How to Create a Simple Relapse Prevention Plan

At a loss for how to plan for a relapse? We have a simple and reliable formula that you can use…straight to you from counselor, John Makohen.

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Recovery = A Process

You didn’t get addicted to alcohol and drugs after one night of using.

It was a process.

Getting sober and learning to live in recovery doesn’t happen over one night, either. So, it’s safe to say that relapse is a process, too.

Take a moment and think back to the beginning of your active addiction. For some of you reading this post it might have been a long time ago, for others it could have been yesterday. It doesn’t matter. Eventually continued use of drugs and alcohol typically follow a pattern.

Remember when you first started using drugs and alcohol? It was fun, right? It might have been a bit scary, too. The more you used the easier it became to just curl up with your drink or drug and get swept away from all the ailments of your day. Eventually it became routine.

After a while the fresh and exciting feeling wore away like the soles of your favorite shoes. By then you had grown so comfortable with your drug you found it hard to let go, so you trudged on seeking those old familiar highs you came to expect from the bond you created.

The Freshness Can Wear Off

When you finally got sober and found a new live in recovery. Life was renewed, right? You felt fresh and alive again after months or years of neglect for your life. In recovery you found, change, excitement, safety, and warmth. You were giddy just like the feeling you get when you realize you’re in love or discover a new pastime or hobby.

Routine and structure was different in the beginning. It was fun to have a plan to follow, but now that excitement might be wearing away just like it did in active addiction. Life became familiar and routine. You might even call it boring.

Boredom tends to be a trigger to many of us in recovery. That makes it dangerous. It’s vital to keep your recovery fresh and exciting. It’s difficult with all the new responsibility and the usual stressors of life. Finding time each day for you to learn more about how you can maintain balance, or better yet, improve your recovery system by even 1% is difficult. Yet, it’s crucial to help you stay in touch with how you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically.

The gift of recovery is NOT guaranteed for many of us who sought solace in drugs or alcohol. Before I found life in recovery, I used to believe I was sentenced to a life of homelessness and heroin addiction. Cursed to honor the life of all my overdosed or deceased friends who left me living a life of hell. (Today, thankfully, my honor is much different 🙂 Today I am grateful to roll out of a bed at 4:30 AM, to put on my running gear, and hit the road.

You Need a Plan of Action!

Recovery is comprised of many different processes and systems. You have your routine to follow, to keep your recovery in the forefront of your mind, and I have mine. Recovery is unique to you and so is your relapse prevention plan. It doesn’t have to be complex. You just need to have a plan of action, and a way to check your system in recovery.

Relapse prevention is the plan you use to ensure your recovery system is on track. Terry Gorski defines relapse as “more than just using alcohol or drugs. It is the progressive process of becoming so dysfunctional in recovery that self-medication with alcohol or drugs seems like a reasonable choice.”

To further explain the process he asks us to imagine a row of dominoes standing up and giving the first one a kick. As each domino falls it hits the next causing a chain reaction. The chain reaction illustrates the process of relapse.

Relapse Is a Three Part Process

  1.  The Emotional. Something sets us off- A trigger. In recovery you experience triggers consistently throughout your day, and work through them, but sometimes the trigger hits you differently setting in motion the relapse process.
  2. The Mental. The trigger causes you mental distraught or stress. It makes you THINK, and yes, your thinking can be dangerous. I worked for a director who always taught me to help others to stop thinking. Yeah, impossible, but powerful. Thinking turns into obsession and craving, loss of control and eventually.
  3. Then, the Physical E vent. The final outcome of the relapse processes the performing of unwanted behavior; the use, the food, the unsafe sex, shopping, or outburst of anger.

So, How Much Do You Know?

Knowing the process of relapse and having a strategy helps you understand and prevent it from happening in your recovery. One way to commit your relapse prevention plan to memory is by taking the time to learn more about it.

Take a few moments and read through the following quiz about your personal plan to avoid relapse. When you have some spare time print it out or copy and paste the quiz to a document and fill it out. Take the time to understand and learn how to apply your answers to your system in recovery.

Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

1. Take a moment and think of 3 triggers. Some examples include:

  • Times
  • People
  • Smells
  • Sounds
  • Feelings
  • Places

These dangerous situations or triggers stir up old or new emotions. Take a deep look inside and remember the dire feelings you had when you were actively using. If you have ever experienced a lapse or relapse, what caused it?

It’s important to know your top three. Do this every 3-6 months, or so. As you grow in recovery, your “dangerous situations” change. Walking by a bar gets easier the longer you stay sober, but addiction is cunning.

