Breaking your addiction, completing a treatment program, and embarking on a drug and alcohol-free life is genuinely liberating. This time of renewed life and energy is precisely the time to think about a relapse prevention plan.
There is an old saying: If you’re not planning to succeed, you are planning to fail. Maybe this is a bit harsh, but a relapse prevention plan is definitely a plan to succeed.
Few of us want to even consider relapse in the early stages of recovery. Using and drinking are terrifying prospects in early recovery. However, relapse is the primary danger for those who are newly recovering. A relapse prevention plan is the best way to prepare yourself for stumbling blocks and triggers which could hinder your recovery.
Although you have broken the grip of addiction, there are still hurdles ahead in your recovery. Relapse prevention will provide you with the tools to negotiate these hurdles.
What is a relapse?
Simply put, a relapse is a return to using drugs and/or alcohol after you have broken free of actively using. When a person stops using drugs and/or alcohol they can make mistakes, experience feelings of guilt and failure, and begin using again.
Relapse is common in recovery. It is not unusual for more than one relapse on the road to recovery. But a relapse recovery plan can prevent these kinds of mistakes.
Remember that using drugs again is dangerous. It means falling back into all the old destructive ways of living. The danger to your health, to your personal relationships, and to your financial well-being will come back just as seriously as before you began recovery.
Relapse can also be deadly. Many people who relapse will start using drugs in the same way they did prior to treatment. They no longer have the same tolerance for the drugs, and overdose is a real danger.
What is a relapse prevention plan (RPP)?
A relapse prevention plan (RPP) consists of a set of measures designed to anticipate the kinds of triggers that could cause you to use drugs again.
Some of the primary reasons for relapse are fears, people, and places associated with using, and physical cravings. An RPP consists of measures put in place to help you deal with these stumbling blocks to recovery.
A solid relapse prevention plan will help you deal with fears and anxieties which tend to come with recovery. The fear of not measuring up to your own expectations and the expectations of others can be overwhelming in recovery. The fear of not having the crutch of drugs and alcohol—even the fear of relapse itself—all of these things can precipitate a relapse. An RPP will provide guidance for these fears.
A relapse prevention plan also helps you begin to redefine what it means to have fun. Rather than the old behaviors which are associated with using drugs, you will learn new ways of enjoying life.
In many ways, learning to redefine fun means coming to understand that although addiction recovery may be difficult at times, active addiction is always more difficult. Learning to live as a recovering person means understanding that life’s challenges are much easier to manage without drugs. An RPP is designed to remind you of this during each stage of your recovery.
Common Triggers of Substance Abuse Relapse
People in recovery relapse for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it is something as simple as spending time with people with whom you used to use drugs. Of course, major times of stress are obvious triggers for relapses.
There are some common triggers for substance abuse relapse. These come in two forms: external and internal triggers.
External Triggers are people, places, and activities that you associate with using drugs. It is critical to bear in mind that these triggers can precipitate the desire to use even before you are fully aware of what is happening.
- People: Obviously hanging around with friends and acquaintances you used to use drugs will function as a trigger to use again. However, it is important to remember that anyone who uses will likely trigger your desire to use. It is just too easy to fall into old behaviors when you are in the company of people who use drugs and alcohol.
- Places: Often the places we once spent time will become associated with using drugs. It may not be obvious because some of these places can seem innocent in themselves. One study has shown that specific places can produce what is called a cue-induced relapse in people who are recovering from substance abuse disorders. This means that simple associations with places can produce a subconscious desire to use drugs.
- Things: Again, these things may not seem obvious and become all the more dangerous for this reason. Spoons will produce an association with using drugs for some intravenous drug users. But even movies can become triggers for some people.
- Situations: These can be as innocent as holidays, concerts, or simply going out to dinner with friends. Times like these are frequently associated with celebration and therefore drug and alcohol use. Since some of these situations cannot be completely avoided, you will need specific coping mechanisms for handling them.
These are the sorts of external triggers that a relapse prevention plan can account for in advance. By identifying these external triggers ahead of time, you will be better equipped to deal with them.
Internal Triggers can be more difficult to identify. These involve thoughts, feelings, and emotions which precipitate the desire to use drugs and/or alcohol. Since these are internal, you will need to develop specific coping skills for how to handle them.
- Negative Feelings: Fear, anxiety, and guilt stand out as the primary internal triggers. Research has shown that fears are directly linked to the cravings for drugs use. Since so many people have learned to deal with these negative feelings by self-medicating with drugs, they need to find more healthy mechanisms of dealing with them.
