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Understanding Relapse and How to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan

Recovering from addiction is never easy. Completing a drug and alcohol addiction treatment program is a huge accomplishment, however, graduating from rehab does not mean your work is done. Once you leave a facility you will be faced with new triggers, cravings, and temptations to abuse substances.

Because transitioning from an addiction treatment facility to everyday life can be challenging, you should have a relapse prevention plan in place. Relapse prevention plans outline ways you can overcome negative behaviors or triggers to maintain long-term sobriety. Having one of these plans in place will make it much easier for you to avoid relapse, gain support when you need it, and stay on track with your sobriety.

If you or a loved one are close to finishing an addiction treatment program, it’s time to start thinking about creating a relapse prevention strategy. Understanding the components that make a relapse prevention plan effective can allow you to create an effective one before you need to use it.

Is Addiction Relapse Common?

Addiction relapse occurs when someone returns to substance abuse after a period of abstinence. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the addiction relapse rate is between 40 to 60%.[1] While about half of the individuals recovering from addiction have dealt with a relapse, it does not have to be a part of your story.

There are many reasons that relapses occur, including:

  • Untreated mental health conditions
  • Being around drug or alcohol use
  • Being in places that trigger you, such as bars or liquor stores
  • Poor self-care
  • Difficult platonic or intimate relationships
  • Overconfidence
  • Boredom or isolation
  • Not knowing how to manage your emotions

While a relapse can be triggered by many different things, having a relapse prevention plan can help you identify what is causing your cravings before it turns into an action.

How to Create an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan

Relapse does not occur immediately. To explain, relapse is actually thought to happen in three different stages: emotional, mental, and physical. Relapse prevention plans help you identify a relapse before it turns into a physical action, ensuring that your sobriety stays intact.

If you or a loved one are creating a new relapse prevention plan, take the following steps:

Assess Your Substance Use Disorder

The first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with your substance abuse history. Knowing how your drug or alcohol abuse started and progressed, and what led you to get sober can be incredibly helpful in preventing relapses.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was there a certain time you were more prone to substance abuse?
  • Were certain people around you when you were abusing drugs or alcohol?
  • What thoughts and behavioral patterns made you more likely to use drugs?
  • What caused your previous relapse or the start of your drug addiction if you have not relapsed prior?

If you have experienced a relapse before, being able to identify what caused you to turn to drugs or alcohol can be incredibly helpful in preventing them in the future.

Identify Your Triggers and Warning Signs

Being aware of the people, places, things, and emotions that trigger you to crave substances can prevent you from relapsing later on. By being aware of your triggers, you can avoid them or be ready to combat them when they are unavoidable.

To identify your triggers, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which people remind me of my substance abuse?
  • What places would remind me of or make me crave drugs and alcohol?
  • What types of thoughts or emotions cause me to want to abuse substances?
  • Do certain times of the year trigger me to crave drugs or alcohol?

In addition to your relapse triggers, you should also identify your personal warning signs of relapse. Since everyone is different, it’s important to be aware of what behaviors and emotions you typically experience right before you engage in substance abuse. Common warning signs of relapse include isolating from friends and family, not showing up to therapy or support groups, or experiencing frequent mood swings.

Compile a List of Preventative Tools

During your addiction treatment program, you learned several techniques that were helpful in your recovery. These techniques can be taken with you into everyday life to help keep you accountable and focused in your recovery. Additionally, most of the tools taught to you during rehab are extremely useful in preventing relapses from occurring.

Examples of preventative tools to put on your list include:

  • Therapy
  • Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Exercising
  • Journaling
  • Daily gratitude lists
  • A list of consequences that you would face if you relapsed
  • Meditation and yoga
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Breathing exercises for emotional regulation

Create a Plan of Action

Lastly, you should have a plan of action in place in case you do begin abusing drugs or alcohol again. This could include people you can call for support and guidance, going to extra therapy sessions, doubling down on your support group meetings, or returning to rehab.

The action you take will depend on the severity of your relapse. If you only experienced one slip, going to extra therapy sessions and being honest with your sponsor can be enough to get you back on track. However, if your substance abuse was prolonged you should always return to a rehab program so you can brush up on your recovery maintenance techniques.

Find Help Today

If you or a loved one suffered from a relapse, it’s time to seek help. Addiction relapses can be difficult to come back from because of feelings of guilt or shame. However, many people deal with multiple relapses before they achieve long-term sobriety.

At Mandala Healing Center, we can help you overcome relapse, and feelings of shame, and teach you how to maintain lifelong sobriety. To learn more about our addiction treatment programs, contact us today.


  1. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA): The Science of Addiction Treatment and Recovery, Retrieved August 2023 From