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10 Relapse Prevention Strategies

Two metal gears with the words "relapse" and "recovery"

By Dr Keith L. Marshall, Psy.D, LAADC, SUDCC-IV, C.A.T.C-V

Accept Yourself and Your Situation: In order to prevent episodes of relapse from happening, it’s essential that you learn how to accept yourself and the situation you’re in. This means not being in denial about your addiction or your recovery. Openly embrace the fact that you were once an addict instead of hiding in shame of it. Accepting yourself and your past for what it is will help prevent you from returning back to it. Self-Forgiveness is key, however if you are not engaging in positive activities and developing pro-social relationships, you will only internalize more shame and guilt.

Become in Tune with Your Mind: Becoming one with your mind is the best way to understand your urges and cravings. Get to know yourself on a deeper level by turning inward and reflecting on the way you think and how it affects your addiction. You do this in many ways, keeping a reflection journal and practicing mindfulness. If your restless, irritable, or discontented that is a true sign that your thinking is distorted in some way.

Be Aware of Your Triggers: (internal and external) Everyone has things that trigger them whether it’s the sight of someone else drinking or a situation like a party, understanding what your triggers are can help you avoid them. A great way to become aware of your triggers is keeping a list of them and writing down anything that makes you feel the urge to use drugs or alcohol. That way later down the road you know what situations and things to steer clear from, lowering your chance of relapse. Also remember that “internal triggers” such as negative emotions can lead to relapse. Assure that you have someone you can talk to help you mitigate negative feelings.

Learn About Problems of Immediate Gratification which is the impulse to choose immediate small rewards over bigger, long term rewards. Understanding your own Problem of Immediate Gratification can help you overcome it and prevent relapses from happening.

Gain Balance in Your Life: A healthy, addiction-free life is a balanced life. Make sure you are adequately balancing out your work life and your personal life to avoid too much stress. Remind yourself that it’s okay to indulge in things every once in a while, like a chocolate bar or a pizza, as long as you balance it out by doing something healthy like jogging or meditating.

Practice Self Care: Taking care of yourself is an essential part of a great relapse prevention strategy. Self-care means you are taking some time to pay attention to your body, both physically and mentally. Pay attention to your grooming and hygiene.  Try eating healthier or taking up some form of consistent physical activity such as biking, basketball, running, walking etc., so you can make sure your body is in the best condition possible. Ensuring your mental health is good is also helpful for preventing relapse. Activities like mindfulness, counseling, and working with a sponsor or getting out in nature, can help you better connect with your mental health.

Find Something to Give You Direction: Whether it’s a passion project or a desire to volunteer, finding something to give you direction in life is an excellent way to create purpose in your days. Finding what’s important to you and committing yourself to it will help keep your mind off of your addiction and help you form deeper connections with yourself and your community.

Create Short- and Long-Term Goals: Short- and long-term goals are important when it comes to preventing relapse. They create structure in your life and help you plan your future. By having something to always be working towards it’s easier to see how relapsing can ruin your chance at success. Write down a list of goals you want to accomplish to help you visualize what you want for your future life. This can inspire and motivate you every time you look at it.

Celebrate Your Accomplishments: Don’t be afraid to celebrate all of your accomplishments, no matter how small. Whether it’s something as simple as staying sober another week or having control over your cravings at a party, every struggle you overcome deserves to be recognized.

Remember, when you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol the road to recovery can seem never ending and impossible. Once you’ve made it through rehab and start leading a sober life, your journey isn’t over. Relapse is something that should always be on your mind. The more aware you are of it, the more prepared you are going to be if it happens. There are also plenty of measures you can put into place to prevent relapse from happening. With these ten strategies, it should be a little easier to see how to tackle the threat of relapse while still enjoying a fun and exciting sober life.

Dr Keith L. Marshall, Psy.D