Relapse prevention skills can also be described as coping skills or even recovery skills. They are a set of skills that people in recovery use to deal with the risk of relapse.
The more skilled you are at identifying and avoiding common triggers, the greater chance you have of not relapsing into your substance use disorder.
What Is Relapse Prevention?
Relapse prevention is part of a treatment program that educates you about the nature of relapse in addiction and how to avoid it.
When you learn about relapse prevention, you develop skills as well as strategies for dealing with the temptation to use again.
These are practical things that involve your physical, emotional, and mental health while helping to maintain general well-being.
The best relapse prevention plan incorporates strategies and skills that take the stage of recovery that you are in into account. A good plan gives you the tools to avoid relapse in whatever part of the recovery process you are in.
The Stages Of Relapse
In order to appreciate the recovery skills listed below, you should first understand the different signs of relapse that you can experience and the progress they take toward alcohol or drug use.
A return to drug and alcohol addiction begins with an emotional relapse. Emotional relapse usually begins before a person has started thinking about using again.
The term is used to describe a set of actions that set a person up to go to the next stage of relapse. These actions, taken as a whole, indicate that the person is in a slump and has stopped practicing self-care.
Warning signs of emotional relapse can include:
- poor eating or sleeping habits
- dwelling on other people and their problems
- not going to meetings or going to meetings but not sharing
- suppressing emotions
Mental relapse is when people feel a conflict about drug and alcohol use. They feel strong cravings, but they don’t want to fall back into alcohol and drug addiction.
During this period, people in recovery are especially vulnerable to high-risk situations. They may have difficulty identifying relapse triggers and start to consider ways or situations in which alcohol or drug use would be OK.
Warning signs of mental relapse include:
- planning a relapse
- thinking about ways to have control over-using and looking for relapse opportunities
- thinking about past use in a way that glamorizes it or minimizes the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse
- drug and alcohol craving
- shame in response to thoughts of using again
When people in recovery begin using again, they have reached the stage of physical relapse.
Physical relapse can be as much a way to escape the conflict of mental relapse as it is a response to drug cravings.
Physical relapse often occurs because an opportunity for relapse comes up and a person will use again thinking that he or she won’t get caught or that it won’t be as bad as last time.
Unfortunately, one use of alcohol or drugs often results in a state of uncontrolled alcohol and drug abuse.
8 Relapse Skills For People In Addiction Recovery
Relapse prevention strategies involve more than a just-say-no approach to an opportunity to use drugs or alcohol again.
Combined, they represent a toolbox that helps you make good on your relapse prevention plan.
1. Positive Self-Care
Self-care is an important tool for relapse prevention, and it is most helpful in the early stages of emotional relapse.
It relies on the messages you give yourself. Are you thinking positive things about yourself and your ability to maintain sobriety?
It can also involve habits surrounding sleep and food. Self-care gives you enough sleep at night and healthy eating habits during the day.
2. Strong Support System
Relapse prevention involves having a strong support system, and this can come in many forms. It can involve friends or family members who are committed to helping you maintain sobriety in positive ways.
Additionally, it can involve support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
The development of a strong support system has implications. If you need to build positive places to find people who support you, then you also need to avoid negative places and people who do not actively support your sobriety.
3. Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet cannot be overestimated. When you eat poorly, your body does not receive what it needs, leaving you with less emotional energy to make the decisions you need to make.
When you eat the food that gives your body what it needs, you have more energy to sustain a positive outlook and make positive decisions.
4. Identify And Avoid Common Triggers
A trigger is something that incites the desire to use drugs or alcohol again. The most common triggers can come in the form of people, places, or things.
Developing a workable relapse prevention plan means identifying the things that are triggers for you and how you plan to avoid them.
As with self-care, avoiding triggers often means changing friends, social hangouts, and other facets of your life that are likely to offer opportunities to use drugs or alcohol.
5. Find Positive Activities To Do
It is not enough to simply avoid triggers. Relapse strategies involve replacing those things with positive activities to do.
Boredom is one of the biggest contributors to relapse. Finding positive ways to fill your spare time and create a fulfilling sober lifestyle is the best way to counteract that.
6. Be Comfortable With The Process
Recovery is a process for everyone, and it lasts years. Relapse prevention involves finding ways to be comfortable with that process.
This means, in part, not putting yourself down, being honest about where you are at, and changing your life as you need to.
To increase your comfort with this process, you should be kind to yourself and pursue activities and lifestyle changes that will support your decision to stop using drugs and alcohol.
7. Mindfulness Meditation
One way to make the recovery process as easy as possible is mindfulness meditation, using imagery and self-awareness to remove negative thoughts.
This can also be viewed as a form of positive self-care. You can use meditation to calm negative emotions and clarify certain decisions.
8. Learn From Mistakes
Relapse prevention means learning from mistakes when the consequences are manageable.
Recognizing a poor choice early on can prevent the more unmanageable consequences of alcohol and drug abuse.
Relapse Strategies And The Stages Of Recovery
At different stages of recovery, you will experience different triggers and be forced to grow in different ways. Good relapse strategies enable you to adapt to the changes of your recovery journey.
The stages of recovery have been expressed in a variety of ways, some more detailed than others. Right now it is probably most helpful to think of them simply, in terms of the early, middle, and late stages of recovery.
Throughout these stages, people in recovery go from repairing the damage of addiction to looking forward and building a new life. At each point, you can use relapse prevention skills to address emotional stresses and triggers.
- in early recovery, you may need strategies that help you address withdrawal symptoms
- in the middle period, you may need healthy coping skills for dealing with drug craving
- in the late period, you may need skills such as deep breathing to help you process frustrations about where you are in the process
What To Do If You Relapse
One of the rules of recovery is to always be honest. If you have tried these tips and still end up relapsing, be honest about what is going on and what you need to do about it.
Relapse can be part of the process of recovery. It is a setback but it is not the end of your story. The most important thing you can do is get help.
This may mean reaching out to your support group, or it may mean going back to a treatment provider for substance abuse treatment.
Find Substance Abuse Treatment Today
You can find help for yourself or a loved one from an addiction treatment center. Call us today if you want to learn more about your treatment options after you have relapsed.
Published on January 25, 2023
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- Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine