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A Relapse Prevention Plan: The Tools of Recovery

Apr 09, 2014 - 12 comments

relapse prevention









The Stages of Relapse

Relapse is a process, it's not an event. In order to understand relapse prevention you have to understand the stages of relapse. Relapse starts weeks or even months before the event of physical relapse. In this page you will learn how to use specific relapse prevention techniques for each stage of relapse. There are three stages of relapse.(1)

    Emotional relapse
    Mental relapse
    Physical relapse

Emotional Relapse

In emotional relapse, you're not thinking about using. But your emotions and behaviors are setting you up for a possible relapse in the future.

The signs of emotional relapse are:

    Mood swings
    Not asking for help
    Not going to meetings
    Poor eating habits
    Poor sleep habits

The signs of emotional relapse are also the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal. If you understand post-acute withdrawal it's easier to avoid relapse, because the early stage of relapse is easiest to pull back from. In the later stages the pull of relapse gets stronger and the sequence of events moves faster.
Early Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention at this stage means recognizing that you're in emotional relapse and changing your behavior. Recognize that you're isolating and remind yourself to ask for help. Recognize that you're anxious and practice relaxation techniques. Recognize that your sleep and eating habits are slipping and practice self-care.

If you don't change your behavior at this stage and you live too long in the stage of emotional relapse you'll become exhausted, and when you're exhausted you will want to escape, which will move you into mental relapse.

Practice self-care. The most important thing you can do to prevent relapse at this stage is take better care of yourself. Think about why you use. You use drugs or alcohol to escape, relax, or reward yourself. Therefore you relapse when you don't take care of yourself and create situations that are mentally and emotionally draining that make you want to escape.

For example, if you don't take care of yourself and eat poorly or have poor sleep habits, you'll feel exhausted and want to escape. If you don't let go of your resentments and fears through some form of relaxation, they will build to the point where you'll feel uncomfortable in your own skin. If you don't ask for help, you'll feel isolated. If any of those situations continues for too long, you will begin to think about using. But if you practice self-care, you can avoid those feelings from growing and avoid relapse. (Reference:
Mental Relapse

In mental relapse there's a war going on in your mind. Part of you wants to use, but part of you doesn't. In the early phase of mental relapse you're just idly thinking about using. But in the later phase you're definitely thinking about using.

The signs of mental relapse are:

    Thinking about people, places, and things you used with
    Glamorizing your past use
    Hanging out with old using friends
    Fantasizing about using
    Thinking about relapsing
    Planning your relapse around other people's schedules

It gets harder to make the right choices as the pull of addiction gets stronger.
Techniques for Dealing with Mental Urges

Play the tape through. When you think about using, the fantasy is that you'll be able to control your use this time. You'll just have one drink. But play the tape through. One drink usually leads to more drinks. You'll wake up the next day feeling disappointed in yourself. You may not be able to stop the next day, and you'll get caught in the same vicious cycle. When you play that tape through to its logical conclusion, using doesn't seem so appealing.

A common mental urge is that you can get away with using, because no one will know if you relapse. Perhaps your spouse is away for the weekend, or you're away on a trip. That's when your addiction will try to convince you that you don't have a big problem, and that you're really doing your recovery to please your spouse or your work. Play the tape through. Remind yourself of the negative consequences you've already suffered, and the potential consequences that lie around the corner if you relapse again. If you could control your use, you would have done it by now.

Tell someone that you're having urges to use. Call a friend, a support, or someone in recovery. Share with them what you're going through. The magic of sharing is that the minute you start to talk about what you're thinking and feeling, your urges begin to disappear. They don't seem quite as big and you don't feel as alone.

Distract yourself. When you think about using, do something to occupy yourself. Call a friend. Go to a meeting. Get up and go for a walk. If you just sit there with your urge and don't do anything, you're giving your mental relapse room to grow.

Wait for 30 minutes. Most urges usually last for less than 15 to 30 minutes. When you're in an urge, it feels like an eternity. But if you can keep yourself busy and do the things you're supposed to do, it'll quickly be gone.

Do your recovery one day at a time. Don't think about whether you can stay abstinent forever. That's a paralyzing thought. It's overwhelming even for people who've been in recovery for a long time.

One day at a time, means you should match your goals to your emotional strength. When you feel strong and you're motivated to not use, then tell yourself that you won't use for the next week or the next month. But when you're struggling and having lots of urges, and those times will happen often, tell yourself that you won't use for today or for the next 30 minutes. Do your recovery in bite-sized chunks and don't sabotage yourself by thinking too far ahead.

Make relaxation part of your recovery. Relaxation is an important part of relapse prevention, because when you're tense you tend to do what’s familiar and wrong, instead of what's new and right. When you're tense you tend to repeat the same mistakes you made before. When you're relaxed you are more open to change. (Reference:

Physical Relapse

Once you start thinking about relapse, if you don't use some of the techniques mentioned above, it doesn't take long to go from there to physical relapse. Driving to the liquor store. Driving to your dealer.

It's hard to stop the process of relapse at that point. That's not where you should focus your efforts in recovery. That's achieving abstinence through brute force. But it is not recovery. If you recognize the early warning signs of relapse, and understand the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal, you'll be able to catch yourself before it's too late.

