Relapse Prevention Plan for Addiction

Our brains and bodies are hard wired to repeat things we enjoy.

After years of repeating a behavior – one that stimulates the “feel good” signals in our brain – we may revert to those same patterns at some point. This is common with substance abuse.

Repetitive substance use is something our bodies become accustomed to, reliant on, and crave even after the substances have been discontinued. A relapse occurs when someone gives in to these cravings and uses after being sober or in recovery.

Relapse can affect people’s lives at any stage of their recovery. But individuals in early sobriety are at the greatest risk of suffering a future relapse. That’s why it is vital for those who are in early recovery to have access to a relapse prevention plan.

At Discovery Institute in Marlboro, New Jersey, we provide our clients with access to a relapse prevention plan and continuing care after they finish treatment to keep them on the path to recovery.

Relapse is Prevalent and Requires a Prevention Plan

You might wonder what relapse is and whether it happened to your loved one. You might be hurt, upset, scared, and unclear about what to do. Relapse is one of the most terrifying phrases for those in recovery. However, it is also a common occurrence, particularly for people in the early stages of treatment.

Drug and alcohol relapse prevention help to strengthen the foundation of recovery. People build the foundation in the early stages of abstinence from drugs and alcohol. It helps individuals to avoid the tragic consequences of picking up a drink or a drug after a period of sobriety.

Discovery Institute in Marlboro, New Jersey works with each of our clients to create a strong drug and alcohol relapse prevention plan that lasts throughout treatment.

What is Relapse?

relapse prevention plan

A relapse is described as the deterioration of a previously improved clinical condition. Relapse is defined in addiction treatment as the recurrence of substance use following a period of abstinence or an attempt to cease. A relapse would be experienced by someone who returns to drug use after months of recovery.

It’s critical to understand that relapse is a possibility and, in many cases, a normal part of the healing process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 40 and 60 percent of drug users relapse at some point. Anyone who has struggled with a substance use disorder is at risk of relapsing.

While relapse is normal in treatment, it can also be extremely deadly for particular drugs, leading to overdose. When a person returns to drug usage after a long period of abstinence, their tolerance to the drug is usually diminished. Their body is no longer as dependent on the drug as it previously was, and they require less of it to feel its effects. However, the user does not always recognize this.

Tolerance changes over time, but a person tends to take the same amount of drugs they did before thinking they would reap the same reward, when in reality, they end up consuming too much, and overdose as a result. This can lead to coma, life-threatening symptoms, or death.

When a person relapses, it must be handled as soon as possible. You and your loved one should speak with a doctor or clinical treatment specialist to learn what happened (and why) and what steps you may take to prevent it from happening again.

Common Causes of Relapse

There are many causes of relapse, and it’s important to remember that everyone and their stories are different. Here are the common causes of relapse:

For many years, addiction was misunderstood as a choice rather than a disease. Biological, behavioral, and environmental factors cause addiction to drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse alters the brain over time. According to some addiction experts, it is the brain being hijacked by drugs or alcohol.

Fortunately, the brain is neuroplastic, meaning it can evolve, adapt, and form new neural pathways. However, repairing the physical and mental damage caused by substance abuse takes time. The longer a person is in recovery, the more time the brain has to acclimate to sobriety and return to a more healthy reward system. However, the possibility of relapse will always exist. Biological addiction variables can lead to relapse in the absence of treatment, aftercare, and a relapse prevention plan.

Substance misuse alters the brain in ways that make avoiding triggers feel unattainable. The brain builds strong associations between people, places, and things linked with substance use after recurrent alcohol and drug misuse. These linkages are so deep that simply encountering addiction triggers activate the brain’s reward center, resulting in significant desires and cravings. The following are examples of common relapse triggers:

  • People who have a history of using alcohol or drugs.
  • Locations where drugs and alcohol were consumed.
  • Stressful situations in which substances are commonly utilized to cope.
  • Difficult feelings that were typically numbed with drugs.
  • Events and celebrations involving the use of narcotics.

According to research, withdrawal symptoms can play a key role in the recurrence of substance abuse. This is true when people attempt to detox from drugs or alcohol on their own, as well as after extended periods of abstinence. Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the substance consumed, the duration of abuse, and the physical makeup of the individual.

Without the assistance of medical specialists to alleviate withdrawal symptoms using medications and other treatments, it is extremely difficult to resist the impulse to use drugs or alcohol to alleviate the discomfort that drug and alcohol detox can. That’s why, self-medicating or detoxing is not recommended, and instead going to a rehab facility to be professionally monitored and treated is the way to do it.

Internal variables such as depression and anxiety symptoms increase the likelihood of relapse. An underlying condition that might fuel drug and alcohol addiction is mental illness. People in recovery who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health illnesses must manage their symptoms with treatment and any prescribed drugs as part of a successful relapse prevention plan.

According to research, when persons in recovery believe they have the support of their family, their likelihood of relapse lowers. Close friends and peers in recovery can play an important role in long-term sobriety in the absence of family support.

