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Relapse Prevention


Studies suggest that as many as 40-60% of patients who suffer from substance use disorder (SUD) relapse within the first year of sobriety. Because substance use disorder is a chronic disease, it has the potential to return at any time, especially if you don’t give adequate attention to preventing relapses. Therefore, a relapse prevention plan is a key component of treating substance use disorder and finding lasting recovery.


Why Does Relapse Prevention Matter?

Fortunately, the longer the period of sobriety, the lower the potential for relapse.

In fact, SUD relapse and relapse prevention can be viewed similarly to recurrences and prevention of other chronic diseases. For example, if a cancer survivor stops following their medical treatment plan, they have a decreased chance of staying in remission. However, the lengthier the period of remission, the more likely the cancer is to stay in remission. The same is true of a relapse prevention plan.

After two years of sobriety, patients have a solid 60% chance of staying sober indefinitely. After five years, the risk drops to just a 15% chance of relapse.

The brain has an incredible ability to heal over time—just as it adapted to the presence of substances, it will adapt to the absence of them. In fact, the brain begins to heal as soon as exposure to substances is eliminated. Therefore, building lasting recovery is a crucial component of the healing process.

The Importance of a Relapse Prevention Plan

Relapsing is common and should not be viewed as a failure in recovery. Instead, it can be a useful part of the recovery process in that it helps you identify significant triggers that you weren’t otherwise aware of. Unfortunately, relapse can also be deadly.

As described above, the brain and the body begin to heal almost immediately when substance intake stops. Thus, sometimes incredibly high tolerance levels slowly begin to return to normal. When someone in recovery relapses and uses the same amount of their chosen substance they used when tolerance was at a peak level, it’s then too much for their system to handle.

This can often result in an overdose. Worse, because relapse tends to happen in private, there’s no one there to seek medical help.

Since 1999, almost one million people have died of a drug overdose. In 2020, the number increased by nearly 30%, thanks to the emergence of fentanyl. For this reason, a relapse prevention plan for substance abuse has become a critical component of treatment.


How Relapse Prevention Works

The basis of a successful relapse prevention plan lies in cognitive-behavioral therapy tools. With these tools, you can focus on retraining the brain by altering the negative thinking patterns that can lead to relapse. You’ll practice and use the skills you learn in relapse prevention to develop healthier coping mechanisms, better communication skills, and improved stress management skills.

Here at Stairway Resource Center, you’ll learn about topics like:

  • Substance use disorder as a chronic disease
  • How SUD progresses
  • How preoccupation with your substance of choice can lead to post-acute withdrawal
  • How to identify your triggers and how to manage them
  • Which coping strategies might work for you
  • How to develop your own personal relapse prevention program

By providing education about potential triggers for relapse, such as boredom, social pressure, or events unique to your personality, we make it easier to recognize these potentially threatening situations. When they occur, you can respond in the positive manner you learned through practicing relapse prevention strategies. Through the enduring practice of this type of proactive approach, you can reduce your risk of a return to substance abuse until these tools become innate.

Relapse Prevention Strategies at Stairway Resource Center

At Stairway Resource Center, we help people find lasting recovery with research-backed relapse prevention strategies. The most prominent is Relapse Prevention for Recovery, an evidence-based approach for people in recovery from substance use and other behavioral disorders designed to help maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.

We’ll help equip you with tools that can help you identify warning signs and potential triggers of relapse early on. When used during the preliminary signs of relapse, these behavioral strategies and techniques can help you maintain or control your emotions and harness your actions.

Tool 1: Identifying Triggers

Scientific evidence shows repeated drug use is linked to stress cues like certain people, places, things, moods, situations, or contact with drugs. These social cues are the most common triggers for those recovering from substance use disorder. Extensive research and studies have been conducted to learn how to impede these relapse prompts.

Tool 2: Understanding Relapse

There are 11 definitive stages of relapse that can be grouped into three general stages: emotional, mental, and physical. The onset of emotional relapse sometimes starts weeks before the physical relapse looms. That’s why it’s so important to identify early warning signs well in advance. Recognizing these signs can help you reverse the momentum of impending relapse.

Emotional Relapse

You may not even realize your emotional status, behaviors, and reactions are setting you up for relapse. You may even be in denial. Signs of emotional relapse include bottling emotions, isolating, poor eating and sleeping habits, and overall poor self-care. Each person has a unique need for self-care, whether it’s emotional (taking time for oneself) or physical (eating and sleeping regularly). Here at Stairway Resource Center, we teach you to maintain self-care, as well as to identify signs of potential relapse so you can address relapse before it begins.

Mental Relapse

Living in emotional relapse for a prolonged time will eventually get so tense you will start to feel the need for escape. The mental relapse stage exists as a mental war of the mind between wanting to use and wanting to stay sober. The longer this phase is entertained, the less cognitive resistance there is, and the need to escape grows. Signs of mental relapse include cravings for the substance, thoughts of the people, places, and situations you associate with use, forgetting the consequences of using in the past, lying and bargaining with yourself about using, considering controlled relapse, and even planning to relapse.

Too often, thoughts of using are kept private out of embarrassment. Here at Stairway Resource Center, we teach you that it’s normal to have these thoughts, and you should communicate them when you do.

