Relapse Prevention Techniques

When people emerge from a drug or alcohol addiction treatment program, they may feel as though they’re stronger than they’ve ever been before, capable of handling almost any trigger that might come their way. In reality, however, the time period immediately following treatment is incredibly dangerous for people in recovery. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly two-thirds of all relapses to use take place within the first six months of the recovery process. As time passes, that risk might fall, especially if people pull together a healthy relapse prevention program and adhere to those steps on a daily basis.

These are just a few components that could make up a recovery plan for people with addictions.

Increasing Awareness

relapse preventionPeople with addictions often feel as though they have the ability to control the casual use of drugs and alcohol. Even though they’ve completed a treatment program, which clearly demonstrates that use leads to disaster, they may still feel as though one little drink at a party or one little pill after a bad day won’t lead to any problems at all. This kind of defeatist thinking can quickly lead to a relapse, as a small sip of alcohol or a tiny hit of drugs could spiral into compulsive and daily use.

At the end of a treatment program, clients might be encouraged to learn yet more about the chronic nature of addiction, and they might talk with their therapists about the importance of long-term, strict sobriety. Dabbling just can’t be tolerated for people with this chronic condition, and they really need to be sure not to slip up in their sober game plan. Clients might also be given books, videos, website addresses and more, all filled with information about how addictions work inside the brain and why they can be so very dangerous. Learning more, and taking those lessons to heart, could be key to the recovery process for people like this.

communityReaching Out

Learning and study can help to deepen a sense of understanding about the nature of addiction, but some of the best lessons about recovery may come from other people who have successfully dealt with their own addiction issue. Often, this kind of learning takes place within addiction support groups. According to a study in the journal Pastoral Psychology, the majority of treatment facilities use a 12-step approach to help clients. Here, of the 139 facilities studied, 91 percent used these techniques. If these results hold true, most people in recovery are familiar with support groups when they leave their treatment programs. They might consider staying in touch with these groups as part of a robust recovery program.

Support groups hold meetings at various times and in various locations, and most experts suggest that clients should attend these meetings at least weekly, if not more frequently. Just going to meetings may not be enough to really provide assistance, however, as most people need to integrate the lessons of the support group into their own lives. They need to meet with sponsors, sponsor another member, and make a daily commitment to stay clean and sober. Working the program and following the steps might be one of the best ways to ensure that a relapse doesn’t take place.

In addition to a support group, many people in recovery make their own supportive network of caring individuals, including their:

  • Spouses
  • Parents
  • Adult children
  • Clergy members
  • Close friends

These people might be willing to listen or help during a tough day, and they might also be willing to share their own stories of day-to-day coping. They might also have healthy lifestyle habits they can pass on to a person in recovery. Finding an individualized support group like this could also be vital to long-term recovery success.

Avoiding Triggers

avoiding triggersIn addition to learning about support groups in addiction treatment programs, most people learn about their triggers for drug use. These are the people, places and emotional situations that can spark a deep need to use and abuse drugs. Avoiding these triggers can be key to a robust recovery, as these are the prompts that lead to situations in which a person feels most likely to dabble and slip. As part of the recovery process, people might be encouraged to avoid bars, parties and other locations in which intoxication is likely. They might also be encouraged to break ties with those who continue to abuse substances, at least until their own recovery is just a little stronger.

While some people can avoid their triggers without help, others need a little assistance in building up a life without temptation. A sober living facility might help. Here, people have the opportunity to live with others who are also in recovery, in a facility in which drugs and alcohol aren’t allowed. For some people, this environment provides them with the opportunity to really break bad habits, where living at home might be much too dangerous in terms of relapse risk.



Soothing Negative Feelings+

Some triggers are external, but there are some prompts for substance use and abuse that begin deep inside the mind of an addicted person. For example, in an article in the journal Psychopharmacology, researchers suggest that feelings of stress can trigger a deep craving for drugs that’s hard for addicted people to ignore. The researchers aren’t quite sure why this link exists, but they have no doubt that this emotional state sparks drug use in some people. Other studies have found links between emotions like sadness, anger or fear and the need for substance use and abuse.Living with negative emotions can be difficult for people in recovery, as they may feel as though one little hit or one little drink might make those emotions just disappear. Breaking that cycle might mean using meditation. Here, people are encouraged to think of their emotions as fleeting storms that pass through the consciousness. They may be disturbing and upsetting, but they pass quickly. Feeling the emotions and then letting them go, rather than trying to suppress them with substances, might allow people to feel more connected and more at ease, and they might be less likely to use as a result.

Focusing on Health+

Negative emotional states can be triggered by almost anything, but for some people, they can be spurred by poor health. People who are tired or who are in pain might be more likely to feel depression, for example, while people who are hungry might be more likely to feel anxious. Paying attention to these physical cues and developing a plan that can support robust physical health might also be key to stopping the relapse cycle.Pulling together a healthy lifestyle might mean:

  • Visiting a doctor regularly
  • Eating healthful foods on a set schedule
  • Exercising daily
  • Developing a sleep/wake schedule

These steps can translate to better mental health, but they may also have other benefits to an addicted person in recovery. For example, a plan like this gives the day structure. There’s a time in which people awaken and a time at which they go to bed. They may spend time shopping and cooking, and then cleaning up after those meals. They may devote a few hours each day to working out or stretching. The day is filled with healthful activities that benefit the body, and there may not be time left in which to take drugs.

Improving Life+

While boosting physical health may also assist with stress reduction, some people with addiction histories have other lifestyle triggers that don’t have anything to do with the condition of their bodies. For example, in a study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, researchers suggest that living in poverty or living in a dangerous community can place people under enormous stress, and this can lead them to higher relapse risk rates. People like this may also struggle with their education, and unemployment may be a factor.Working with community resources can help some people get back on track. They can take classes to boost their education and get a good job, for example, or they can apply for governmental assistance that could allow them to move into more secure housing developments. With each little step taken, people might feel more secure in their lifestyles and less likely to ruin their progress with alcohol or drugs.

Watching for Signs+

Even when people take all of these steps, improving their lives in ways large and small, the risk of relapse might still be in place. Addictions are powerful and they’re chronic, so there’s always a risk that a return to former habits could take place. Sometimes, that return comes in slow and steady steps that are easy to ignore. For example, the person:

  • Has a strong and negative emotion that persists for a day or two
  • Thinks about using
  • Spends time with people who use
  • Determines that one little shot or drink won’t hurt
  • Slips and uses
  • Uses again
  • Returns to daily use

Each and every one of these steps provides an opportunity for an intervention. There’s no reason for a person to follow this path right back into an addiction. The key is to be aware of how a relapse typically progresses, and to be willing to get help when even one of these little signs shows up. For some, this means reaching out to support group members or friends and asking for help. For others, this means returning to the treatment facility for touch-up counseling. It’s vital, however, that people take action when this cycle begins, so they can arrest the progression before the habits become chronic.

If people do relapse to drug use, there’s no need for despair. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a relapse to use doesn’t mean that the treatment for addiction can be considered a failure. Instead, a relapse simply means that there’s a gap in the person’s understanding about addiction, or a need for new skills that could help to stave off drug use. A relapse is an opportunity, in other words, and people who relapse should take that opportunity to get more treatment for their addictions. This second round of treatment could provide them with the help they missed the first time around.

Learning About Aftercare

All of these techniques are stressed in the aftercare portion of treatment for addiction. It’s a time of learning and healing for people with addictions, and we’d like to tell you more about it. Foundations Recovery Network facilities provide robust aftercare, and some of our programs even provide sober living communities for people in need. If you’d like to find out more, please call us.