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Relapse Prevention Essentials: Theory, Therapy, and Strategies to Try

January 21, 2020
All Points North Lodge

A Need for Relapse Prevention

Life after addiction can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, but you’re never alone. Knowing how to prevent potential relapses from happening can play a crucial role in long-term recovery from substance use disorders and behavioral addictions alike.

The first step in developing excellent relapse prevention tools is understanding what sparks those destructive behaviors. Once you’ve figured out how to address the underlying issues creating ripples of dysfunction, the path to recovery becomes much more manageable and attainable.

Let’s take a look at some essential relapse prevention background as well as some relapse prevention tools, so you can go back to enjoying the life you loved or even begin a fresh start.

What Is Relapse Prevention? And Why is it Important?

Recovering from addiction is more than just withdrawing from heavy substance abuse. Some underlying behaviors, patterns, and even though patterns that typically lead to the path of addiction must be acknowledged and inevitably changed.

Relapse prevention can most easily be described as the identification and anticipation of your own relapse triggers and the development of methods and tools used to reduce the possible chances of relapse.

Potential relapses are harsh realities for individuals in recovery, which is what makes prevention so important. Knowing the signs of relapse and addressing them at their onset can play a vital role in staying on the healthy path to lifelong recovery.

Due to the profound role addiction plays in an individual’s life, the early stages of initial recovery can often be considered the most difficult. Having a thorough understanding of relapse prevention theory and tools can make the path to recovery significantly more comfortable and less intimidating.

In most Relapse Prevention models, it’s important to remember that a motivation to stop one’s destructive behavior is assumed. In other words, Relapse Prevention theory only works when the individual wants to stop their destructive behavior. As always, healing begins with an acknowledgement that something needs to change and a desire to change it.

The Basics of Relapse Prevention Theory

Understanding underlying issues that can spiral into potential relapse is an essential skill in the toolset of relapse prevention. Substance use disorders often develop from an individual’s dysfunctional attempts to cope with the challenges they face throughout life. This dysfunction may stem from traumatic experiences, generational trauma, genetics, and more.

But grasping the “why” behind relapse is only part of the battle. Individuals who suffer from substance use disorders (SUD) often lack a fully functional toolset for coping with life challenges in a healthy and productive manner. To deal with the trials of life without turning to addiction as a crutch, the individual must learn the necessary skills to cope more functionally.

What is Relapse Prevention Therapy?

Relapse Prevention Therapy is a cognitive behavioral therapy used to help guide individuals through addiction and substance abuse. While it can also be used to help treat depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Relapse Prevention Therapy is best known for its ability to help individuals who struggle with substance use disorders (SUDs).

Relapse Prevention Therapy aims to highlight situations where an individual is most vulnerable to relapse and help develop better coping strategies to prevent them.

When an individual knows what causes or triggers their addictive behavior, it’s easier to learn the targeted skills needed to choose better coping mechanisms to deal with their common triggers.

What is a Trigger?

Events, thoughts, circumstances, or even people which cause increased thoughts or cravings for substance use relapse are referred to as “triggers.” Triggers can be external or internal and present themselves in different ways for different people.

Internal triggers may be certain moods or mood swings that change your mindset. A spike in feelings of anxiety or a notable lowering of self-esteem can both be considered internal triggers for relapse.

External triggers can be most easily defined as the stressors of the world around you. Whether it’s an encounter with the pressures of work, a pit in your stomach when you return to a traumatic place, or even painful dynamics with specific people in your life, these external forces may have the potential to trigger relapse.

Know What Has the Potential to Trigger Relapse for You

Knowing what has the tendency to be a trigger in your life and making a note of those specific events, people, or places is an essential first step in relapse prevention can be a huge help when it comes to relapse prevention. They’ll serve as a reminder to stay away from situations or mindsets that can make you feel like a relapse is imminent.

As you start to gather and achieve successful recovery experiences and victories, you’ll see an overall increase in confidence and beliefs to recover effectively. Take learning to ride a bike as an example. The first few pedals are shaky because of newness and timidity. But once you start to pick it up and trust yourself, you can ride smoothly regardless of the bumps and turns you encounter. In the same way, individuals recovering from an addiction will grow ease and confidence as time goes on and recovery prevails.

Relapse Prevention Starter Strategies to Know

Knowing what strategies to employ is a crucial component to preventing potential relapses from occurring. The more you know about how to avoid a relapse, the better you’ll be able to handle any triggering situations as they come. Remember, these strategies are just tools in the tool belt for people in recovery. Therapy, support, and practice are essential foundations for any long-term road to recovery. Without these, relapse prevention techniques are just dusty tools on a shelf.

  • Write out potential triggers and positive ways to respond
  • Practice role-playing out your trigger scenarios
  • Practice mindfulness to stay in the moment and bring your awareness back to the simple things
  • Try yoga to increase your ability to tolerate discomfort
  • Join AA, NA, or other similar support groups
  • Schedule your days and plan for potential triggers
  • Develop a crisis contact list with people you can trust to support you when triggered

Reviewed and Edited by the team at All Points North Lodge.

*We cannot understate the importance of working with a doctor and therapist as you recover. None of this content is intended as medical advice. Speak with your providers to find a plan and strategies that work for you. If you don't have a therapist or provider, give us a call.

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