Post a Comment
Avatar universal
by weaver71, Apr 09, 2014
This information is some that has helped me as much as anything. I don't know if anyone ever looked up Terrance Gorski's CENAPS model of recovery, but I sure mentioned it a lot. I relapse all the time, but just like other fights, I know how to avoid from getting physical now. Thanks again for sharing all this stuff, good reminder and hopefully teaching some folks about these ideas. You are awesome my friend.

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by VICourageous, Apr 09, 2014
VERY GOOD INFO! I just read it out here on that Post..Thanks always you come up with some great

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by ActingBrandNew, Apr 09, 2014
@ Tony - In my studies I found that I can personally relate to and agree with the Biopsychosocial Model of addiction. Gorski has the same views.


Theoretical Components

Addiction - A Biopsychosocial Model:  Addiction is a serious problem that results from a complex interaction among physical psychological and social factors.  

Recovery - A Developmental Model:  Recovery is a complex process that emerges in stages over time.  Each developmental stage of recovery has its own unique theme, recovery goal, and recovery tasks.

Relapse - A Prevention & Management Model:  Relapse is the process of becoming dysfunctional in recovery that ends with the renewed symptoms of addiction or related mental or personality disorders.  Relapse can be prevented.  Relapse can be stopped quickly should it occur.

Avatar universal
by weaver71, Apr 09, 2014
It's getting hard to talk to my therapist. I spent a long time looking into all the theories and physiology of addiction. I ask to talk about specific ideas of recovery from drugs or BP and it turns into a conversation about my kids or work. I honestly think the individual has to internalize these models for them to work. Nobody can tell me that my philosophy or morals are wrong, so it really ends up being me using the tools I already know. I guess my therapist checks with me to see if I am doing it. I would love to have a therapist like you. I think your coarse of study is going to be very helpful to the world, not just because of the info, but because of who you are. I guess slim pickin's is what I get for living in such a rural place of beauty. We have the highest per capita of drug, child, domestic abuse in the state, just not enough money to hire good people to help out. If you wont get bored up in the mountains, we would love to have you.

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by ActingBrandNew, Apr 09, 2014
@Tony- I appreciate what everything you said. I actually love the mountains. Its one reason I worked for the Forest Service. I love nature.

Avatar universal
by kutyba13, May 10, 2014
Hello Mysteryman,
I have been studying this substance abuse thing 4 classes in 8 weeks online and it is abit much. I really appreciate your thoughts and feedback. I am looking for some long terms and short term treatment plan goals for an alcoholic minimizer. Go figure is what I said. I have been here and there and have finally got something after two years but it was ME that had to do it not ANYONE else accept god in my case. Higher power. Let me know what you think, thx

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by nonights, May 10, 2014
Thanks on the informative post. It really helped me.  I get so scared about the thinking thing. Always double checking my thoughts and actions. Not trusting my motives. Not sure exactly what I need to be doing. This kind of info helps.

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by AShellof_Me, May 10, 2014
Fantastic information! Thank you so much for sharing.  I really appreciate your journals so much... I need to catch UP!

I agree with weaver... You WILL be such an amazing asset to the 'helping' community of counselors or psychologist whatever you do decide to do with your formal education... your experience gives a credibility - the experience, strength, and hope... that many other 'helpers' simply cannot share. The insight you carry inside of you is invaluable. Right on.

My counselor is recovering addict. I actually found him because I was looking for a counselor for my son who specialized in addiction recovery/ and recovery of his own... my son went "back out" .... go figure I was the one in crisis. So, I made the appointment for myself.  God worked it out. Go figure.

I'm currently working in this book (workbook) called Recovery Zone (Vol. 1) by Patrick Carnes. It's awesome... curious if you have heard of it/him? It's been so helpful to me... a lot to "chew on."

Anyway. Great work you're doing. Thanks so much for sharing your work with us!

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by ActingBrandNew, May 10, 2014
@ Kutyba13- I am a big believer in catering to each individuals needs. So many people in recovery will "preach" that their way is "THE" way when in fact there is no one size fits all in recovery. I think its great that people share what works for them. It offers a different perspective and hope but when people start saying that if you dont do this or that then so and so will happen...well, I disagree. Everybody is different. Im not a counselor so I dont think it would be appropriate for me to say what I think a good short or long term treatment plan for an "alcoholic minimizer" would be. The literature, however points out a great variety of treatment for alcoholics that stem from inpatient detox to long term out patient aftercare. Since you are currently studying substance abuse then Im assuming you have read about the various treatment modalities available for alcoholics and addicts. From a non academic standpoint, I will tell you that I have been in almost all the various types of treatment facilities....from detox to long term residential and even a sober living home. I feel they all had something to offer and I picked up different tools at each one. I guess what Im saying is that it will be a trial and error thing for an alcoholic/addict but even if one fails...there are tools picked up on the way that will aid in the eventual recovery if ever reached.  

I wish you continued success in your studies.

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by ActingBrandNew, May 10, 2014
@ AShellof_Me- The name sounded familiar so I looked it up. I cant say that Ive heard of him but the workbook looks very interesting. Thanks for sharing it, I might check it out.

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by real_jimmy, Oct 06, 2014
Looking forward to read this..

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by real_jimmy, Oct 06, 2014
and Terrance Gorski's CENAPS model too

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