Addiction treatment is a lifelong endeavor that necessitates permanent lifestyle adjustments and good practices to maintain. People who do not receive vital support are more likely to relapse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) advocates drug addiction treatment and recovery practices as part of a complete relapse prevention approach that promotes long-term abstinence. Support can be in the form of 12-step meetings including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Many people who complete rehab do not adhere to aftercare treatment guidelines, placing them in danger of relapse. Aftercare options provide a continuum of care following treatment.


Find out how we can help

Our compassionate counselors are standing by to answer any questions you may have. After helping thousands of people over the last 50 years, we have the resources to help you and your family and all your individual needs.

Types of Relapse

Getting sober and clean is an incredible adventure. Recovery is a way of life that must be maintained for the benefits to last. It requires dedication and perseverance, but the results can be well worth it.

During their rehabilitation, many people report improved health, more energy, clarity, and an overall sense of well-being and calm. However, sobriety is a daily choice that, if not carefully managed, can become a slippery slope.

Anyone entering treatment should be aware of the possibility of relapse. It is a dangerous procedure that occurs gradually over time and can be deceptive. Different types of setbacks can occur including physical relapse and emotional relapse.

relapse prevention program

The emotional stage of relapse is possibly the most difficult of all. Most individuals are completely oblivious that it is taking place. Emotions can guide the brain down roads of all-too-familiar triggers, laying the groundwork for resuming drug or alcohol use. Anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, or loneliness are all emotions that can occur during this stage.

It is critical at this point to seek help and support if you are experiencing these emotions and to prevent a relapse from occurring.

The mental stage of relapse is the point at which your mind attempts to rationalize your unhandled feelings. As a result, the mind prepares itself to resume old coping mechanisms, such as turning to drugs and alcohol. Mental relapse can worsen the addiction cycle making it difficult to break without professional help.

As you may expect, the physical activity of using or drinking again is the final stage of relapse. At this point, emotions have gotten the best of someone due to unrecognized or mishandled triggers. This, in turn, created arguments in the mind’s eye that effectively had the potential to “talk someone into using,” by making the routine of abusing substances an enticing decision.

These phases, like dominoes, cascade into a relapse situation. This is why it’s critical to understand early on that the risk of relapse is high when emotions or stray thoughts start leading a person down a route they’ve already selected and worked hard to avoid.

Signs and Symptoms of Relapse

Signs of an impending or recent relapse include:

  • Lying, manipulation, or keeping secrets and withholding information from friends and family
  • A return to old patterns of behavior, such as stealing or borrowing money excessively
  • Failure to comply with medication regimen or treatment/aftercare recommendations
  • Drastic changes in routine, such as a drop in attendance at 12-step meetings
  • Loss of a job or slipping grades
  • The presence of drugs, drug paraphernalia, or alcohol in the individual’s room or home
  • Drastic changes in mood or intense mood swings

There are many reasons a recovering individual may relapse, and identifying risk factors is an important aspect of creating a recovery-supportive environment and helping to prevent a return to substance use or drinking. Factors that could lead to relapse include:

  • An emotional event such as a breakup or the loss of a family member, friend, or pet
  • Loss of job, source of income, or home
  • Experiencing triggers and temptation through exposure to people, places, or things that involve drug use or alcohol consumption
  • An emotional event such as a breakup or the loss of a family member, friend, or pet
  • Loss of job, source of income, or home
  • Experiencing triggers and temptation through exposure to people, places, or things that involve drug use or alcohol consumption

The relapse process begins before the individual picks up the drink or drug, and that is why the time before a relapse is called “relapse mode.” It generally happens in three stages and can take place over a day or two or happen over a long period.

The Three Stages of Relapse

The regions of the brain responsible for impulse control and mood management can take up to a year to recover to normal functioning. When a person in recovery returns to the surroundings where they were using, they are at considerable risk.

Relapse is a normal and terrible occurrence if people are not properly educated and prepared to deal with life on new terms. Understanding the stages of relapse, and learning to recognize the warning signs can be critical for long-term rehabilitation.

In the first stage, the person becomes emotionally vulnerable. The individual could be dealing with one of the disruptive life events listed above or could have stopped treating a mental condition that contributes to addictive behaviors, such as depression or anxiety. Any of these circumstances can cause a recovering individual to lower their guard, which increases the temptation to use drugs or drink.

In the second stage of relapse, the individual is actively considering a return to their drug of choice. They may be fighting an internal battle at this stage, but substance abuse is a powerful cycle. The thoughts may be fleeting or infrequent at first, but they can develop into an all-consuming obsession that causes a drastic change in the individual’s demeanor and behavior.

The final stage of relapse is the action phase, in which the individual uses a drug or consumes alcohol. This can be an isolated event, or it can lead to a binge or a spree. Both outcomes often have tragic consequences for the individual and their family and loved ones. The goal of drug and alcohol relapse prevention is to stop the relapse process before the individual gets to this stage and picks up a substance. Relapse prevention, if done thoroughly, can prevent the individual from returning to substance use, and can support long-term recovery.

