Relapse Prevention Plan


A Successful Recovery Includes Recognizing Triggers

The best-designed plan always consists of a plan for error. At one point or another, something unexpected or unavoidable will arise, despite best efforts. When it comes to your sobriety, removing any trace of addiction triggers may be impossible. This is especially the case when substance abuse continues for a long amount of time. 

When your addiction becomes severe, substance abuse will affect every area of your life. This can make triggers almost impossible to completely avoid without very dramatic and unhealthy changes. To manage some triggers, when you cannot just remove them, a strategy must be devised to neutralize the threat. 

In order to do this, you must have a dexterous understanding of what relapse is. You must also be very aware of what triggers you are most likely to encounter. Running into a trigger blindly can lead to making hasty decisions and increase the margin for error. It’s important to be able to identify, learn about, and go up against triggers with a solid and manageable relapse prevention plan. 

Most Commonly Experienced Triggers for Relapse

Everyone is different and has very different life experiences. However, there are just some things that will undoubtedly present themselves in the lives of those in recovery for addiction.

Some of these things that trigger cravings can be accounted for in advance. Some cannot. Use the information wisely in order to get out ahead of the situations that you can see coming. Then work to find ways to contend with the unknown. 


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Some of the most common triggers you will encounter at some point while working to stay sober may be:  

  • Stress
  • Sleeplessness
  • Physical illness
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Withdrawal or detox
  • Isolation or loneliness
  • Insecurity or discomfort
  • Encounters with old friends 
  • Periods of low-self esteem
  • In the event of becoming too overconfident
  • Lack of mental, emotional, physical self-care
  • False sense of control over the disease of addiction
  • Challenges within relationships, both intimate and personal
  • Visiting places where substances were acquired and abused
  • Paraphernalia or sentimental items related to using drugs or alcohol 
  • Not tending to the daily commonly encountered feelings of H.A.L.T.:
    • Hunger
    • Anger
    • Loneliness
    • Tiredness

By learning from the lessons and slipups of others, you can stay one step ahead. Expecting the unexpected is part of the deal. However, at some point, you are likely to encounter the majority of these situations. 

Get out in front of the circumstances, and plan in advance. Determine how you will deal with resisting the temptation to relapse when each of these comes up. This will allow more focus when unforeseen situations arise. This is what a relapse prevention plan is all about. 

Identifying the 3 Stages of Relapse

The word “relapse” suggests that it happens in one swift movement. Realistically, it is more of a progression over time, at least in most cases. During residential treatment and therapy, you are rewiring your brain. The overall goal is to resist the urge caused by triggers while reinforcing how positive sobriety is for your life.

When a person begins abusing substances again, relapse has usually already happened prior to that actual moment. In the days, weeks months, or even years prior, the process of relapse may have already occurred. It is as much of an emotional experience as it is a physical one. Understanding this is the key to early intervention. 

There are three stages of relapse, and within each one, there is a way to get back on track. Right up to the very moment active abuse takes over, you have the opportunity to realize what is going on. Once you do, you can take measures against relapse, and protect your valuable sobriety. 

The three phases of relapse, regardless of when they start, are: 

Getting familiar with how each event presents itself can be a warning sign that something has the potential to go wrong. Knowledge is power so stay aware throughout your recovery journey. Keep an eye out for whether you are entertaining thoughts, feelings, and actions of relapse. Be sure to reposition yourself using your relapse prevention planning. 

Emotional Relapse: Stage One

The first step of relapse deals with feelings and how they contribute to craving and addiction. Many times, a person not putting enough focus on their relapse prevention plan will not even realize this is happening at first. A lack of awareness of the emotions you are allowing will manifest into patterns that are difficult to break. 

Someone that still has unresolved feelings or unhealthy associations to coping with triggers may have already entered this phase. The truth is, this can happen accidentally and unknowingly if not diligent. For those that can quickly and properly snap themselves out of it, the threat of physical relapse can diminish quickly.

Others however, chose to ignore or even deny the way they feel. Some may assume that feelings will subside without having to put in any effort. However, without work, these emotions will inevitably occur more often. When they do, you have relapsed emotionally. 

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Relapse

In order to determine if you are entering this step of emotional relapse, stay aware of how you are thinking and your emotional reactions. Pay attention to the signs of emotional relapse and how often these symptoms occur. Tune into whether you are feeling: 

  • Anxious
  • Defensive or paranoid
  • Isolation, loneliness, or seclusion
  • Unable to tolerate things reasonably 
  • Restless, unable to sleep enough, etc.
  • Angry or unable to control your temper
  • Undesirability to attend regular meetings
  • Unable to maintain healthy eating habits
  • Illegitimate mood swings or even lashing out
  • An opposition to getting help with these emotions
  • Shame and embarrassment of your addiction and sober life choices

Upon becoming aware of the frequency of these emotions, you must make a conscious choice to change them. There is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed, instead consider these feelings as warning signs to prevent relapse. Emotional denial often comes into play during this stage of relapse. 

However, many become confused because this does not always mean that there is a desire to physically abuse substances again. Emotional relapse is considered the initial development of unhealthy and negative thought patterns that have not been addressed during treatment. 