2. Have you had a lapse or relapse in your past? What was your plan? For example:

  • What triggered this emotion?
  • Why did you respond to the fear, frustration, anger, rejection, or the self-limiting thoughts by using? Why did you not use your coping mechanisms or recovery system to help you maintain recovery?

Create a plan to follow to help get you back on track. Now take a look at this event from a future perspective:

  • What part of recovery system can be addressed to get you back on track?
  • Who can you call to help you sort this emotion out?

3. In early recovery, the relapse process tends to happen quickly and follows in this order: trigger-thought-craving-use. It can happen in an instant, but you can be quicker and more cunning than your addiction. Knowing what to do when you feel the triggers is vital to breaking the pattern of use or relapse.

For example, you can:

  •  Pick up the phone and call your sponsor.
  •  Dispute the irrational thought in your head.
  •  Turn and walk or run the other way.
  •  Stay away from people, places, and things that cause or heighten the trigger.

What are ways you can change the thought process leading to a lapse or relapse?
Quickly list three things you can do to stop that thought. Ready? Set? Go!

4. If you run into an old friend at the store or leaving work or school and he asks you to go out for a drink or to get high, what are you going to say?

In order to be ready to answer this question and not use is preparation. Preparation or planning is key to a functional relapse prevention plan.

Take the time to write down your response to the question. Then practice saying it with your sponsor, significant other, or someone in your sober support network. Keep practicing until your response becomes second nature and flows naturally and easily. Always remain mindful because you never know when this person will be in your path.

5. Take a moment and think of situations over the past few months that caused you some type of emotional pain?

Here are some examples:

  •  An argument with a loved one.
  •  Poor performance at work or school.
  •  A feeling of disregard from family or friends.

Now identify the feeling associated with this situation. Create a plan to talk over this feeling with the person(s) involved.

You’ve made it halfway through the relapse prevention plan. Keep going. Only 5 more to go.

6. What about anger? How are you dealing with frustration and irritation today differently than in the past when you were still actively using? How can you be more assertive so frustration doesn’t turn into resentment and anger causing you to act in a way that is dangerous to your recovery system?

7. What is your special form of talking down to yourself? If you are anything like me, negative self-talk has a way of creeping into your thoughts; causing reluctance, worry and fear. It’s vital to recognize self-doubt and self-limiting beliefs because these thoughts can cause chaos in recovery. Write down 3 ways in which your thoughts sabotage you. Now think of 3 positive affirmations to dispute the thoughts and help you return to a positive state.

8. What are you grateful for today in life? Make a list of all the people, accomplishments, or movements which cause you to feel gratitude, happiness, and love. Add to the list often. Review and refresh it once a month. Each morning as you slowly wake up, take a moment and think about one or two people or points from your list and feel the love in your heart. Let the feeling of gratitude fill up your body. Do this before you start rushing about to begin your day. You will be surprised at the difference this makes in your day. It’s hard to be upset and angry if you start your day grateful to your life in recovery.

9. When is the last time you got some exercise, went for a walk, jog, or run? If you are not active and never seem to get any exercise, make a plan to schedule physical activity into your day. You don’t have to run out and get a gym membership. Just getting out of doors and moving is enough. Movement creates change, positive energy, and happiness. You can do it with alone or with your significant other, friend, sponsor, or recovery coach.

10. List 3 people who you can contact if you find yourself faced with a dangerous situation, traumatic event, or just because you need some inspiration to change up your day.

Your list can include:

  •  Peers in recovery
  •  Sponsor
  •  Recovery coach
  •  Family and friends

Make it a point to reach out to your new connections often. It’s easy to get sidetracked by obligations and responsibilities for each day, but your relapse prevention has to be a priority.

Create a special folder in your contacts on your phone so you don’t have to hunt for their contact information. Preparation is key to success. New connections and supportive persons are vital in maintaining your recovery, so be prepared by establishing an extensive list of people to reach out to.
Over to You

Relapse prevention doesn’t have to be difficult nor does recovery. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I have the tendency to think myself into a corner. Sound familiar? I’ve gotten better at catching myself and squashing that mindset before it turns into frustration. I believe you can do this too. It takes effort and mindfulness and practice.

Your relapse prevention plan is individual and personal to you just like the system you’ve built to maintain happiness in recovery. Stay on top of your recovery by consistently changing up your routines adding new dimensions, freshness, and change. Find time to quiz your relapse prevention plan, so you can experience happiness in recovery for many years to come. You deserve it.

About the author
John Makohen is a clinician in New York State, CCAR certified recovery coach, as well as a life coach. John is also a freelance content writer assisting drug rehabs to ethically build rapport and nurture lasting relationships with digital marketing efforts. His personal blog is Year of the Johnny.
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