Here’s the thing about substance use disorders, they humble you. As humans, we’re encouraged to take control of our lives in all aspects. However, the power of addiction isn’t simply an inconvenient obstacle to overcome. When it comes to succeeding in recovery from substance abuse, identifying potential hazards in advance is key to protecting a long-term sober life. A relapse prevention plan for substance abuse is a great tool for recognizing and managing the warning signs – some not always apparent – to help sustain a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
Prevailing wisdom once held that detox and willpower alone was enough to rid, flush, or “clean” drugs out of one’s system in order to get a fresh start. But more and more, research indicates the realities of substance abuse. Even long after a drug’s chemicals are no longer in the body, the underlying addiction and cravings may persist.
Realities of Addiction Relapse
In reality, habitual drug use results in altered brain pathways and neurotransmitters. In the beginning, achieving sobriety is, unfortunately, not a linear process. It takes time to establish, readjust, and understand the nuances of addiction recovery.
Substance use disorder, by definition, is a chronic relapsing disease of the brain. As such, addiction specialists will pronounce that in recovery there must be a concentrated effort to avoid recurrence. A relapse prevention plan for substance abuse can serve as a recovery strategy. It may help to anticipate setbacks and address actions to take to correct unforeseen missteps.
Statistics of Relapse
A 2014 national survey on drug abuse reports that 21.5 million Americans over the age of 12 had a substance use disorder in the previous year. That’s about 1 in 12 people. Researchers estimate that more than 60% of individuals in recovery relapse within weeks to months of beginning addiction treatment.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates for substance use disorders are similar to rates for other chronic illnesses like hypertension and asthma. Relapse doesn’t necessarily suggest that treatment doesn’t work. Instead, it’s a sign that the treatment plan may need to be revisited and revised.
Relapse Beyond the Numbers
We may know that relapse is a possibility. Still, it can feel empowering to make it through treatment with the understanding that you’ve got a better handle on negatively impactful habits. It’s a very human trait to think we got it in the bag. Humility should always dictate the need for vigilance.
Many addiction theories assume that cravings can create drug dependence. Multiple studies conclude that cravings generally fall into two categories:
- Those that emphasize withdrawal
- Those that focus on the positive-incentive properties of drugs
In other words, a person may relapse to avoid the impacts of withdrawal. They may also relapse due to the positive aspects and characteristics that drugs may have in everyday situations.
Cravings can present themselves when least expected. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are three basic models of cravings:
- Reinforcement model: Drugs can often produce positive experiences, especially if used to mask an underlying mental health disorder. By reinforcing the idea that a drug can help absolve anxiety, depression, or other situational issues, cravings can begin to surface.
- Social learning model: this idea highlights a central component of addiction that human behavior is determined by functional relationships between (1) personal factors, (2) the external environment, and (3) the behavior itself. This model reveals trigger-related cravings.
- Cognitive processing model: this model suggests that drug use can operate independently of cravings. Addictive drug use, in other words, is regulated by automatic cognitive processes. It’s not triggered by outside influences, but instead by habitual actions.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the risk of relapse after periods of abstinence is a “fundamental feature of addiction.” Triggers include “exposure to rewarding substances and behaviors, by exposure to environmental cues to use, and by exposure to emotional stressors that trigger heightened activity in brain stress circuits.”
Creating Relapse Prevention Plan For Substance Abuse
Relapsing on drugs is often thought of as a moral failing, making long-term recovery feel next to impossible. But that simply isn’t true. Addiction, like diabetes or asthma, can be properly managed if it’s treated as a chronic condition and one that requires personalized, ongoing support and treatment, long term.
Creating a relapse prevention plan for substance abuse can be a powerful task to help address the continuum of recovery. Relapse usually isn’t contained in one single event. Typically, it is a three-part process, including:
- Emotional relapse
- Mental relapse
- Physical relapse
With a relapse prevention plan, a person may be better equipped to address certain feelings and events to avoid a physical relapse.
How To Develop A Relapse Prevention Plan
Usually, the best method to develop a relapse prevention plan is to work with an addiction treatment specialist, counselor, or sponsor. This person may be qualified to help you assess and devise a suitable, customized plan that includes particular relapse prevention strategies such as:
- Self-care practices to help prevent emotional relapse
- Dealing with urges and cravings as they arise
- Establishing a person or group to alert if you use drugs or alcohol
It’s also important to revisit and revise a plan to help maintain a healthy life in recovery.
