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In 2016, around 21 million Americans struggled with addiction involving drugs and/or alcohol, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) publishes. Addiction is considered a chronic disease, and relapse is often part of it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that addiction has relapse rates of 40-60 percent, which is similar to relapse rates of other chronic diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.
Relapse is a return to drug and/or alcohol use after a period of abstinence. There are several things that a person can do to minimize episodes of relapse, including making a plan for recovery. Part of strategizing for recovery can be writing a relapse prevention plan and taking steps to help yourself stick to it. While the relapse prevention plan may not always be written down (e.g., a verbal agreement), writing it down can have several benefits.
A relapse prevention plan that is written down can serve as a handy and concrete physical guide that can be referenced as needed. This plan is often discussed and ironed out during counseling and therapy sessions as part of a complete addiction treatment program; however, it can be created in any setting at any time.
A plan can serve as a blueprint to fall back on in times of stress, reminding you of your options in that moment and of your goals for moving forward. It can keep you accountable and focused on recovery. Relapse prevention plans are highly personal, tailored to your own specific circumstances, triggers, and needs.
A relapse prevention plan can help you to identify your personal goals in recovery, take specific steps to get there, identify potential triggers and how to manage them as they may arise, communicate with loved ones better, and develop strategies and a plan for a healthy and well-balanced life that is free from drugs and alcohol.
A good plan will include:
A relapse prevention plan will feature a concrete course of action, outlining coping mechanisms and ideas for managing cravings and triggers in times of stress. The plan can be amended and added to as time goes on and needs change. The more detailed your plan is, the more likely it is to be helpful during a variety of situations and events.
The following is a helpful step-by-step guide to follow when writing a relapse prevention plan:
A relapse prevention plan is individual, and it will not be the same for everyone. It is important for you to think about what you want out of recovery and what your own personal goals for the future are.
What changes are you willing to make, and what are your motivations for making them? For instance, things like keeping a job, making amends and improving relationships with loved ones, consistently fulfilling family obligations, becoming physically healthier, or enhancing self-esteem can all be great goals to strive for in recovery and things to include in your plan.
A trigger is something that can cause stress and potentially induce cravings to drink or use drugs. Each person will have their own specific triggers. They may be caused by certain events, places, people, or circumstances. For instance, you may frequent certain places where you always drink beer with your buddies, and these people and/or places may need to be avoided, at least for a while. Stress is a natural part of life, and it is important to have coping mechanisms and tools in place for managing it in a healthy manner.
What specific things will be the biggest challenge for you personally, and what can you do to manage them? Come up with relaxation techniques, stress-management ideas, and coping strategies and include these in your plan as a reference for you to look back at.
It can be very beneficial to set up a daily ritual for maintaining physical health, such as a structured sleep schedule, plan for balanced meals, and a fitness regime. Getting enough sleep and eating healthy can aid in setting up a strong foundation to build from. Being physically healthy can help you to have a clearer mind and feel less stressed as well as increase self-confidence.
Finding hobbies that keep you busy and occupy the mind can be a great relapse prevention tool as well. Take up a creative outlet like dance or painting, attend a yoga class, and find ways to help yourself relax. Decide how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, and make plans to schedule this practice into your daily life.
The people around you can be great resources in recovery. Surround yourself with people who support your goals.
Peer support and 12-Step groups can be highly beneficial during recovery to aid in relapse prevention. The Journal of Addictive Disorders publishes that people actively participating in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a self-help 12-Step program, were more likely to remain abstinent over those who did not.
It can be helpful to have people you can talk to when you need to. Think about ways to communicate effectively, and ask for help when you need it. Keep numbers for counselors, mentors, friends, and family nearby, and don’t hesitate to talk it out.
Come up with methods and ways to help yourself be successful – things like setting small attainable goals and rewarding yourself for positive progress. Make a list of things you are thankful for and some of your reasons for remaining sober. Keep this as part of your relapse prevention plan to remind yourself what you are working for and toward to keep yourself motivated.
In the same respect, consider a list of consequences as well. Write down what may happen if a relapse does occur. Will you lose your job, your house, or your family? Could you go to jail? A list of the potential consequences of addiction can serve as a reminder of why sobriety is the better option.
A relapse prevention plan can serve as a way to improve all aspects of life and hold yourself accountable. Refer back to the plan often to remind yourself why you are doing this and how to keep it up. The plan may change with time and as you identify new or different areas of your life that you may wish to focus on.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes that being aware and taking note of early warning signs of stress can be extremely helpful in working to prevent relapse. In addition, having a strong “action plan” in writing can be a great resource. The action plan should offer guidance and be a tool for accomplishing and holding fast to your goals in recovery.
Below is a sample of a relapse prevention plan that can serve as a guideline when writing your own.
Relapse Prevention Plan
Personal goals for self-improvement:
Triggers and potential challenges:
Methods for coping with stress and minimizing triggers:
Daily life and self-care plans:
My support system:
Consequences, gratitude, and accountability actions:
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