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What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

By Manjari Bansal
A relapse prevention plan includes strategies to reduce the risk of going back to substance misuse after addiction treatment. Find out more about relapse prevention plans and useful tips for planning one.

Comprehensive addiction treatment incorporates a number of interventions to treat the whole person over time. A relapse prevention plan consists of techniques, measures, and tools to help you avoid relapses during and after substance use disorder treatment, so that you can maintain sobriety. Learn more about relapse prevention plans and gather some interesting tips to consider while making your relapse prevention plan.  

Relapse Prevention Plans for Substance Use Disorder

“A relapse prevention plan is a way to mitigate risks of substance relapse by identifying triggers and coping mechanisms,” Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, a therapist and Co-Founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“It can be a written plan or verbalized plan that you work on, ideally with an addiction professional or person in long-term recovery who can help guide you,” Sternlicht says. 

“The goal of creating a relapse prevention plan is to know what to avoid that might pose a risk to your recovery, such as certain people, places, things, or behaviors; as well as to know what course of action to take if and when your recovery is at risk,” Sternlicht adds.

According to a 2018 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, the goal of a relapse prevention plan is to identify and address high-risk situations for relapse and help maintain desired behavioral changes. The two specific goals of a relapse prevention plan are:

  • Preventing the chances of initial relapse and maintaning abstinence or harm reduction treatment goals
  • Providing managment strategies to use if a relapse does occur, so that further relapses can be avoided

Tips for Crafting a Relapse Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan is an important part of drug addiction treatment and recovery. It is a customized plan tailored to an individual’s needs, preferences, and availability of resources, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Here are some tips to help you craft a relapse prevention plan:

  • Avoid people or places linked with substance use. “These are people and places that you may want to avoid or set boundaries with, and be prepared for when you do encounter them,” Sternlicht says.
  • Be aware of your physical surroundings and identify situations that may pose a risk to your recovery. “Also be sure to consider thoughts or feelings that could lead to relapse,” Sternlicht says. “Identifying such triggers will help you become mindful of times that you may need to become hyper-vigilant and cautious about your recovery.”
  • Since emotional distress may increase the risk of a relapse, learning healthy coping skills may help you prevent it. “Deep breathing, exercise, stretching, meditation, and healthy distraction are all ways to cope with daily stress,” Sam Zand, DO, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Better U, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
  • Making a daily or weekly routine may help you stay busy and organized. “Boredom, loneliness, and impulsive behavior are frequently risk factors for relapse, so having structure can be very valuable to maintaining recovery,” Sternlicht says.
  • “Social connection and community play an enormously pivotal role in relapse preventionrecent research continues to underscore that feeling supported by your healthcare team as well as a social network is a prominent theme in an effective recovery,” Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-educated nutritional psychiatrist and Director of Nutritional & Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

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