Relapse Prevention Plan: How to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Relapse

relapse prevention plan

One of the biggest challenges someone on the road to recovery faces is relapse. Some temptations are often present in day-to-day life like alcohol. Others might be tempting if you have friends who still use who might encourage you to start abusing substances again to better fit in with them and their group. 

Here at Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare, one of our priorities is relapse prevention once you have graduated from our clinic. We even have sober living housing to help you make the big transition from residential and even outpatient life to “normal” life.

How Long Do Major Substance Cravings Last?

Often cravings peak between 30 to 90 days. In other words, the first couple of weeks sober may be the easiest. However, after 90 days a person with an addiction disorder’s odds of staying on their road to recovery long-term improve.

Do People Who Abuse Substances Have Triggers?

People who abuse drugs, alcohol, or other substances develop “triggers.” A trigger is something that elicits an emotional response or thought pattern to something that can often lead to physical action. A trigger can be something as simple as hearing a song that you used to listen to while you abused.

What are the Signs that Someone is About to Relapse?

There are some signs that someone is starting the spiral downwards to relapse. They are:

Changes in attitude

You might not feel like or feel motivated to continue to take measures to safeguard your sobriety like attending 12-step meetings, SMART meetings, using apps to encourage you, or using any other sobriety encouragement methods that you and/or your clinic and health professionals have helped you established.

Elevated Stress

Whether it is an army of little things or one major stressor, elevated stress is a warning sign of a future relapse. Some people do not realize that they are feeling stressed until they start to become overwhelmed. It is important to check in with a loved one and/or a health professional about problems that you might be facing. They may be taking a bigger toll on you than you might think.

Reactivation of Denial

Instead of being in denial that they are having trouble with drugs, you fall into denial that things are starting to get worse. Some people do not want to share their burden because that would mean that they would have to admit that everything is not ok. You have to admit when you need help or you might relapse.

 “Now is not a good time,” is a reason not to go to lunch with a friend. “Now is not a good time,” is not a reason to avoid using your sobriety safeguards like going to see a therapist who specializes in addiction if you do not already see one, or taking other crucial emergency steps set in place by your recovery team during your clinical road to recovery. You have to remember how much better your life has gotten. ‘Now’ never feels like a good time to go back to rehabilitation, but that can be prevented at times if you break your spiral towards relapse.

Recurrence of Withdrawal Symptoms

Some of the problems that go along with substance abuse like anxiety, depression, insomnia, and memory loss can come back after you stop abusing substances. These are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms. It is important to not go back to abusing substances as a way to self-medicate. A doctor who specializes in addiction will know of many methods that you can use to alleviate these symptoms 

Behavior Changes

When you go through a clinical substance abuse rehabilitation you might have been taught some habits that you could use to replace compulsive behaviors or other outlets for those compulsive needs. One such outlet for self-harm is to draw beautiful pictures on your skin where you are tempted to cut yourself with a soft-tipped marker instead of a sharp object.

Loss of Structure

When you worked through your clinical rehabilitation, you were taught to follow a routine. When you start to lose structure you start to deviate from this routine by doing things like staying up late, sleeping in, not bathing, not brushing your teeth, or otherwise neglecting your personal hygiene. The loss of structure is different from adapting your routine. 

Your rehabilitation clinic might have taught you methods to get back into your routine after a short break, say if you have to stay up late because of an emergency such as a loved one going to a hospital. Loss of structure tends to be longer-term and far more detrimental.

Loss of Judgment

Loss of judgment does not only mean making poor decisions. In this stage, you might also become angry or easily annoyed. You might not be able to think straight either. Unfortunately, many people in the loss of judgment phase tend to feel overwhelmed for no reason they can pinpoint and they feel unable to relax.

Loss of Options

In the loss of options phase, you stop going to your support groups, stop taking some doses of any medication you might need, or stop taking them completely, and otherwise do not seek help. Some people feel:

  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Loneliness
  • Frustration
  • Tension

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) both have a sponsorship component. A person who has completed the steps can sponsor, or mentor, someone who is still going through the steps. This is meant to be a long-term platonic relationship. For someone who is going through a loss of options even reaching out to a sponsor might seem to them like a step they cannot take.


When someone relapses they might attempt short-term drug and/or alcohol use. After they start they often feel shame and guilt. This is when it becomes a full-blown relapse and professional help might be needed as they continue to abuse substances.

Do People with Co-occurring Disorders Usually Relapse?

The possibility of relapse goes up sharply if someone has a co-occurring disorder. A co-occurring disorder is when a substance abuse disorder occurs in the same person as another mental health disorder. A co-occurring disorder might also be called a dual diagnosis. 

Can Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse be Related to Mental Health Disorders?

If someone has an untreated co-occurring disorder like depression or panic disorder, it can cause them to quickly relapse. Many people with co-occurring disorders started using substances to ease the pain of their mental health disorder(s). However, substance abuse is not a solution to pain or distress. It can make the problem worse. 

Sometimes people with an addiction disorder will develop other mental health disorders after they start abusing substances. If someone started abusing substances to cope with the pain of another mental health disorder they might go back to abusing substances to cope if their other mental health disorder is not handled properly.

Do Not Self Diagnose

It is never wise to self-diagnose. It is important to get a qualified medical professional to properly diagnose you. Some people still will not believe even a professional though. People who have a mental health disorder run into further problems when their diagnosis is discounted by others. People who have been experiencing problems like depression, bipolar, anxiety, and schizophrenia might hear:

  • “You’ve always been a little high strung”
  • “You’re just made this way”
  • “Everyone feels a little down sometimes”
  • “Don’t worry, I can get you to relax” (this may or may not be followed by offers of substances)
  • “You just have an active imagination”
  • “You were this way even when you were little”

Even if someone does not know that they have a mental health disorder, they can still be suffering from a disorder. This includes cases where the person has had the disorder their whole life. Normal for someone does not necessarily mean healthy. 

The pain of the disorder might be further compounded by the person with the substance abuse’s frustration at not being heard when they try to let others know they need help. If you think that you might have a co-occurring disorder please go see a mental health professional to get their opinion. A co-occurring disorder is when an addiction disorder occurs in the same person at the same time as another mental health disorder.

Do all Addiction Recovery centers Offer Dual Diagnosis Care?

Not all addiction rehabilitation centers are set up to help clients with a co-occurring disorder. If someone has a co-occurring disorder that is not diagnosed and properly treated the pain and distress from the disorder will often drive the person on their road to recovery and back to abusing substances. 

When you are ready to begin your recovery journey please contact us or call us at (877) 389- 0412.