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Relapse Prevention Plan: Strategies and Techniques for Addiction

Rather than hoping for happier days, establish a plan for how you’ll handle days that don’t go as planned. And if you do relapse, make a conscious effort to not feel inadequate; instead, just acknowledge that you experienced a minor (and temporary) setback. Please keep in mind that you are not the cause or responsible if there is a relapse. They may try to rope you in or pin it on you in some way, but the bottom line is that their commitment to live a clean and sober life style rests solely and squarely on their shoulders. By Geralyn Dexter, PhD, LMHC

Geralyn Dexter, PhD, LMHC, is a mental health counselor based in Delray Beach, Florida, with a focus on suicidal ideation, self-harm, help-seeking behavior, and mood disorders. It can bring on feelings of shame, frustration, and often cause someone to feel as if they are incapable of changing their behavior or achieving their goals.

Addiction recovery is most of all a process of learning about oneself. A better understanding of one’s motives, one’s vulnerabilities, and one’s strengths helps to overcome addiction. How individuals deal with setbacks plays a major role in recovery—and influences the very prospects for full recovery. Many who embark on addiction recovery see it in black-and-white, all-or-nothing terms. That view contrasts with the evidence that addiction itself changes the brain—and stopping use changes it back.

Identifying Addiction Triggers is Necessary for Recovery

Because everyday life contains many triggers, relapse is common among people trying to get over their disorder. Relapse occurs when you begin using a substance again after a period of sobriety. It can be due to various emotional, environmental, or social triggers. Whether you or a loved one are experiencing challenges controlling their addictive behaviors, the road toward rebuilding self-control can be overwhelming. These new relationships will be like-minded people striving for the single most important recovery goal. When something does trigger an urge to relapse, you will be able to call on these relationships for help.

types of relapse triggers

Using drugs or alcohol over the long term builds associations between a person’s daily routine and their experiences with intoxication. As a result, certain cues immediately flip the switch on the association and activate the craving reflex in response to external or internal triggers in recovery. Triggers may decrease in frequency the longer someone abstains from substance use, but anyone in recovery needs to be prepared to respond appropriately when triggers do arise. By creating a plan, individuals can identify their triggers and cravings, and develop strategies to manage them.

How Can I Identify My Relapse Triggers Without Actually Relapsing?

Any number of sights, sounds, and smells could take you back to a time or place where you used drugs or alcohol. This could be a pleasant memory of “good times” had while using certain substances or a difficult memory of arrest, sickness, overdose, or fights with others over your substance abuse. Connecting with others in meaningful ways and increasing positive experiences is also essential.

  • Emotional, environmental, and exposure triggers after addiction rehab are inevitable.
  • This could include family, friends, sponsors or other members of your addiction recovery community, just to name a few people.
  • Without proper relapse prevention, people in recovery can experience relapse triggers that are especially strong, and they are at higher risk of abusing substances again.
  • Relapse-prevention therapy and mind-body relaxation are commonly combined into mindfulness-based relapse prevention [30].
  • Contact a healthcare professional if you or someone you know suffers from a substance use disorder.

Relaxing the mind and body in the moment can begin by taking slow, deep breaths. Controlled breathing gives you something that you can control and focus on, slowing the heart rate and allowing you to process your thoughts. You can also use mindfulness practices throughout your day, including various meditation techniques, soothing music, or a warm bath to aid in relaxation. Yoga and outdoor activities are also great ways to step away from the stresses of life and focus inward. Substance use often begins when someone has the desire to numb an emotional response to a trauma trigger.

Feeling Overwhelmed or Inadequate

It is important to learn how to be comfortable with uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Realize negative feelings don’t have to be a sign of an impending setback. When you’re reminded of your addiction, it’s important to have effective ways of handling your feelings. For instance, if you’re an alcoholic and a group of drinking buddies ask you to go out, or you see people from work going to happy hour, it might help to have a specific response ready. One way to prevent stress from triggering you is to evaluate your stress levels. Although you can’t eliminate everything and everyone from your life, you can avoid situations that cause you extreme stress.

When the alcoholic/addict has finally committed to living a clean and sober existence, it often times is like a new love affair. I have counseled many clients who spout and pontificate how they have finally realized how important sobriety is. They proudly feel that they have found the key which will halt their ever drinking again, and this very cocky nature and ego driven thinking will almost always be their downfall. The word “humble” is missing from their vocabulary and they foolishly don’t give this powerful disease the respect and caution it deserves, as they believe they are wiser and stronger than their addiction. Whether they adhere to a 12- step recovery program or not, it is the wise folks that started AA long ago that staunchly state that sobriety can only be successful if taken “one day at a time”.

The repair stage of recovery was about catching up, and the growth stage is about moving forward. Clinical experience has shown that this stage usually starts 3 to 5 years after individuals have stopped using drugs or alcohol and is a lifetime path. On the other hand, external triggers are people, places, and objects that remind you of past substance abuse and reinforce the desire to use drugs or alcohol. Effectively dealing with both internal and external triggers plays a significant role in maintaining your recovery goals. If you’re striving to stay clean and sober, talk to an addiction specialist about how to identify triggers, so you can avoid a relapse. If you’re someone who thinks they may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, but has never asked for help, reach out.

  • Rather than viewing your relapse as a failure, view it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you need to do in order to avoid relapsing again.
  • For that reason, some experts prefer not to use the term “relapse” but to use more morally neutral terms such as “resumed” use or a “recurrence” of symptoms.
  • They can and do happen to everyone, no matter how long they have been on the path toward recovery, which is why a significant component of recovery is to handle each trigger as it comes.
  • Relapse triggers a sense of failure, shame, and a slew of other negative feelings.
  • As you begin to obsess more about drug or alcohol use, you find yourself in situations where the opportunity to use arises.

Typically, those recovering from addiction are filled with feelings of guilt and shame, two powerful negative emotions. As a result, those recovering from addiction can be harsh inner critics of themselves and believe they do not deserve to be healthy or happy. Therapy not only gives people insight into their vulnerabilities but teaches them  healthy tools for handling emotional distress. Prolonged stress during childhood dysregulates the normal stress response and can lastingly impair emotion regulation and cognitive development.

Create an Action Plan

Discussions often revolve around dealing with everyday situations without turning to substances. 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), provide additional guidance and support for people in recovery. Contact a healthcare professional if you or someone you know suffers from a substance use disorder. You can learn about the best relapse-prevention treatment options for your needs.

However, relapse can be an opportunity to reset, develop clear needs and goals, and continue. Refocusing on recovery and further relapse prevention with a care team is crucial. Research shows that social support indicates long-term success, while peer pressure and unsupportive relationships can lead to relapse. The influence of dopamine, the “happy” chemical, can cause changes in the brain. Substance use can affect the brain by damaging systems responsible for cognitive control. Here are some essential practices to employ to begin identifying and managing triggers.

The Stages of Recovery

Without it, individuals can go to self-help meetings, have a sponsor, do step work, and still relapse. Self-care is difficult because recovering individuals tend to be hard on themselves [9]. Self-care is especially difficult for adult children of addicts [27]. Probably the most common misinterpretation of complete honesty is when individuals feel they must be honest about what is wrong with other people.

types of relapse triggers