Creating And Implementing Relapse Prevention Plans – Our Comprehensive Guide

A Relapse Prevention Plan (RPP) is designed to help you to recognise the warning signs that you may be about to relapse or use/drink again. RPP’s also provide you with clear, simple instructions to follow in order to avoid relapsing.

A relapse prevention plan features a concrete course of action, outlining coping mechanisms and ideas for managing cravings and triggers in times of stress. The plan can be amended and added to as time goes on and needs change. The more detailed your plan is, the more likely it is to be helpful during a variety of situations and events, should they arise.

A RPP shouldn’t be confused with a daily recovery plan, a DRP provides you with a structured way to ensure that you’re getting the most out of every single day, hour by hour, activity by activity. You can read our ultimate guide to creating and implementing your own daily recovery plan by clicking here.

Marlatt’s Model of Relapse Prevention

Dr. Gordon Alan Marlatt, a University of Washington Psychology professor, founded this relapse model centered around high-risk situations.

The Marlatt Model illustrates how both tonic (stable) and phasic (short-lived) influences interact with each other in order to evaluate the likeliness of a relapse. The difference between these two variables are that tonic processes represent how susceptible one is to relapse while phasic responses serve as factors that either cause or prevent relapse.

The Marlatt Model

For additional information on the Marlatt model see this resource.

A Good Plan Might Include These Relapse Prevention Strategies:

  • Specific triggers
  • Tools and methods for coping with stress, cravings and triggers
  • Communication ideas for family and loved ones
  • Accountability methods
  • In case of emergency information

Step 1: Identify Your Personal Goals In Recovery & Motivations For Positive Changes

A relapse prevention plan is individual and it will not be the same for everyone. It is important for you to think about what you want out of recovery and what your own personal goals for the future are.

What changes are you willing to make, and what are your motivations for making them? For instance, things like keeping a job, making amends and improving relationships with loved ones, consistently fulfilling family obligations, becoming physically healthier or enhancing self-esteem can all be great goals to give you motivation to keep on track with your recovery. Making a note of these within your RPP can help remind you of what you may loose if you were to relapse. This can provide you with some extra motivation in those tough times.

Step 2: Make A Plan To Manage Cravings & Triggers By Naming Specific Challenges & Methods For Overcoming Them

A trigger is something that can cause stress, or urges, and potentially induce cravings to drink alcohol or use drugs. Each person will have their own specific triggers. They may be caused by certain events, places, people or circumstances.

For instance, you may frequent certain places where you always drink beer with your buddies, and these people and/or places may need to be avoided, at least for a while until you are more comfortable and experienced in your recovery. You can then decide the best way to manage these situations if or when they arise and how you want to deal with them, however we suggest that initially you simply avoid them altogether initially.

Stress is a natural part of life, and it is important to have coping mechanisms and tools in place for managing it in a healthy manner that don’t revolve around you using or drinking.

TIP: You can’t stop or choose stressful or negative feelings or situations from happening, but you can however choose how you cope with them when they come up and what you do to get past them in a constructive and productive manner.

What specific things will be the biggest challenge for you personally, and what can you do to manage them?

Come up with relaxation techniques, stress-management ideas and coping strategies, and include these in your plan as a reference for you to look back at.

You can find more of these by utilising the following:

  • Through our blog
  • Through our social media platforms (links are at the bottom of this guide)
  • By contacting us
  • By doing a search through your chosen search engine
  • By talking to others in recovery or your sponsor

Step 3: Find Ways To Improve Self-Care & Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle

The best way to avoid relapsing is by having a strong and stable plan in place which maximises your recovery efforts. You can create your own daily recovery plan by checking out our ultimate guide by clicking here.

It’s very beneficial to set up a daily ritual for maintaining physical health, such as a structured sleep schedule, plan for balanced meals, having hobbies and interests that you enjoy and having a fitness regime. Getting enough sleep and eating healthy can aid in setting up a strong foundation to build from. Being physically healthy can help you to have a clearer mind and improve your mental health, immune system, physical health (if you have health problems related to your substance use such as ulcers from injecting), boost energy levels, feel less stressed as well as increase self-confidence among many other benefits besides.