Relapse Prevention and Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

relapse prevention plan for addictionWhile it is a terrible truth, addiction relapse rates are comparable to other chronic conditions such as asthma and hypertension. This is owing to the disease’s nature. Relapse is common in all chronic illnesses, even after treatment, and is more likely in persons who cease following their ongoing care regimens.

As a result, the NIDA states, that substance use disorders should be treated as any other chronic illness. Relapse signals the need for continued, modified, or new treatment.

There are numerous causes of relapse, as well as numerous scenarios that can lead to temptation while in recovery. A relapse prevention treatment program can teach your loved one how to deal with the cravings, emotions, and triggers that are associated with drug abuse.

Relapse prevention has become more important as science and treatment methods have advanced. Relapse prevention programs assist clients in identifying high-risk scenarios that can lead to relapse and in responding to those events healthily.

According to research, the most prevalent relapse triggers are stress cues associated with a person’s substance use (such as people, places, things, and moods) and direct contact with drugs. Relapse prevention addresses these factors by teaching clients coping techniques while they are in treatment.

The Role of Aftercare in a Relapse Prevention Plan

Relapse can be an unfortunate reality in recovery, but it doesn’t have to be. At Discovery Institute, we work with each of our clients to create a strong drug and alcohol relapse prevention plan that lasts throughout treatment. It also lasts during the client’s transition back into “the real world” and in their lifelong recovery program.

The purpose of designing an aftercare plan is to help prevent relapse once the difficult work of detox and treatment has been done. Aftercare is regarded as one of the most important aspects of substance addiction recovery and is required for a successful transition back into a new lifestyle.

Relapse rates drop significantly after a year of sobriety, and again even more so after five years of sustained sobriety. Arriving at these milestones is crucial for a recovering individual, and with the right planning, preparation, and support, it is achievable.

Why Drug and Alcohol Relapse Prevention Matters

Relapse rates occur around the same as other chronic diseases such as hypertension or asthma. Like other chronic diseases, there’s no cure one-size-fits-all cure for addiction. It can be managed through therapies, medication, and healthy coping skills that may counteract effects on the brain and change destructive behaviors. Even with treatment, some people will relapse. Being aware of the reasons behind a return to drug and alcohol abuse is an important part of relapse prevention.

Relapse Prevention Therapy at The Discovery Institute

If you or a loved one has relapsed, we can help. At The Discovery Institute, we use evidence-based therapies and alternative approaches that address the reasons behind your substance abuse. We’ll help you identify the situations that led to relapse, learn from them, and move forward.

You’ll work with a therapist and case manager to develop a thorough relapse prevention plan that supports long-term recovery. Our relapse prevention plan provides a full continuum of care that includes:

At the Discovery Institute, we address relapse prevention in our family therapy program because we know that family members and the family dynamic can play a huge role in relapse.

Acquainting families with the signs of relapse and arming them with prevention tools increases the chances of long-term sobriety for the client. Those close to the patient need to recognize the warning signs that precede a relapse and symptoms that may indicate a relapse has occurred, to best support the patient in their recovery and maintain accountability within the family system.

Relapse Prevention Plan for Substance Abuse at Discovery

At the Discovery Institute in New Jersey, we work with our patients and their families and support groups to create a comprehensive drug and alcohol relapse prevention plan. Effective relapse prevention plans require a comprehensive approach. Some of the methods we use to help our clients prevent relapse include:

  • Individual therapy– This helps clients to process emotions and experiences that may trigger a relapse if they are not addressed, in a private, confidential environment in which the patient can safely navigate their feelings.
  • Group therapy– The group dynamic provides accountability within a peer support network, in which clients can give each other constructive feedback and suggestions as well as relate to one another in a therapist-facilitated environment.
  • Coping skills development- In clinical sessions, therapists work with patients to develop a repertoire of healthy coping mechanisms to help clients deal with potential relapse triggers without using alcohol or drugs. This may include meditation, mindfulness, DBT, CBT, or process groups.
  • Implementation of recovery support groups– Clinicians at Discovery support clients in their participation in recovery fellowships, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, which assist individuals in building lifelong sobriety.

At Discovery Institute, the health, safety, and happiness of our clients are our ultimate priority. Throughout treatment and during aftercare, patients will have access to a variety of treatments and types of therapies to develop a relapse prevention plan designed to support them in their recovery from substance dependence.

Find Out How We Can Help

Our compassionate counselors are standing by to answer any questions you may have about creating a relapse prevention plan. After helping thousands of people over the last 50 years, we have the resources to help you and your family and all your individual needs.

If you are considering returning to drug rehab after relapsing, and want to find more information about our relapse prevention plan, please contact us for a free and confidential consultation. We understand what you’re going through and can assist you during the recovery process.


Get Help Now

Looking for addiction help for yourself or a loved one? Our professionally trained admissions coordinators are always available to assist you with any questions you might have.


Make a Referral

For professional client referrals, please call our helpline and ask to be directed to the outreach team. You can also submit a contact form below to schedule a call with us.


Schedule a Tour

If you are an addiction professional interested in our services, we would love to arrange a tour of our treatment facility with you.