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Maintaining Sobriety: How to Create a Drug Relapse Prevention Plan

It’s not easy to become sober. It’s even harder to stay sober. Given the many challenges facing recovering addicts who are struggling to move on from their drug or alcohol addiction, it’s hardly surprising that relapses are a frequent occurrence. Sometimes returning to old habits seems inevitable.

Yet nothing is written in stone, and the fact that addiction is an extremely difficult disorder to treat does not mean it is untreatable. With enough support and hard work, most people in recovery are eventually able to free themselves from substance abuse completely and maintain sobriety for good. There are ways to prevent the slip back into addiction, and there is no reason to lose hope that recovery and a sober life are within your reach.

Even if a relapse does occur, it’s possible to beat back the disease and regain control over your life before things start to spiral back into full-blown active addiction. The first key is to stick with an outpatient addiction treatment program that can offer you therapy and provide medical advice that can help you find your footing in your recovery.

The second is to create a comprehensive plan for preventing relapse of your addiction. A well-conceived strategy can guide you through the toughest of times and put you back on track. As long as you have a map, you’re more likely to find your way back to the road that leads to sobriety.

The Prevalence of Drug Relapse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that anywhere between 40 to 60 percent of all recovering drug addicts will relapse at some point. That puts drug addiction in a class with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, all of which are difficult to manage and all of which come with high rates of regression.

Those seeking sobriety for the first time are even more likely to fall back into former patterns. According to addiction specialist Terence T. Gorski, two-thirds of all people who attempt to attain sobriety for the first time will relapse. The good news is that roughly 50 percent will go on to achieve permanent sobriety.

Given the high levels of recidivism among recovering addicts, relapse prevention ranks as a top priority for outpatient drug treatment centers and their patients. In many cases, a plan can mean the difference between permanent sobriety and repeated relapses.

A Drug Relapse Plan Is Your Greatest Weapon Against Addiction

Relapse prevention plans are increasingly common. More people are creating them and more outpatient treatment programs and therapists are recommending them. In spite of this increasing acceptance, some people are still wary. When we contemplate the possibility of relapse, aren’t we thinking negatively? Aren’t we giving in to pessimism?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to acknowledge this extremely difficult possibility. But drugs and alcohol are incredibly formidable opponents, and when we look reality in the face and prepare to meet it head-on, we are taking control of our future. We are refusing to surrender to unconscious habits and long-held behavioral patterns. Creating a strategy that will help us overcome potential challenges is, in fact, a remarkable act of optimism.

The goal of a relapse plan is threefold:

  • Prevention
    • Recognize the warning signs and triggers that could cause.
    • Manage high-risk scenarios and difficult situations that could invite temptation.
  • Intervention
    • Spot a relapse quickly.
    • Intervene to nip the problem in the bud by asking for help as early as possible.
  • Treatment
    • Call on your support network to initiate a thorough intervention.
    • Intercede to prevent a relapse from spiraling out of control.

They say planning is the key to success. If that’s true for business leaders, athletes, and anyone else who wants to beat the odds, then it’s also true for people struggling with substance abuse problems. You make a relapse plan when times are good, when you feel strong and stable. You use it when times are rough, when it seems as if your strength has abandoned you and you’re no longer in control of your own destiny. In the end, this sobriety plan is your greatest weapon against your addiction.

The First Goal: Prevention

Most relapses take people by surprise. A lapse is, according to Gorski, an unconscious unfolding of events. Unwanted sensations or feelings sneak up on you. Denial follows. You return, by habit, to the apparent safety provided by your drug of choice. By the time you realize your dependency, it’s too late. Addiction has gripped you once again.

When you make a plan, you become conscious of what was previously unconscious. You bring long-hidden behaviors, thoughts, and feelings into the light. By exposing your own weaknesses and anticipating your own actions, you stand a better chance of thwarting a relapse. Such prevention requires at least two actions:

  • Understand patterns of use and behavior. In order to plan for the future, we need to take a hard look at the past. Were you a frequent user? A social user? What were the triggers? Did you tend to use when you were depressed and alone? Or when you were partying with others? Did alcohol or drugs help you overcome loneliness, anxiety, grief, pain, boredom, social awkwardness, or a combination of all of these factors? Have you ever relapsed before? Only by confronting your past honestly can you move forward successfully and develop the understanding of oneself that is an important part of recovery.
  • Know the warning signs. Often, a relapse seems to come out of nowhere. It can hit you unexpectedly. If you take the time to list the possible warning signs, you have a better chance of preventing a relapse before it occurs. Experts cite three common triggers, and these include:
  • Stress
  • Reminders or “cues” (e.g., feelings, moods, places, people, objects)
  • Exposure to drugs or alcohol

If you finished step one and took an inventory of your own patterns, then you can also create your own customized list of warning signs. Do you rely on substances when you feel depressed? Then you can formulate a strategy for those moments when you’re feeling down that has nothing to do with drugs or alcohol.

If you’ve noticed that you tend to sleep poorly around the time of a binge or relapse, then you can give yourself a heads-up when you start tossing and turning and start incorporating better sleep habits into your routine.

If you seek refuge in drugs or alcohol when confronted with loneliness, then planning regular social events and staying in touch with friends or family as part of your daily routine can be a critical part of the recovery process. Local recovery support groups can be a great place to make new friends, and these sober friends may become people you can depend on for support when you feel yourself getting tempted by drugs or alcohol. You could even look into finding a sponsor to help guide you through your recovery from addiction.