Finding hobbies that keep you busy and occupy the mind can be a great relapse prevention tool as well. Take up a creative outlet like dance or painting, attend a yoga class, find ways to help yourself relax, join a club or society related to your hobby or interest, create a bucket list and try new things, study or attend a course or invest some of your time volunteering. Decide how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, and make plans to schedule this practice into your daily life.

Step 4: Prepare Communication Tools & Set Up A Support System

The people around you can be great resources in recovery. Surround yourself with people who support your goals and have also gone through the early recovery process like you. After all, no one can understand an addict in recovery like another addict who has been through a similar situation to yours.

Peer support, group meetings and 12-Step fellowship groups can also be highly beneficial during recovery to aid in relapse prevention. The Journal of Addictive Disorders indicates that people actively participating in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)—a mutual support, 12-Step program—were more likely to remain abstinent over those who did not.

It can be helpful to have people you can talk to when you need to. Think about ways to communicate effectively and ask for help when you need it. Keep numbers for counsellors, mentors, friends and family nearby, and don’t hesitate to talk it out.

TIP: We often worry that we’re putting people out or inconveniencing people by calling or texting them. However this isn’t true. People can only help you if they know that you need help, after all, they aren’t psychic!

Step 5: Identify Your Warning Signs & Triggers When Things Get Tough

Identifying your warning signs and the things that may trigger you before you relapse is critical. These could be people, places and things that set you off. They could include the following:

  • Shops, bars, dealers houses or meeting spots
  • People who still use or drink
  • Days you get paid
  • Anniversary’s of deaths, births or birthdays
  • Seeing injecting equipment
  • Receiving text messages or calls
  • Certain feelings
  • Certain bodily sign and symptoms
  • Walking or driving a certain way or past a certain location

Spend at least 10 minutes writing down all of your triggers and warning signs as they will be different for everyone.

Relapse Prevention Plan Example

A relapse prevention plan can serve as a way to hold yourself accountable and have a plan, should you feel tempted to use or drink. Keep it in an easy to see location that is easy to access when it’s needed, so putting it in a drawer and forgetting about it won’t help you!

The plan will change with time and as you identify new or different areas of your life that you may wish to focus on that you feel may b difficult for you to manage and could be at risk of causing a relapse.

Being aware and taking note of early warning signs of stress can be extremely helpful in working to prevent relapse. In addition, having a strong “relapse prevention plan” in writing can be a great resource. The action plan should offer guidance and be a tool for accomplishing and holding fast to your abstinence, sobriety and goals in recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Your Relapse Prevention Plan

Below is a sample of a relapse prevention plan that can serve as a guideline when creating your own recovery care plan.

Personal goals and motivational factors:

Why are you going through recovery? What’s motivating you to succeed? Write these down so that you can refer to them when you feel like giving up or relapsing.

  • I want to be more physically fit and will work to take better care of my body
  • I wish to regain my position at my job and will work toward being a better employee and more financially stable
  • I will attend anger management classes to work on staying calm and controlling my emotions and temper
  • I want to make amends with friends and family members who have suffered as a result of my addiction and seek to improve these relationships
  • I want to start my own business
  • And others

Triggers and potential challenges:

What are your triggers and what are the potential challenges you face which may become an obstacle to success?

  • Going to the bar after work
  • Hanging out with Joe and Bob who are still drinking heavily on a regular basis
  • Financial difficulties and work-related stress
  • Parties and social activities where there will be alcohol
  • Troubles with my partner and strife in my home life
  • Living near to my drug dealer
  • Constantly receiving calls and texts from dealers and friends, tempting me to use or drink
  • Having needles around me
  • Struggling with my mental health conditions
  • Criminal records
  • Feeling unwell, sweating, achy, agitated or angry
  • Lack of proper, restful sleep
  • And others

Methods for coping with stress and minimising triggers:

  • I will use relaxation and mindfulness meditation techniques when I am feeling stressed
  • After work, I will go straight home and avoid the bar as well as friends who do not support my sobriety
  • I will attend 12-Step meetings at least two or three times a week
  • I will take non-alcoholic beverages to parties and social gatherings and avoid ones where this isn’t possible
  • Every day, I will spend at least 20 minutes on self-reflection and keeping a journal
  • I will do something fun for myself at least once a day
  • I will spend at least an hour each day doing a particular hobby or interest
  • If I get into trouble, I will call a friend, mentor, family member or support person
  • I will leave my current location and go to (name your safe space) location until things settle down
  • I will delete phone contacts or change my number completely so that dealers and those who still use or drink can’t contact me anymore

Daily life & self-care plans:

This runs alongside a daily recovery plan if you have one. This will help you to become more resilient and help you to avoid actually relapsing, so being aware of these is also an important aspect to consider.

