In the previous two blogs on substance use disorders, we examined the continuum of substance use, what it is, the differences between substance abuse and addiction, and some steps you can take to reduce substance use or other problem behaviors. Remember, recovery is a process—a lifestyle– that has many working parts, one of which is relapse prevention. There are several steps you can take yourself as previously discussed, but keep in mind you relapse in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors before you ever drink the alcohol or use the substance.

Now, let’s take a look at what we mean by a Relapse Prevention Plan and what incorporates such a plan, which is crucial in the recovery process. Again, this is something you may want to do with an addiction professional. Before you begin developing a relapse prevention plan, you need to identify patterns of use, or commonalities in the process of using. Examine past relapses for patterns in your use of substances, including:

  • Where and when you use
  • Whether you typically use alone or with others, and with whom you use
  • How (snorting, smoking, injecting) or the methods by which you use
  • Thoughts and feelings that typically precede and follow use
  • Behaviors that you associate with use (for example, drinking coffee while smoking cigarettes or partying while drinking)

After identifying patterns of use, it’s important to identify your needs (versus wants), your strengths and abilities, and your preferences or interests. This can help steer you in the direction of identifying and practicing coping skills. At this point, you are ready to develop a relapse prevention plan, preferably with help from a professional. A Relapse Prevention Plan includes:

  • Identification of triggers that may bring out the urge to use. Triggers include people (dealers, people you have used with in the past or who currently use), places (liquor stores, pharmacies, parks, your bedroom), objects (drug paraphernalia), feelings (sadness, anger, depression), thoughts (glorification of use, buying into the idea you have to drink or use to have fun or be social), and behaviors associated with use (lying, cheating, gambling, stealing.

Triggers – people, places, objects, feelings, thoughts and behaviors – that “trigger” urges to use, and coping mechanisms, or alternatives to using, are the two most important parts of a relapse prevention plan. If you can identify the triggers that precede use, then you can plan how to manage or prevent substance use.

  • Identification of coping mechanisms (or skills) or alternatives to using. Coping skills may include hobbies and interests (playing sports, painting, reading), recovery-related or therapeutic activities (going to meetings, reading the big book, journaling), spending time with supportive others (going out for coffee), or doing chores and tasks around the house or for work (cleaning, running errands).
  • Identification of general purpose strategies, or activities that keep you on track in recovery; things that you do on a regular basis that if you stop doing may be warning signs you are in relapse mode
  • Identification of supportive persons, people you can talk to and who will listen to you in times of need. Also, people who will hold you accountable when and if you slip up
  • Identification of meetings and/or support groups (keep in mind, the biggest reason people attend groups or meetings is for support)
  • Identification of obstacles to recovery; things that could prevent you from engaging in recovery-related activities and practices which may be internal (e.g., laziness) or external (e.g., lack of transportation to meetings)
  • Identification of consequences if you go back to using, and practice of consequential thinking
  • Emergency planning, or what you will do if you relapse, such as calling a supportive person or immediately going to a meeting
  • And once again, structure.

 So, this may seem a bit overwhelming, and in reality, designing and following a relapse prevention plan can be if you choose to do it all by yourself. Individuals with addiction sometimes believe they can do it themselves without any help. Yeah, sure, if you are super human. The reality is, substance abuse and addiction don’t just affect one person…you. It affects everyone around you, whether you know it or not, and recovery requires help, to varying degrees.

The reality is, substance use and addiction don’t just affect you. It affects everyone around you, whether you know it or not. And recovery requires  getting help.

Substance abuse and addiction can affect your family (How many times has your significant other, parent, or family member had to call in sick for you when in reality you were hungover? How many times have you missed important events because you were using, your children’s soccer games or open house?) It affects work (How many times were you late to work or couldn’t go in because of using or coming down from using?). It affects your social life (Have you lost friends or made bad decisions that cost you friendships or activities?) The point is, your addiction affects the people around you, whether you like it or not. And similarly, recovery affects the people around you in different ways. You wouldn’t think less of someone fighting cancer and asking others for help, would you? Or if someone with a broken leg, asks another person to open a door? So, go ahead, and ask for help. You deserve to live a happy and healthy life with support from others.

Dr. Jennifer Bruha, PhD


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