Creating An Effective Plan To Avoid Relapse
Creating a relapse prevention plan is an essential part of living life in recovery. Although every person’s strategy will be unique to their specific needs, there are some basic components to keep in mind including:
- Take Time for Self-Assessment and Reflection
- Recognize Your Triggers and Warning Signs
- Plan for the Worst
- Involve Others
- Goals for a Healthy Lifestyle
1. Take Time for Self-Assessment and Reflection
Reflecting on past usage is difficult. It requires asking uncomfortable questions as they revolve around drug usage and reasons for continued use. You may ask, why did you use drugs or drink alcohol before you were in drug rehab? Was it to relieve stress? To cope with a traumatic experience? In recognizing patterns of usage, you can better assess where triggers may crop up. It is also helpful to identify situations where relapse happened or situations where relapse felt like a necessary step.
2. Recognize Your Triggers and Warning Signs
“Trigger” is a common term when evaluating addiction and prevention tips. In addiction recovery, a trigger is any person, place, or event that surfaces the urge for someone to relapse. Triggers can often vary in severity from intrusive thoughts, to an overwhelming anxious need to escape. There are two types of triggers:
Internal triggers can spark emotion, thoughts, and memories. These are often negatively associated with past events. They can be painful, uncomfortable, and lead to thoughts of drug use in order to better cope. However, drug use is often a temporary mask to the underlying issue. External triggers may be things like smells, sounds, people, places, etc. Remaining vigilant, especially in the beginning, can help prepare you for dealing with these internal and external triggers.
Recognizing these triggers ahead of time and calling them out in a relapse prevention plan for substance abuse can help you to avoid their potential for inciting relapse.
3. Plan For Relapse & Find Resources
Statistics will indicate that relapse is more part of the journey in recovery rather than a failure of recovery. Planning for relapse may seem pessimistic, but writing out a step-by-step plan on what can be done if a relapse should occur can actually help you feel more empowered to take control of your triggers and possible setbacks.
Some studies suggest that enlisting help from outside sources can help you stay on track with your sobriety goals. Speak with family members, friends, and outpatient support groups about your reservations and fears while in recovery. Honesty in recovery is an essential tool to help prevent relapse from happening.
4. Create Goals for a Healthy Lifestyle
Whether you’re spiritual, religious, or even focused on physical health, these goals can help you recreate better habits that promote both health and wellness. One of the aspects of recovery is staying busy to help occupy and deter negative thoughts. Set daily, weekly, monthly (and forever) goals for achieving a more healthy outlook. You can choose to eat better, practice yoga, go on daily walks, take up a new hobby, find peer groups that help support a sober lifestyle.
Relapse Prevention Models
There are different views on relapse prevention. As new studies are published, and new systems for treatment are underway, addiction specialists are gaining a better insight into effective methods for helping individuals to prevent relapse from occurring. There are a few different prevention models that can provide a different insight into the process. Consider the following as a way to create or incorporate it into your relapse prevention plan for substance abuse.
Gorski-Cenaps Relapse Prevention Model
Terry Gorski is an internationally recognized expert within the field of substance abuse, mental health, and more. With this model in relapse prevention, that are essentially nine steps in the plan:
- Self-regulation: stabilize in physical, psychological, and social settings
- Integration: Completing a self-assessment
- Understanding: undertaking education to inform self of relapse signs and prevention methods
- Self-knowledge: identifying warning signs of relapse
- Coping skills: Managing warning signs and creating a plan around them
- Change: Reviewing a relapse prevention plan and updating it regularly
- Awareness: Foresight and acknowledgment when things are awry
- Support: Involving groups, loved ones, and other supportive friends/family
- Maintenance: Follow up plans and pivots
AspenRidge Recovery: Relapse Prevention
AspenRidge Recovery provides a continuum of care and can work to help address creating effective relapse prevention plan for substance abuse. Our licensed therapist and certified staff members are knowledgeable and supportive in the recovery process. The methodologies deployed through our programs often involve one or more of the tactics we’ve mentioned above, including:
- Group Therapy
- Ongoing Individual Therapy
- Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment
- Life skills training
- Family Program
- Holistic Treatment
- Community-based treatment programs (NA, AA, SMART Recovery)
- Alumni Program
We also treat a wide variety of specific substances, which can be found here. These methodologies provide support to clients and address relapse preventive strategies. Each of our programs is customized to fit the individual and our goal is to help you achieve long-term sobriety. For more information, contact us directly at 855-281-5588.