This is also associated with the term post-acute withdrawal, which usually happens after initial detox. Consciousness in these areas will help pull back and readjust to prevent further development of relapse. At this point, sobriety is not considered too far gone. Invest your time in early relapse prevention practices, before these emotions further develop.

If you feel as though you may be suffering from an additional underlying illness, this is also cause for concern. It would be wise to be assessed for a co-occurring disorder, which can be done by a reputable rehab facility. 

Take Early Relapse Prevention Measures

Emotional relapse is the first warning that your sobriety is in danger. The good news is, rehabilitation institutions can help you think ahead and have a plan for this. After becoming aware of emotional relapse, you have the ability to alter your habits and behaviors to avoid these feelings.

By going back through the list of common emotional triggers, you can revisit and address these emotions. Then you can actively react to them in a healthy and positive way, regaining a stronghold on your recovery and sobriety. When you are:

Anxious, unable to tolerate things reasonably or angry: 

Take a moment to practice deep breathing or meditation. Reexamine what causes the increase of negative emotion. Find a new healthy alternative to dealing with these emotions. If you need help, ask for it. These common emotions may have merit, but how you react to them makes the difference. 

Defensive, paranoid, mood swings, and lashing out:

Set aside a moment to rationalize what drove you to these conclusions. Calm your mind and differentiate between what is real and what is driven by your emotions. 

Isolated or secluding yourself, opposing help, or failing to attend regular meetings:

Go back to the basics and take into account how valuable the peer-related and social groups were during rehab. It is important to maintain encouraging and like-minded social groups for support and reinforcement of your recovery goals. 

Developing poor eating habits, unable to sleep, and not getting enough rest:

Taking care of your physical health is just as important as your mental health. Slacking in one area will reflect in the other. Set time aside for yourself and treat meals and sleep time as an exciting event, this will encourage you to look forward to them. 

Feeling shame and embarrassment of your addiction and sober life choices:

Working to forgive yourself is part of the process. Feelings and memories of past mistakes or thoughts of future relapse is part of the journey. It is what makes you human. Everyone makes mistakes. However, what people will remember most is how you sought out help and picked yourself back up and continued to better your life. 

Preventing Emotional Relapse

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To prevent emotional relapse, it is important to follow your relapse prevention plan. Be aware of how your emotions are driving your actions and behavioral tendencies. Recognize how these feelings impact the way you feel and how you act upon it. 

When emotional relapse is allowed to continue on for long periods of time, it will eventually evolve into the next stage. This next stage is mental relapse, and can be even more difficult to come back from. The only stage of relapse that doesn’t necessarily require immediate intervention is the emotional phase. However, that is only if you work to correct the signals you are experiencing before it does more serious damage. 

Getting Back on Track

The best course of action to prevent any stage of relapse is to be attentive to your self-care practices. Your body and mind are uniquely yours, and how you treat yourself will reflect outwardly as well as inwardly. This means doing some soul searching and self-examination. It may take time to really appreciate all that you have been given to work with. 

For starters, delve into why you turned to substance abuse to begin with. Analyze whether it was out of the need for stress reduction, liquid courage, or even personal reward. Then, go a bit deeper and ask yourself what was the root cause of these triggers. Figure out how to incorporate healthy alternatives. Redirect emotions into more beneficial practices that will enhance your quality of life instead of damage it. 

Getting down to the origin of your triggers will be a major part of your relapse prevention plan. By ignoring your personal needs or living in denial instead of tending to them, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable and unhealthy cycle.

This cycle will eventually lead to becoming physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. When a person becomes completely run down, there is typically a need to find an escape or relief.

For an addict, even for those already in recovery, this often leads to abandoning their relapse prevention plan. Accompanied by turning to, or turning back to, alcohol or drug abuse

Mental Relapse: Stage Two

Reaching the second stage of relapse is when adjusting your relapse prevention plan becomes more critical. Phase two, or mental relapse, occurs when emotional relapse is left uncared for properly. At this point, a person has begun to think about substance abuse. Triggers are beginning to supersede the preparation that was put forth to manage them. 

Often, many begin to deny that they have mentally relapsed and continue to put off addressing these underlying causes. Although other times, an addict realizes that relapse has occurred but believes they still have enough self-control to manage it. They are under the impression that as long as physical substance abuse does not occur, their sobriety is still being maintained. 

However, this is not how the disease of addiction works. While in a stage of mental relapse, the disease will push and push until it finds a vulnerable area. The urge to feed addiction will work relentlessly to make its move and take over again. 

Another misconception made at this point calls into question the specific substances that were abused. Under the false notion that they are still incontrol, an addict might consider using again, but in moderation, so “it would be different this time.” Or even, consider making an attempt to substitute other substances than the one that fed a prior addiction. Believing that it is simply not the same because addiction is impartial. This is a very slippery slope to begin with, and mentally feeling this way needs to be called to attention. 

Mental Relapse vs Emotional Relapse

Mental relapse is different from emotional relapse in one specific way. When mentally relapsing, you are taking unresolved negative feelings and begin to act upon them. However, these actions do not have to include physically using. Instead, mental relapse is when an addict makes the conscious choice to abandon positive habits within their relapse prevention plan. 