  • I will eat healthy and balanced meals and be sure to drink enough water
  • I will strive to get at least eight hours of solid sleep each night
  • I will join a gym and plan to exercise three times per week
  • I will go for a walk each day
  • Emotionally, I will work toward being more aware of my own feelings and needs and take time to “check” myself throughout the day

My support system:

Do I just need to HALT?

HALT is an acronym which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. These 4 aspects of life may seem small, but they can commonly be found to be the root cause of some people’s relapses. You can learn more about HALT in our previous article here.

Consequences, gratitude and accountability actions:

  • If I use or drink, (list consequences) will happen to me
  • My job and financial stability depend on me remaining sober and in control
  • I may lose my job and be unable to live at home if I am not clean and sober
  • My physical health is directly related to my abstinence and sobriety. If I drink or use, I will get sick and be unable to take care of myself and others and may overdose and die
  • I understand that my recovery plan is a promise to myself and my loved ones to remain clean, sober and to be the healthiest version of myself
  • List who else your decision to use or drink again could also directly or indirectly affect

My emergency statement

On your plan, you should have one clear, easy to see and read section that you will follow if you notice the warning signs occurring or approaching, or you feel that you’re tempted to use or drink again. This statement should include the following:

  1. What signs and symptoms you want to look out for?
  2. Any other triggers or identifying factors that may indicate a possible relapse approaching?
  3. At what stage will you act upon your plan?
  4. Who and how will you contact a chosen person or people?
  5. Where will I go or what will I do once I’ve done this?
  6. How can I avoid the same thing happening again in the future? What can I learn from this?
  7. What physical actions will I put in place to help me to avoid this happening again?

Example Statement

If I notice (signs and symptoms) approaching or occurring, and I identify (triggers) happening, I will contact (person or people) immediately as soon as I recognise this is happening. I will be open and honest with them and ask for their help, support and advice. I will then go to (location) to keep myself safe until things settle down or until certain things are in place to stop me relapsing.

Straight away, I will sit down with my chosen person or people and work out how and why I ended up getting in this position in the first place and what I will add, amend or remove from my daily routine to avoid this happening again in the future.

What If I Do Relapse?

The important thing to remember about relapses is that they will more than likely happen to most people in early recovery. We will often punish ourselves and see them as failure, however it’s important to cut yourself some slack, use them as a learning opportunity and move onwards and upwards rather than stop and focus on them which isn’t productive or helpful.

Top Tips & Expert Advice

  • Make sure that you update and amend your RPP regularly as things will change as time goes by, ideally monthly
  • Make sure it’s in a visible and easy to access location
  • Ask someone you trust and who have been through the same situation as you before for their help and advice about your plan
  • Make sure that the information you use is accurate, honest and upto date
  • You could also keep a copy of this next to your emergency/next of kin emergency contact information so that emergency service workers have as much information about you as possible
  • If you add it to your plans, make sure that you stick to them otherwise they are no use to you and your recovery
  • Use this as a tool holistically with others you may already have, and make the most of them by combining them all together to better support your recovery. You can learn new techniques and coping strategies by browsing through our large back catalogue of articles in our blog here.

Print Off Checklist

You could print off these questions to ask yourself every day, or when you feel like you may slip up and possibly relapse.

RPP Template Ideas

Template/Idea 1
Template/Idea 2
Template/Idea 3

Have An Ideas Or Suggestions?

Do you have any ideas, suggestions, advice or tips that you want to share with others? Let us know by commenting below, contacting us through our social media platforms (links below) or by contacting us.

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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