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A relapse prevention plan is simply a plan for how you can prevent a relapse or a return to drug use after a period of abstinence. A relapse prevention plan can be a simple plan that is a couple of pages long or a detailed plan for making changes to all the areas of your life that have been damaged by drug use.

Keep in mind that the more work you put into your recovery, the more it will improve your life. A basic plan should include your triggers and how to manage cravings. A more detailed plan can include everything you want to work on in your life.

Try not to become overwhelmed by your plan. There is no time limit for working on your relapse prevention plan. It can be something that you continue to work on and add thing to over months or years. It can be a guide to help keep you on the right track and focus your energy on recovery.

The Relapse Prevention Plan

Here are some ideas for what to include in your plan.

Triggers

  • People, places and things that trigger cravings
  • How to avoid triggers
  • How to manage high risk situations that cannot be avoided

Managing Cravings

  • Relapse
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Physical

Useful Tools

  • Gratitude list
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Stress management techniques
  • Support
  • People to call when you have cravings or stress
  • Mental and physical wellness

Recovery Program

  • 12 Step work
  • Moral inventory/character defects
  • Ways to make amends

Life Improvement

  • Family relationships
  • Spousal/significant other relationship
  • Support/friends
  • Legal issues
  • School
  • Employment
  • Finances
  • Housing
  • Basic needs
  • Mental health
  • Spirituality
  • Purpose

Triggers

Triggers are people, places and things that can cause an addict to experience a craving or urge to use a substance. Keep in mind that no matter how much you think about it, you won’t be able to identify and avoid all triggers. For example, consider alcohol which is legal and cannot be completely avoided. You may see an advertisement for alcohol while watching television or go to a restaurant that serves alcohol. Since all triggers cannot be avoided, you should also consider how you will manage high risk situations where you might be triggered.

Questions to Ask

  • Who could I see that would remind me of drug use?
  • What places did I use drugs that could trigger me?
  • What paraphernalia did I use that I should avoid?
  • What emotions could make me want to use?
  • What addictive thoughts could make me relapse?
  • What kind of situations could make me feel like using drugs?
  • What can I do if I cannot avoid things that trigger me?

Cravings

Cravings will always be a part of recovery from any addiction. Your plan should include what you will do if you have a craving. Think about people you can call if you feel like using, safe places you can go and what will comfort you and calm a craving.

Questions to Ask

  • Who can I talk to if I feel like using?
  • What will calm me down if I have a craving?
  • What can I do to distract myself from a craving?
  • Where can I go if I have a craving?
  • What can I think about that will help me stop a craving?

Relapse 

Relapse is something that happens before you ever pick up a drink or drug. We often say that relapse is a process, not an event. This means that there are cues to alert you to a relapse before it happens. If you pay attention to these cues, you can stop a relapse before it happens. You can keep a section of your relapse prevention plan to look at whether there are emotional, mental or physical signs that indicate you may be heading for a relapse.

Since it can be difficult for an addict to notice relapse signs as they occur, you may want to periodically ask the people closest to you if they see any signs of relapse in your behavior. This is why people in recovery often like to have other recovering addicts help them with their recovery. Often a fellow addict can see the signs before someone else can.

Emotional Cues

  • Are you more angry, defensive or frustrated that usual?
  • Do you have more anxiety or depression?
  • Are you not asking for help when you need it?
  • Are you having more mood swings?
  • Are you feeling restless or bored?

Mental Cues

  • Are you keeping secrets or isolating?
  • Are you thinking about using and not talking about it?
  • Are you glamorizing drug use and only thinking about the good parts of it?
  • Are you fantasizing about using?

Physical Cues

  • Did you stop going to meetings?
  • Did you stop going to counseling?
  • Are you hanging out with old friends?
  • Have you tried to call a dealer, gone to a bar or driven to where you used to get drugs?

Useful Tools

List of Consequences

Keeping a list of consequences can help keep you stay focused on your recovery. It can help remind you of why you don’t want to relapse. It can remind you of what you will have to face if you relapse. No matter what you do, there will always be some consequences of addiction that cannot be avoided. Addiction damages an addict’s health and peace of mind and can lead to jail or even death.

