How to Make a Relapse Prevention Plan

Breaking your addiction, completing a treatment program, and embarking on a drug and alcohol-free life is liberating. Creating a relapse prevention plan during this time can ensure continued sobriety. A relapse prevention plan is the best way to prepare yourself for stumbling blocks and triggers which could hinder your recovery.

What is a relapse prevention plan (RPP)?

Relapse is common in recovery. It is not unusual to have more than one relapse on the road to recovery. A relapse prevention plan (RPP) is a set of measures designed to anticipate the kinds of triggers that could cause you to use drugs again. The RPP is written with the help of professionals and provides an established course of action to deal with cravings, triggers, and other situations that may lead to substance abuse.

By creating a relapse prevention plan, you give yourself a physical blueprint to reference when you need to explore healthier options in the face of potential relapse. It is tailor-made to address your specific triggers, goals, and strategies to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. In addition to serving as an outline for how to remain sober, it also makes you accountable for your own well-being.

Steps to Creating your relapse prevention plan (RPP)

The components of an effective relapse prevention plan include identifying goals and potential triggers or stressors, making a plan to manage cravings, and identifying helpful tools to prevent relapse. Much of this can and should be done with the help of treatment professionals and support groups. Getting through the first few months is critical. Research has shown that up to 80% of relapse occurs within the first six months of recovery.

Riverwalk Relapse Prevention Plan Infographic

Step 1: Identifying goals and triggers

Honest self-assessment and reflection are key components of an effective relapse prevention plan. During this stage, you should reiterate your goals and outline potential threats to sobriety. Identifying positive goals like repairing personal relationships or maintaining employment can keep you focused. Taking the time to understand the reasons you use drugs can prevent you from relapsing later. These triggers can be behaviors or feelings linked to drug use, even people or situations that can hamper your recovery efforts.

Step 2: Managing cravings and triggers

After you’ve learned to recognize your triggers, you can devise a plan for how to deal with them to assure that you stick to your recovery plan. If you understand the situations that lead to substance use, you can make efforts to avoid them or use healthy coping strategies when faced with them in the future. This part of the RPP is crucial to inform your decisions when you experience cravings. This may include stress-management techniques or ways to distract yourself from the desire to use.

Step 3: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

An important component of avoiding triggers and cravings is adopting a healthier lifestyle. This may include developing a sleep schedule, physical fitness plan, and a balanced diet. Maintaining your physical health is also critical to sustaining recovery. Emotional and mental relapse become less of a danger when you are eating well and getting proper rest.

New hobbies or activities may also prevent relapse. Taking on new activities that are not associated in any way with old behaviors is an ideal way to redefine fun in your life. They can provide a creative outlet or distraction from situations that can lead to relapse.

Step 4: Develop a support system

One of the best ways to maintain your path to recovery is to have a supportive group of people in your corner. A relapse prevention plan also includes identifying people in your life who support your recovery, so you have someone to reach out. Other people who are going through the same struggles can be the best sources of strength in negotiating a potential relapse. Peer groups like AA programs or sponsors can provide support when you’re struggling to cope. Reaching out to people that are willing to help is one way to cope with cravings or triggers.
How To Make a Relapse Prevention Plan

Step 5: Keep yourself accountable

Maintaining small and attainable goals can keep you on track in your recovery and prevent future relapse. Keeping yourself accountable for your own success means knowing your goals and exploring potential consequences if you fail to stay sober, whether they are personal or professional.

Relapse Prevention Plan Example

Though the plan can be changed and improved over time, the following RPP can serve as a guide when you’re developing your own. 

Goals for sober living

  • Improve relationships with family and friends that became strained during the course of addiction
  • Become a better employee with regards to time, attendance, and productivity
  • Work to be a more dependable parent to my kids
  • Improve eating habits and lose weight

Potential challenges and triggers

  • Spending time with college friends who drink too much
  • Financial stressors
  • Fighting with spouse
  • Being reprimanded at work for lateness

Coping with challenges

  • I will spend more time with family and less time with friends that enable my addiction
  • I will develop a budget to prevent falling behind on bills
  • I will keep a journal when I am angry or stressed
  • I will do yoga three times a week and practice mindfulness techniques to control my temper
  • I will call my AA sponsor when I am thinking of relapsing

Plan for a healthier lifestyle

  • I will prepare my meals for the week to eat less fast food
  • I will exercise three times a week
  • I will maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • I will take up hobbies I used to love

Support system

  • Therapist or counselor
  • Friends who are also in recovery
  • AA program


  • My goal is to be a better spouse and parent
  • My goal is to be gainfully employed and financially secure
  • My goal is to be debt free
  • My goal is to be physically healthy
  • If I cannot remain sober, I jeopardize my job and my family
  • If I cannot remain sober, I can’t financially provide for my family
  • My recovery plan is designed to help me become the best version of myself

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Relapse Prevention Support Groups

Most addiction treatment programs will include support groups and group therapy as part of the treatment regimen. You will be introduced to group activities designed to prevent relapse. Spending time with others who are living with the same or similar issues during recovery can be empowering.

  • Identifying exercises: Meeting in groups of people who are living with recovery, you can work toward identifying thoughts and behaviors that could lead to relapse. By pooling these ideas from the group, you can identify things that you may not think of on your own.
  • Group Discussions: These discussions can cover things such as fears and anxieties. By working with others who are living in recovery, the ideas and thoughts others have will help you see things beyond your own experience.
  • Talking About Relapse: Sometimes simply airing thoughts, fears, and anxieties about relapse itself is enough to neutralize our worries. Getting things out in the open in a group can take the power out of thoughts before they become actions.

Coping with Relapse

If you do relapse, remember that relapse is extremely common in recovery and does not mark the end of your recovery. A scientifically based treatment program will give you a range of skills for managing cravings and triggers as you go through substance abuse recovery. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been scientifically shown to significantly increase the odds of relapse prevention.

Group support can be one of the most effective ways of coping with a relapse. Finding the support and insights of others who are living with the same struggles is often the most effective way of coping with relapse and developing a relapse prevention plan.


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Mary E. Larimer, Ph.D., Rebekka S. Palmer, and G. Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. Relapse Prevention: Marlatt’s Cognitive-Behavioral Model

Gorski TT. The Cenaps model of relapse prevention: basic principles and procedures. J Psychoactive Drugs. 1990 Apr-Jun;22(2):125-33. doi: 10.1080/02791072.1990.10472538. PMID: 2197389.

Foxhall, K. (2001, June 1). Preventing relapse. Monitor on Psychology, 32(7).