Physical Relapse

The final stage of relapse occurs when substance use starts again. This typically happens in a singular moment of opportunity. Stairway Resource Center teaches you to practice experiencing these moments and developing exit strategies so you know what to do when they come up.

Tool 3: Applying Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Behavioral modification is the core of cognitive-behavioral therapy. By modifying or changing your attitude towards triggers and your subsequent behavioral patterns in reaction to those triggers, you can reduce your risk of relapse. Cognitive-behavioral therapy as a component of relapse prevention. Stairway Resource Center teaches you to recognize, avoid, and then cope with your triggers.

Tool 4: Reversing Negative Thinking

Negative thought patterns are all-or-nothing sentiments that eliminate the positive, catastrophize the negative, and lead to negative self-labels. These negative thought patterns lead to stress, anxiety, resentment, depression, and, eventually, relapse. At Stairway Resource Center, we use cognitive-behavioral therapy to retrain neural circuits, replacing negative thoughts with new thought patterns that result in healthier, more desirable thoughts. You can break unwanted habits and replace them with positive reactions, attitudes, and behaviors.

Tool 5: Redefining Your Life

When you’re in recovery, it is easy to glamorize memories of using in the past. Because substance use was once connected with positive experiences, you may continue to expect it to be positive. Stairway Resource Center uses cognitive therapy to retrain these misconceptions and redefine the norm: fun and sobriety.

Tool 6: Finding Support

Relapse prevention strategies hinge upon developing a strong support network full of positive relationships with others who will help you stay sober. This includes building social support networks through developing relationships with family members, friends, and professionals who can provide much-needed emotional support when necessary or refer you to further services when needed. With this type of support system in place, it becomes easier for you to work toward your long-term goals of sobriety without succumbing to temptation or negative impulses.

Tool 7: Developing Wellness of Mind and Body

By learning and practicing healthy habits like proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, you can develop resiliency against relapse triggers. This can include engaging in activities that promote positive well-being, such as yoga or mindfulness meditation, as well as developing healthy lifestyle habits of getting regular exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep. At the same time, by incorporating these behaviors, you are proactively improving your overall physical health and mental well-being.

Relapse Prevention for Recovery

At Stairway Resource Center, developing a relapse prevention plan helps you maintain recovery from substance use disorders.

It teaches you to achieve success in long-term recovery by equipping you with the skills you need to better understand yourself and identify potential risks of relapse before they occur.

After you’ve learned to recognize these triggers, you have the know-how to take preemptive steps and initiate the behaviors, thoughts, and situations that help you avoid relapse.

These techniques are further strengthened when a relapse prevention plan and an effective support network are in place. Also important is a commitment to living a healthy lifestyle and improving overall wellness for both the mind and the body. When all conditions are met, you are in the best position possible to stay sober.

This harmonious balance optimizes your chances of success and significantly reduces the odds of relapse.

Don't Let the Past Steal Your Present

Relapse Prevention FAQ

Relapse prevention is an incredibly vital component of what we do here at Stairway Resource Center.

Why Is Community Support So Important as a Relapse Prevention Tool?

While the importance of a healthy home support component is obvious, many people suffering from substance use disorder simply don’t have a strong support network at home. Community support is essential to any successful relapse prevention plan because it’s not just about building relationships, but it also encompasses everything from finding a permanent living situation to maintaining employment. It’s hard to stay in recovery when you don’t have a steady income or a safe place to sleep at night. Without community support, though, many people have little chance of preventing relapse.

Why Sober Housing for Those in Recovery?

A comfortable home life is important to those suffering from substance use disorder. With so many stressors that can potentially trigger a relapse, feeling safe and secure is essential to a successful recovery. Forming a support network and making bonds with other individuals suffering from the same disease is also critical in maintaining sobriety.

Sober housing not only provides living conditions that are conducive to recovery, but it also connects individuals with healthy peer groups and community services that can provide education, employment, long-term housing, and even family support. Stairway Resource Center sober housing supports finding employment, forming healthy relationship goals, working on securing acceptable housing, and building a solid home environment where recovery can take place.

Why Is Personalized Relapse Prevention So Important?

Just as each substance use disorder and each individual are unique, each recovery journey is different. When you begin outpatient treatment at a facility like Stairway Resource Center, each provider, therapist, counselor, and medical professional should have a hand in constructing a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs. The same can be said for relapse prevention—your triggers, coping strategies, and behaviors are unique to you, and a personalized relapse prevention plan can focus on how you’ll address all of them as your recovery continues.
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Ready for Relapse Prevention? Contact Us Today

Your treatment doesn’t end when the outpatient program is over.

Stairway Resource Center is dedicated to providing an aftercare plan that can help you locate healthcare providers, identify potential support groups, establish a physical fitness routine, locate community resources, find online and print resources, and access official aftercare services. If you or someone you care about requires relapse prevention, call Stairway Resource Center today and learn more about our Community Support and Sober Living services.

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Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken in place of medical advice. Before making any decisions regarding your health, please consult your doctor. The staff at Stairway Resource Center develops a custom treatment plan for each of our patients. Specific medical advice will be provided to our patients by our professional providers while in our care.