Gratitude List

Keeping a list of what you are grateful for is the opposite of a consequences list. Your gratitude list will remind you of the many wonderful things you have in recovery. It will help you realize that you have much to lose by relapsing. It can help you stay focused on the positive side of recovery. A gratitude list can also help you feel better when you are feeling down. When you realize all the things you have to be thankful for, it is hard to remain sad.

Relaxation and Stress Management

Since stress and anxiety can trigger cravings, you can include some relaxation and stress management techniques. There are some examples below. Try to add your own to the list until you have at least ten to twenty options that you can try when you feel anxious or under stress.

Ideas for Relaxation and Stress Management

  • Hot bath
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercise
  • Writing
  • Art
  • Music
  • Yoga
  • Meditation

Support

Support is an important part of recovery. Having someone who understands how you feel will make you realize you are not alone. You can add a list of people who are supportive to your plan so you know who to call when you have a craving or are under stress.

If you don’t have a support system, consider a self-help recovery group like Narcotics Anonymous. You can meet other recovering addicts who can help you learn to manage cravings and live without substances. You should have at least 5 to 10 people you can call when you need someone to talk to. If you are part of a 12 Step recovery program, your sponsor will be one of these people but you should have other people in recovery that you can call too. If you rely on one or two people and they are not available, this could pose a problem for your recovery.

Mental and Physical Wellness

You may want to work on your mental and physical health as a way to reduce stress. Your plan can include ways to improve your mental and physical wellness. If you are in counseling or seeing a doctor, you can include this in your plan.  

Questions to Ask

  • How can I improve my mental health?
  • What steps can I take to reduce depression, anxiety, etc.?
  • Do I have a mental health disorder that needs treatment?
  • Do I need to take medication?
  • What appointments do I need to keep with a doctor or mental health provider?
  • How can I improve my physical health?
  • What diet and exercise changes do I want to make?

Recovery Program

If you take part in a 12 Step recovery program, your plan can include the work you are doing in your program. You might include what meetings you will attend and set a goal for how many meetings you will go to. You may include space to write about each of the 12 steps and in particular your moral inventory, work on character defects and amends. You can track your progress on your 12 Step work and include a daily inventory to check if you have done anything during the day that might hurt anyone.

Questions to Ask

  • What meetings can I attend each week?
  • Where are the meetings located?
  • Who can I go to a meeting with?
  • What step am I working on?
  • What do I need to do for step work?
  • When do I meet with my sponsor?
  • What service work can I commit to?
  • When does my home group meet?

Life Improvement

Finally, your plan can include how you intend to repair the damage to different areas of your life caused by your addiction. Think about all the areas of your life that have been damaged by addiction and how you can improve each one. For example, you may have relationship problems and need to repair trust with your family. You may have legal or financial issues which need to be resolved. You may want to go back to school or need to get a job.

This part of your relapse prevention plan can be about setting goals for life improvements. The more you change your life and make it about recovery, the less likely you will be to relapse. At some point, you may want to work on deeper issues like spirituality or finding a purpose for your life. Remember, some of these are long term goals to work on and do not need to be resolved immediately while other issues may be more immediate like housing and basic needs.

Questions to Ask

  • What areas of my life need the most immediate attention?
  • What are my short term goals?
  • What are my long term goals?
  • What are some small steps I can take each day to help me reach my goals?
  • Who can help me with my goals?
  • What information do I need to reach my goals?

After making a list of goals to work on, prioritize them so you know what to work on first and what can wait. There is no hurry to complete everything on your plan. Your relapse prevention plan can be more than just a plan to prevent relapse, it can be a recovery plan for your whole life. If you use it as a recovery plan, you can work on it over your whole lifetime.

Think of your relapse prevention plan as a plan to help you not only directly avoid relapse but to make improvements to your life which will help you want to stay clean and sober. If your life gets better, you may be more motivated to avoid a relapse because you won’t want to go back to the way you lived in active addiction.

About the author Anna Deeds:
I am a recovering addict and a Licensed Professional Counselor. I have over 7 years clean from all substances and more than 10 years from illicit drugs. I work as an addiction counselor and have more than 5 years experience counseling addicts.
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Page last updated Feb 21, 2014

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