How to Create A Relapse Prevention Plan

Andrew McKenna - Expert Content Editor

Updated:12/18/2023

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Relapse prevention is a cornerstone of recovery and, in fact, its principal aim. With relapse rates between 40 and 60 percent in those who are new to addiction recovery, it’s critically important to have a solid, deliberate, and reliable plan in place to avoid the possibility of a setback.

While the exact fabric of each person’s relapse-prevention plan will vary according to their care needs, their triggers, traumas, lifestyle, and the origin of their substance abuse, the universal goal is to help people successfully navigate the triggers identified in therapy so they can face them head on without needing to cope with drugs and alcohol. Here are some steps to creating a proper and effective relapse-prevention plan.

Recognize and Deal with Triggers

A great deal of time in rehab is spent identifying the people, places, and things that contribute to alcohol and drug addiction and coming up with behavioral coping mechanisms to successfully face them in recovery. This level of self-awareness is crucial to helping people develop emotional strength. These triggers can be relationships or different types of social interaction, financial factors, trauma, or pretty much any other issues.

Keep Going to Therapy and Meetings

Once you have identified your triggers, you can and should continue to work on them with the help of an experienced and qualified addiction therapist and continued attendance at meetings. Continued engagement with therapy and support groups helps ensure continuous behavioral progress and receive the support you need during the more vulnerable points of recovery.

The reality is that recovery is a lifelong endeavor, and there are highs and lows to the process. There will be good days and bad days, even years after you complete treatment, and it’s important to have a built-in support resource for the harder periods. Finding a therapist you can trust, and with whom you are comfortable, can make all the difference in recovery.

Set Boundaries and Expectations

Be honest with others who have been part of your past substance abuse and set boundaries for interactions. This may mean you can’t continue your relationship with them, but you must be honest about how much they put your recovery at risk. It’s also important to be honest with friends and loved ones about your needs within the relationship, especially if they’ve indirectly contributed to your substance. Be honest with yourself, set boundaries, and speak up if you feel they’re being crossed.

Find Your “Self-Care”

Find what motivates you and leverage that in your personal growth. You can strengthen your long-term recovery by embracing the activities and hobbies that you’re passionate about, whether it’s reading, running, cooking, meditation, yoga, fitness, art, music, or anything else. These activities, or any others you’re interested in, can be a healthy outlet for both positive emotions and negative feelings that can otherwise lead to relapse. Improving your performance and aptitude can also help to build confidence, create a sense of community, and help you focus on short-term goals.

Know Your Limits and Respect Them

As your recovery progresses, you may feel like you can challenge yourself more. It’s important to trust your instincts and understand what circumstances can trigger a setback, whether it’s a stressful social interaction, being around drugs or alcohol on a regular basis, or anything else. It’s okay not to feel comfortable in certain situations, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve entered recovery. Respect yourself enough to know when you should avoid risky situations.

Finally, it helps to involve your therapist and care team in your relapse prevention plan. They know what you’re going through, and they can leverage their years of experience to help guide you in the right direction. It’s also important to realize that one relapse doesn’t have to derail your recovery. Accidents happen, and it’s what you do after they occur that counts. Call your sponsor or someone you can trust, let them know what happened, and get back into treatment. Your life is worth another chance.