What is Relapse Prevention?

Relapse can happen during addiction recovery. Some people may feel like a failure if they slip up. But relapse is more common than you may think. It can be hard to talk about, especially because it can seem like starting over. Here we’ll explain what relapse prevention is and how treatment works to prevent it.     

What is addiction relapse?

Addiction relapse may look like one moment of weakness. But it’s actually a process that may last weeks or months. By the time a person uses a substance again, they’ve passed several red flags of risk. It’s not a failure or a sign that a person can’t continue recovery. Instead, it’s a chance to learn more about what they need most to stay healthy.   

Emotional relapse

Emotional relapse is when a person begins recalling previous relapse events. They remember the experience and feelings connected with these moments. But they may also be in denial about their impact. A person may revisit old coping habits like isolating or ignoring their personal needs. 

Mental relapse

Mental relapse is the struggle between avoiding relapse and wanting to use again. A person may logically know why using again would be harmful. But they may use flawed logic or bargain their way into using substances in some situations. A person may lie, look for opportunities to use, and minimize problems. It’s normal to have thoughts about using again. But mental relapse takes these thoughts much further.

Physical relapse

Physical relapse happens when a person actually uses the substance. Their emotional and mental red flags give clues about this risk as the moment approaches. Just having one episode of use may not be that harmful. But once it happens, a person becomes more vulnerable. And a more severe relapse episode may develop quickly.   

What is relapse prevention?

Relapse prevention is most effective when a person plans ahead and develops specific skills. Here’s how this approach may reduce the risk of relapse.  

Planning for relapse prevention

Planning makes a person think beyond positive gains from recovery. Having a plan doesn’t discount progress; it keeps a person’s viewpoint realistic about risk. They consider stressors or triggers that may take them closer to relapse again. When they identify these issues, it’s easier to be strategic.    A person may need to avoid the neighborhood where they’ve often gone to get substances. Or they may need to stay away from people who used substances with them in the past, even if they’re friends or family members.

Building relapse prevention skills

Skill building is also essential. A person can handle triggers and cravings better when they’ve learned positive ways to cope. It can take time for a person to learn what works best. Some examples include:

  • Learning to say “no” and walk away when offered substances
  • Spotting a risky situation and getting out, or enduring some ongoing stress if stepping away isn’t possible
  • Managing emotional distress 
  • Learning to challenge negative thinking


How can group therapy and addiction professionals help?

Group cognitive therapy teaches people coping skills to address problems and situations. One study noted that relapse rates were better for people who had been through this therapy. Relapse prevention group therapy helps everyone learn from each other. And when a person shares how coping skills have helped them in a tough moment, they impact others as well.  Addiction professionals also work one-on-one with people. They take time to help a person with their unique skills and needs. Some relapse triggers may be more sensitive in nature, such as memories from abuse or trauma. A therapist can take what the group is learning and address it in private.   

Relapse doesn’t mean recovery is over

Relapse is not the end of recovery. Many people go through relapse at least once. It’s OK to stumble. That’s why treatment programs include so much social connection and guidance. Relapse prevention skills and support can help a person get through challenging moments. If you or a loved one are struggling with relapse, we’re here to listen.

Contact us at the P.A.T.H. program at 1-713-528-3709.

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