back into doing something or being in a diseased state after you’ve recovered from an illness or disease. Someone who is recovering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol relapses if they begin using substances again after having undergone behavioral health treatment.

Addiction is a chronic condition. A return to drug or alcohol use after an attempt to quit using substances doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment has failed. It means that a relapse prevention plan needs to be in place as part of the recovery process. The relapse rate for substance use while in recovery is about 30%.

If you’re in recovery for a substance use disorder, a relapse prevention plan is vital to long-lasting sobriety after your treatment has concluded. This is because relapse can be a common occurrence for those recovering from substance use disorders. After treatment, a person may experience a relapse as part of the challenges of creating a new sober lifestyle

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Triggers: What Are They?

At some point, people in recovery will likely experience people, places, and things that will trigger them to think about using.  They may actually relapse and use drugs or alcohol again. One of the key components of a relapse prevention plan is having the ability to acknowledge and identify those triggers, and then to take steps to avoid them. 

Common triggers that can cause someone to relapse may include:

  • Hanging around with old friends who are still abusing substances
  • Spending time in places or with things that remind you of using
  • Going to places or events where alcohol or other drugs are present and available (bars, concerts)
  • Stress at home, in relationships or at work that may eventually trigger a return to using
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms 
  • Dealing with post-acute withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, mood swings, insomnia
  • Experiencing uncomfortable emotions: H.A.L.T. (being hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
  • Spending too much time alone with your own thoughts
  • Feeling overconfident about having overcome your addiction

Having a relapse prevention plan in place gives you the tools to recognize these triggers and ways to respond before the situation gets out of control. 

The Stages of Relapse

Having a relapse doesn’t always mean you’ve physically returned to substance use. There are different stages associated with a drug relapse, which is a process that can begin many weeks before you might actually use drugs or alcohol again.

The stages of relapse are emotional, mental, and physical.

Emotional Relapse

In emotional relapse, you’re not consciously thinking about using substances again, but you’re emotions are heightened, setting you up for a possible relapse.  

Mental Relapse

In this stage, your mind is conflicted over whether or not to return to using substances. 

Physical Relapse

At this point, if you don’t use some of the techniques in your relapse prevention plan, you will quickly take a drink of alcohol or go see someone who can get you the drugs you crave. 

Key Ingredients of an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan

A great time to write a relapse prevention plan is at the end of a substance use treatment program. Your sober coach, therapist, or 12-Step sponsor can assist you in creating a relapse prevention plan. 

A good plan should include:

  • Making an honest assessment of the patterns that led you to use substances in the first place. Also, time to reflect on the reasons you sought treatment. Making lists related to self-understanding is a helpful tool in fighting relapse.
  • Recognizing and identifying your personal triggers and the warning signs for relapse. 
  • Writing out a detailed step-by-step guide for what to do if you relapse. This can include a list of people to call if you feel yourself going into one of the stages of relapse. 
  • Involve other people in your relapse prevention plan. Stay in touch with someone from a support group, a good friend, or your therapist and get their okay to contact them when you’re in need. Keep your relationships healthy and stay busy, socially to keep your mind off cravings and triggers.
  • Create a set of goals for a healthy lifestyle. These goals can be daily, monthly, or ongoing. Perhaps you’ll include adopting a new creative hobby or starting a new exercise regime.

Getting Help For Relapse Prevention

At Legacy Healing Center, we provide Addiction Aftercare support and continuing care after completion of our addiction treatment programs. Our clinical staff helps each individual develop a relapse prevention plan for success in the ongoing months and years following treatment. 

Click here to learn more about the programs offered at Legacy Healing Center and reach out to us today at (888) 534-2295 with any questions. We are available 24/7 and calls are completely confidential.


Survival Analysis of Drug Abuse Relapse in Addiction Treatment Centers