Relapse Prevention

The majority of people who recover from substance use disorder ultimately hold to that recovery and are able to lead healthy, productive lives. It can be an exceptionally difficult fight, but it’s a fight that can be won.

Being able to remain in a state of recovery means that people who were once addicted to substances must be able to cope with stress, manage their cravings and learn appropriate relapse prevention techniques. These relapses can be dangerous as the act of “falling off the wagon” once can make it much easier to remain off the wagon for good.

Definitions can vary, but the act of relapsing typically means that someone who has completed some sort of recovery program returns to substance abuse or use. Relapses can be psychologically devastating and deadly.

It goes without saying that learning how to prevent a relapse can be incredibly beneficial to someone who has a history of struggling with substance abuse. As such, here is a list of the best relapse prevention methods.

Remember: Treatment Matters

As anyone who has completed a substance abuse plan knows, recovery is not an end state. Rather, it is a constant journey, one that will often fork and weave. As such, it is vitally important that you care for yourself by ensuring that you seek appropriate treatment to care for your mental health and prevent relapses.

As numerous studies have indicated, ongoing treatment can help prevent relapses. This is the case for many reasons. For starters, regular psychological treatment can provide you with access to a professional sounding board who can answer your questions, encourage you to think about a challenge from an alternative perspective and help you manage the anxieties that may lead to substance cravings and addiction. A therapist who is trained in treating substance use may also be able to assist you in specific cognitive techniques that can help you protect yourself from a relapse.

As noted by the study above, this is important because relapses don’t occur suddenly. They are usually events that occur after an extended period of stress and cognitive battles. As such, there is often time to speak with a professional and determine ways to manage whatever issue you are experiencing.

It becomes even more important for you to see a therapist when times are good as it is often easier to prevent a relapse before the problem starts than stop a problem when it reaches a crisis stage. Preventative mental health help can be much more beneficial than seeking mental health assistance in the middle of a crisis.

Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is absolutely vital when it comes to relapse prevention. Caring for your own mental health can help rejuvenate your spirit, modify your stress levels, and build mental resilience. All of these factors can help you prevent a relapse.

What does self-care mean?

• Get a good night’s sleep: Good sleep is positively tied to good mental health. Conversely, poor sleep leads to higher rates of depression and anxiety, and high levels of both of these can lead to increased mental illness and addiction.

• Go easy on yourself: If you are struggling with feelings of stress or detecting an increase in your desire to use substances that you have struggled with, the first thing you need to do is stop berating yourself. Addiction is not a weakness or failing. It is a result of genetic, social, and psychological circumstances. However, none of these issues make you a bad person. This is a difficult lesson to learn, of course, but it’s not an impossible one.

• Take care of your appetite and nutrition: There is evidence to suggest that eating a nutritious, balanced diet can help improve the chances of someone who is addicted to making a full and long-term recovery. As such, in consultation with your doctor and therapists, check out what sort of nutrition advice is out there and how you can improve your eating habits. Healthy habits will help make you feel better about yourself and increase your self-esteem, which will likely have a positive psychological impact.

• Go outside: Nature and the sun have long been thought to have rejuvenating powers, and there is some evidence that spending time in nature helps improve mental health. You should make every effort to get outside for at least a few minutes every day. Doing so can be very beneficial to your mood.


Meditation is about so much more than just breathing deeply and focusing on your navel. It involves finding inner peace, changing your way of thinking and becoming more accepting of others and of your personal circumstances.

Why does that matter for relapse prevention? According to studies, mindfulness meditation can help prevent relapses among people who have been addicted to alcohol, particularly when compared to a placebo group. This study, and others, made it clear that meditation can potentially help people ward off relapses.


Exercise is associated with a vast array of positive health benefits. One such example is relapse prevention. This is for many reasons. First of all, all of the general benefits of exercise, including getting in better shape, increased energy levels, high self-esteem and overall better health, also have ancillary benefits for your mental health. This, in turn, makes you less likely to suffer a relapse. People who exercise regularly also note that it can be a great way of spending time and can be successfully built into a positive, healthy routine. This, too, can help prevent someone from suffering a relapse.

This isn’t just speculation as studies have supported this claim. For example, a 2014 study took two small groups of individuals in recovery. One group engaged in a 12-week moderate-intensity group exercise while another group only engaged in a “brief exercise intervention.” The study found that the group that engaged in the more intense exercise program showed reduced drinking when compared to the group that did not engage in such heavy exercise.

Write a Relapse Prevention Plan

In some cases, writing out an actual relapse prevention plan can be very helpful. Of course, that depends on your personality. For some, this may turn into a chore that involves writing down things you don’t truly care about. However, for many people, writing a formal plan and filling in a variety of pieces of information can give them a written document to fall back on during a time of crisis. Further, many people find that writing out something can help organize their thoughts and get them thinking about how they would act in certain situations.

Thankfully, you don’t have to create an entirely new plan from scratch. The West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources has a sample document that gives a template and lists the various items that you can incorporate into your plan. It also gives a variety of helpful suggestions about how you can react if you are concerned about experiencing a relapse.

If the above template doesn’t work for you, you can write your own plan. Make sure to do so in conjunction with support services or a mental health professional as they can certainly give you tips on what items you should incorporate into your plan.

Find Support

No matter how you feel, remember this: When it comes to mental health struggles, addiction and relapsing, you are not alone. Tens of millions of Americans struggle with addiction to some sort of substance. Millions of Americans have already gone through the struggles you are experiencing, and they have come out on the other side.

Thankfully, many have turned their experiences into positive support groups. These groups are designed to give people a place to express their fears, find support and draw comfort from the act of helping others.

It’s also important to find a group that fits your philosophy. Many are religiously oriented, some preach moderation over strict abstention, and others engage in a variety of techniques and conversations that may not work for you or fit your personality. As such, have your treatment facility or mental health professional help you identify a group that best fits your needs.

Have a List of Contacts Ready to Go

The moment when you are tempted to relapse can be a brutal one on a physical and emotional level. All you can think about is how badly you want to have that forbidden substance, and the act of doing anything other than consuming it can feel like a challenge. That’s why it is so important that you prepare for this moment before it comes.

Proper preparation means a variety of things to different people. As noted above, it can involve finding preventative emotional support, creating a written plan and engaging in positive activities that can help you prepare for the stress that you are experiencing.

If you are experiencing a crisis, you will want to make it as easy as possible for you to call for help. This may mean creating a contacts group on your phone of trusted friends or family members. These are the people you can call and ask for help or advice. Even better, let them know ahead of time that you may call them one day if you are in a crisis. This gives them a chance to prepare and lets them know that they should answer the phone if you call or text.

As noted above, far too many people in this country suffer from addiction to some sort of substance. This can turn into a never-ending cycle of addiction, recovery and relapse. It is up to you to do what you can to break this cycle and give yourself the life you deserve.

How you do that is up to you, but it is vitally important that you understand that hundreds of millions of people have walked the road you are experiencing now. Many have found their way out, but almost none have done it just by luck. It took hard work, years of therapy, preventative planning and making the ultimate decision to treat their addiction for what it is: a serious medical condition that requires years, if not decades, of extensive treatment. By treating your addiction with the seriousness it deserves, you can ultimately make a long-lasting recovery.

At Green Mountain Treatment Center, we understand the importance of professional support and compassionate care. If you need help structuring your relapse prevention plan or even receiving treatment for the first time, reach out to us today.

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