On the other hand, if you feel the temptation to start using drugs or alcohol in social situations, you may need to come up with some strategies for getting through these difficult situations where you might be tempted to relapse.

An ordinary social obligation like a wedding, graduation, or friend’s birthday party could be one of the triggers for your alcohol addiction, since the substance is so commonly served at these sorts of parties.

In early recovery, you may just need to avoid temptation by avoiding these events. But after more time has passed and you have more confidence in your recovery, other strategies can allow you to have fun and still stay sober.

You could try bringing along a sober friend or family member for support, or make a plan to leave early if the temptation becomes too great. Parties and people will come and go, and you can’t let them threaten your chances of maintaining sobriety from your addiction.

Drinking may be considered a normal way to celebrate such occasions, but you know how easily “just one drink” can spiral back into full-on alcohol addiction. The only way to ensure safety for yourself  and your loved ones is to avoid alcohol completely. Instead of giving in to your cravings and your addiction, make an effort to celebrate milestones in your recovery process to remind yourself how important it is to abstain from alcohol and drugs.

The Second Goal: Intervention

While prevention is your first defense, you need to be prepared for moments of weakness. If you do suffer from a momentary lapse of judgment or strength, then an intervention strategy is of paramount importance.

  • Put in place an emergency plan. What are you going to do if you relapse? Will you authorize a family member or counselor to step in and take over? Who will take the responsibility of driving you to an outpatient drug rehab center? It’s important to remember that no plan is the same. Each one reflects the unique challenges and inclinations of the individual who created it. Tailor your substance abuse prevention strategy to your own particular condition and lifestyle, and you’ll have a far higher chance of success.

You don’t necessarily even need to write your plan down. It’s perfectly fine to discuss your ideas with your support group and form an oral agreement as to how you will proceed. That being said, a written plan can guide you through the rough moments when both your life and your mind are in disarray. Writing it down can also help solidify your commitment to follow through even when things get hard regardless of the cravings or depression you may be feeling in the moment.

The Third Goal: Treatment

There are least two methods for maintaining long-term sobriety in the face of countless temptations:

  • Form a strong support network. Every substance abuse expert agrees: A support network is crucial. Very few people achieve sobriety on their own. No matter who you lean on—friends, family, counselors, therapists, or fellow recovering addicts—you need a network of people you can trust. When your own inner defenses fail, these people will be there to offer a helping hand. They will be your conscience in times of carelessness and your strength in times of weakness.

At the same time, it can be just as important to stay away from people and groups that reinforce unhealthy behaviors. By replacing harmful friendships with supportive relationships, you’ll increase your chances of staying sober. This means purging your sober life of all toxic relationships that kept you trapped in your addiction even if that means cutting off close friends and family members. If your loved ones do not understand the importance of helping you maintain sobriety, then they do not really have your best interests at heart.

You can also work towards maintaining sobriety by choosing to create an overall wellness program in your new life. The best way to prevent relapse is to handle the root problems that caused addiction in the first place. That means prioritizing your mental and physical health. Seek professional help from a qualified psychologist or counselor if you find yourself dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness rather than let problems build.

You can also help yourself ward off relapse by taking the best care you can of your physical health, such as by making an effort to get proper nutrition and eat a well-rounded diet. A diet of healthy, wholesome food will help your brain produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters that can help you stave off addiction and stay sober for good.

You can also help maintain your health by building regular exercise into your routine. One of the most fun ways to do that is to take up a physical activity such as yoga, hiking, or horse back riding. Many gyms offer other physical fitness classes that can take the isolation out of exercising. Regular exercise can have a positive effect on your mood, and these new hobbies can also be a way for you to build your self-worth and to make new friends.

You might want to learn other skills and take up other new hobbies during your recovery. For instance, you could add cooking, gardening, or painting to your repertoire. These healthy ways to have fun can help you maintain sobriety by taking the place of your old habits. Meditation is also a great stress reliever.

Creative hobbies like writing can also help you stay sober by serving as an outlet for any negative feelings that might arise during your recovery. Rationally expressing the reasons you have to stay sober and working through your regrets in writing could be an important way to strengthen your recovery resolve. Any positive lifestyle change you are able to stay committed to can help give you a solid foundation as you progress further toward sobriety and recovery.

Tips for Creating a Drug Rehab Plan

Before sitting down to craft a plan, it’s important to take a few things into consideration. First, no relapse plan will be successful without taking those first few steps toward sobriety by seeking out the appropriate professional treatment. Detoxification and stabilization are key to early recovery. Without a clear mind, it will be difficult to review your past, assess your current situation, and create a workable strategy for the future.

Second, you shouldn’t create your plan in isolation. Instead, sit down with an outpatient rehab counselor, therapist, or advisor and work through the details in tandem. When you collaborate with someone else, you not only gain the benefit of their wisdom, you also create a partner who understands your thinking and can guide you through the struggle of relapse should it occur.

They will also be able to remind you of triggers and temptations you may not have accounted for. They can then help you think of ways to avoid temptation and coping skills that can help you process difficult feelings without resorting to your addiction.

No matter what stage of recovery you’re in, a RECO Intensive outpatient treatment program can help you attain sobriety. Whether you need to take the initial steps toward withdrawal and detox, or whether you’ve been sober for years and need to create a relapse plan, our experienced staff can guide you on the path.

You can also reach out to us if you’re worried about a friend, family member, or other loved one who you feel needs treatment for their addiction. Contact us at (855) 799-1035 or visit our website to submit a confidential message. Let’s get back to a brighter future.


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