Mentally, there begins a great debate. It is an in-between place, going back and forth about whether to use or not to use. As this stage of relapse progresses, the decision to begin abusing substances begins to outweigh dedication to sobriety. 

Some of the behaviors associated with mental relapse as opposed to emotional relapse include: 

The major factor to consider about mental relapse is that these mental urges are creating a means to abuse substances. Instead of reinforcing a relapse prevention plan, individuals may begin focusing more on substance use. In order to keep addiction at bay, you must intervene on your own behalf. Speak up and work towards getting help before relapse progresses any further.  

Dealing with the Mental Urges of Relapse as They Come

When mental relapse is occurring, it may be helpful to take one thing at a time and consider your options. Weighing the pros and cons before acting impulsively can allow you the time you need to avoid sabotaging your hard-earned sobriety.

Some helpful ways others have done this when facing relapse may be useful to incorporate into your relapse prevention plan. Be patient with yourself, and know that you can get through this time of temptation. 

Consider the outcome of acting on these urges.

Realize how the ripple effect can spin right back into full-blown active addiction. Keep in mind that having the disease of addiction will not allow you to have complete control, once you have begun to feed it. Remember why you decided to get sober in the first place, and how much work went into achieving it. Know that there is no such thing as “just a sip” or “just this once” when in recovery. 

As humans, our brains have a tendency to try and forget pain and suffering; it is our natural survival instinct. Unfortunately, this also means that sometimes we can “forget” the negative effects that substance abuse has had on our lives.

When you are facing the possibility of relapse, it’s important to consider the impact it will have moving forward to the future. Once able to harness these memories from the time of active addiction, you can become your own relapse deterrent. 

Open up about the way your urges are affecting you. 

This may require you to be a bit courageous however it will benefit you three times over. Getting in touch with a rehab facility is usually going to be the best option. However, verbally discussing how you feel about addiction and relapse temptations can be done with anyone you trust for support.

Sometimes all it takes is hearing it out loud to come to terms with how poor of a decision you are about to make. Also, allowing others to know where you stand can ease feelings of loneliness. It can even ease the fear associated with returning to rehab treatment before it is too late. 

Stay busy and redirect your thoughts and attention elsewhere

Try doing something that will take your mind off harmful and negative thoughts, even for just a little while. Allow yourself to have time to think, instead of acting out of impulse, void of your recovery prevention plans.

Wait for a little bit of time, do something else first, go for a walk, or even to the gym. A few extra minutes of time before making a decision, can shed light on the best possible course of action. 

Relax and take one day at a time.

Nothing happens overnight. It may take time and patience to get adjusted to thinking and staying sober. Do your best to stay relaxed and focused on your journey. Most importantly, forgive yourself and learn from your own mistakes.

No one is perfect and everyone has moments of weakness. Do your best to manage vulnerable times using the skill and methods you’ve prepared for in your relapse prevention plan. 

Physical Relapse: Stage Three

The act of physically returning to abusing substances is the third stage of relapse. Relapse prevention plans are very important and put in place to avoid this. However, mistakes happen, and it is an unfortunate lesson to learn. 

Now is the time when you need to be especially proactive and work your way back to sobriety. By physically relapsing, you need to understand that your relapse prevention plan needs to be adjusted from here on out.

Many of the methods and practices that you may have thought would work were simply not enough. But, there is good news: your journey is far from over and recovery is still a possibility in your life!

At this point, further intervention may be necessary. Triggers that led to physical relapse have to be discussed thoroughly and assessed in rehab therapy. Moving from phase one of relapse to stage three can happen very quickly. So it is important to take this physical relapse as a lesson for the future. As soon as possible, reach out to your local rehab center and get back on track. 

It’s hard to stop the process of relapse at that point. However, that’s not where you should focus your efforts on recovery. Once you are able to complete detox, you can get started on a new and improved relapse prevention plan. At rehab, you will learn new ways to cope and use the triggers that have led to relapse becoming physical. 

Remember that all hope has not been lost. If you overcame and walked away from addiction once, you can do it again. This time, you can protect your sobriety and life in recovery using the new information you have now. Pick yourself up and continue the journey. You are still worth it! 

Beginning Again After Relapse

Relapse does not mean that you are ending your quest for a healthy and sober existence. Instead, it is a new beginning. If you feel as though you are becoming alarmingly close to giving into relapse triggers, get yourself in a position to receive the necessary rehab care. Addiction rehab centers can help you redevelop your relapse prevention plan, and take your life back from addiction. Allow us to assist you here at Daylight Recovery Services! 

Our team is here to work with you on your path to a life that does not include drug or alcohol abuse. We understand the challenges and difficulties you may encounter on this journey. So, we strive to walk with you, providing the guidance, strength, understanding, and support that you need. 

Here at Daylight Recovery Services, we truly believe that you deserve to be free. You deserve to live a healthy and happy life, leaving substance dependence and addiction in the past. So, please, don’t wait any longer to find the hope and help you need. Call today and discover programs available to help you today; there isn’t a moment to waste!