- Normal Feelings: This may seem counter-intuitive, but normal feelings of boredom, sadness, and tiredness can be dangerous triggers for people recovering from substance abuse disorders. Just the simple feeling of boredom can be associated with using drugs.
- Positive Feelings: Times of celebration and happiness are also times when recovering people tended to use drugs. As you move through recovery these same positive times can actually be dangerous. A relapse prevention program anticipated these moments and feelings so you will learn to experience positive feelings without triggering the desire to use.
Internal triggers can be the most difficult to negotiate in recovery.
What are the States of Relapse?
Relapse comes in specific stages. If you can identify these stages, you will be able to recognize what is happening and potentially stop the progression of a relapse.
At this stage, you may not even be thinking about using drugs. What is happening is that your emotions are setting the stage for the relapse. Crucial signs of emotional relapse are anger, anxiety, defensiveness, and mood swings.
During the stage of emotional relapse, people will also begin to isolate themselves. They will refuse help from others and stop engaging their recovery plans. All of the things are clear signs of emotional relapse.
This is the phase in which the tension begins to mount in your mind. You may not actually be consciously thinking about using, but you may be contemplating going to places where people are using. You may have active fantasies about using or you may begin to think fondly of using.
Clear signs of mental relapse are thoughts of going to places where you sued to use drugs. Spending time with people you know will be using drugs and glamorizing drug use are dangerous signs of mental relapse.
These thoughts will often progress to lying to people or planning time to be away from people who may hold you to your recovery. These types of thoughts will eventually take the form of a real plan to use drugs.
Learning to recognize these thoughts will help you stop the progression of a relapse.
At this point, you will be actively seeking and using drugs again. It is difficult to stop the patterns of addiction at this stage. Substance abuse disorders will follow the same patterns as before. Without the intervention of some kind, the addiction will return in full force.
The positive side of all of this is that each stage of relapse has these distinct features. Relapse is easy to identify at every stage, and therefore easy to stop.
With a sound relapse prevention plan, you will have coping mechanisms and contingency plans for triggers and for relapse warning signs.
What to include in your relapse prevention plan (RPP)?
The components of an effective relapse prevention plan will contain awareness, planning, and intervention. These are the three keys to any relapse prevention plan. 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.
Honest self-assessment and reflection are key components of an effective relapse prevention plan. Taking the time to understand the reasons you use drugs and the kinds of things going on during your recovery are the first orders in early recovery. Much of this can and should be done with the help of treatment professionals and support groups.
Learning to recognize your triggers and planning for how to deal with them can assure that you will not be controlled by them. In short, taking stock of the people, places, and situations that you associate with using drugs will make it possible to avoid the associations these places present with using drugs.
One of the best ways to maintain your path of recovery is to have a supportive group of people in your corner. Other people who are going through the same struggles can be the best sources of strength in negotiating a potential relapse.
Plan for the Worst
This may sound alarmist and pessimistic, but you need to have a plan in place in case you stumble and use it. Using the drug is not the end of recovery. What you need is a plan for having medical and other professional interventions in place. You should have a list of supportive people you can contact. Having these things in place will make it possible for you to re-establish your recovery.
Set Healthy Goals
As stated above, learning to re-define fun your life is an important part of a relapse prevention plan. Taking on new activities that are not associated in any way with old behaviors is an ideal way to re-define fun in your life.
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. Letting yourself get run-down and eating poorly both undermine the recovery.
What are some relapse prevention group activities?
Most addiction treatment programs will include support groups and group therapy as part of the treatment regimen. Almost by definition, you will be introduced to group activities designed to prevent relapse. Spending time with others who are living with the same or similar issues can be the most empowering activity during recovery.
- 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 into groups, 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. Again, by working with others who are living in recovery, the ideas and thoughts others 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.
Relapse Prevention Programs
Riverwalk Ranch includes a Relapse Prevention program as part of a full range of treatment modalities.
Building skills and developing coping mechanisms are included in the many treatment options at Riverwalk Ranch.
No matter the specific treatment modality used to break the grip of addiction, relapse prevention is a major component of the overall treatment plan.
Riverwalk Ranch also includes medical options as part of your relapse prevention plan. In addition to coping skills, some people may require Vivitrol or Naltrexone in order to combat cravings as they recover.
The full range of relapse prevention options is part of the overall treatment program at Riverwalk Ranch.