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Relapse Prevention

Addiction Relapse Prevention

An essential part of drug and alcohol addiction treatment is learning the life skills and day-to-day tools needed to keep recovery going and avoid temptations and challenges that can weaken commitment to sobriety. But no one can control every moment of every day and the way people and circumstances enter our lives and affect us. Adhering to a relapse prevention program is important — for the times when life doesn’t go our way.

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How Relapse Can Happen

Contrary to popular belief, addiction relapse isn’t a response to a singular event but more an escalation of emotions and responses to triggers over time. Relapse is a process that presents in a succession of stages. If you and those who care about know the signs, it can assist in stopping the progression before it goes too far.

The stages of addiction relapse are broken down into three parts: emotional, mental and physical. Although there is no set timeframe in how these develop, the order in which the stages occur is the standard sequence.

Emotional Phase:

This is the first part of relapse and the characteristics are much like the reasons people turn to drug and alcohol use in the first place, before addiction sets in. These aspects are centered in feelings, can be subconscious, and exhibited in a general sense, not due to a specific event.

  • Unhappiness
  • Depression
  • Anxiousness or agitation
  • Anger or resentful
  • Preferring isolation
  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • Reverting back to unhealthy eating and sleeping habits
Mental Phase:

Once a person has experienced the emotional triggers as a prelude to relapse, the mental aspects kick in. In this phase, the emotions come to life through thoughts about life during active addiction and a desire to relive those days.

  • Retracing the places and remembering the people you used with, fondly
  • Wanting to reconnect with old friends that used with you
  • Having the desire to revisit former hangouts where use took place
  • Visualizing the use of your drug of choice
  • Lying to yourself about the ability to control use
Physical Phase:

The escalation of phase two into this final phase can occur as fast as the flip of a switch. There is merit to the paraphrase ‘Thoughts become words that become action‘. The physical component of relapse is the act of doing it, again.

Typical Triggers of Drug Relapse

Life happens.

That’s where triggers live. The reasons behind a relapse trigger aren’t always negative. Think about when you or someone you know gets a raise at work or a promotion. What about a college graduation or attending the wedding of a close family member?

Life spurs our emotions that run the spectrum of feelings and ultimately, we respond with thoughts. It is in those moments when we decide what to do with them that define addiction recovery or relapse.

Signs of Addiction Relapse

Many of the life skills that support recovery include personal traits that lead to humility, gratitude, selflessness and respect. If you begin to witness the erosion of these characteristics in yourself or a loved one who has gone through an addiction treatment program, it could be indicative of relapse risk.

Some of the signs of addiction recovery at risk include, but are not limited to:

  • Heightened or inappropriate response to stress
    • Angry outbursts
    • Overwhelming fear, anxiety or depression
    • Overwrought with frustration
    • Unshakable or obsessive thoughts about guilt
    • Focus on loneliness
  • Unavoidable or surprise health issues
  • Unforeseen financial burdens
  • Loss of a loved one, friend or coworker
  • Too much free time or a sense of boredom
  • Missed obligations
  • Overconfidence or narcissistic behaviors
  • Wallowing in self-pity
  • Lying to others
  • Rekindling relationships with friends from past drug use

To help you or a loved one stay on track and solidify addiction recovery in the moment and one day at a time, follow these steps.


Want to test your addiction recovery strength?

Take our Relapse Prevention Readiness Quiz.

Relapse Prevention Tips and Tools for Better Recovery

Addiction education is vital to understanding the aspects of drug and alcohol codependency and also learning how to recognize the symptoms of addiction and its recurrence, known as relapse.

For your reference, please use these recommended practices to help prevent addiction relapse and to continue to enjoy the benefits of addiction recovery that you worked so hard to achieve!

Relapse Prevention Success Traits

For the moments that can cause emotional harm during the recovery process, do what you can to simply avoid them. This includes maintaining contact (direct or indirectly) with the people, places and other reminders of past drug use. If you need to find another way to work that keeps you away from the neighborhood bar drive by, do it. If you made friends with the neighbor in your apartment complex and used cocaine or heroin together, find somewhere else to live.

Use the many holistic practices you first experienced during drug or alcohol addiction treatment. More than just part of your program, they are meant to be continued throughout your life to enhance recovery and invigorate a healthy lifestyle.

Practice Relapse Prevention Techniques Often:

Mindfulness. Use slow steady breathing, yoga, tai chi or other meditation forms to help alleviate stress and restore calm. Even if you’re at work or on the road and come against stress, use controlled breathing for about a minute, three seconds on the inhale, three seconds to exhale. Then repeat.

Gratitude. Reflect on how far you’ve come in your journey. Feel good about your successes and know that there are more to come.

Selflessness. Remember that you have much to offer others and your unique gifts shine through when you give of yourself without any expectation in receiving something in return.

Accountability. Hold yourself in the highest esteem and know that you are capable of sticking to your commitments and seeing them through.

Exercise. Reconnecting with physical activity helps to boost dopamine and endorphins, the body’s natural response that provides the sensation of feeling good and the euphoria of being alive. For an added boost that comes from spiritual connection, exercise outdoors to get both.

Self-Expression. Your feelings and thoughts are important to your recovery. Express them through other means, such as sculpture, painting, playing music, singing or writing in a journal.

Communicate. Stay in touch with your therapists, addiction treatment alumni and others who support your recovery and provide strength when you need it. These can also be teachers, coworkers, family and friends who share in your commitment to recover.

Share. Everyone who has gone through drug or alcohol addiction and has come out the other side of it has a story or two to tell. Join recovery groups in your community and online to positively impact others. Be a guest speaker at the addiction treatment center that you are now a proud member of its alumni.

Explore. Remember all those hobbies or activities you always wanted to try? Recovery is a great time to try something new and boost self-confidence.

Eat. Pray. Love. Treat your body like a temple and it will serve you well. Make sure to eat healthy as it helps support physical and mental wellbeing. Whether you have a spiritual affiliation to God or some other form of higher being or purpose, acknowledge that connection often. Know that you are worthy of good things in life and get comfortable with loving every aspect of yourself. In turn, it allows you a better ability to love others. Keep motivation going by subscribing to a positive affirmation website or app to receive daily messages.

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