If you’ve been in recovery from an addiction for any length of time, you might have heard about your relapse prevention plan. When you leave your rehabilitation center or your outpatient treatment, your recovery is long from over. The aftercare you get will continue to help you along your sobriety journey. Having a relapse prevention plan in place will help you when you have difficult decisions to make. Read on to find out more about relapse prevention plans, why you should have one, and who can help you as you navigate this new phase of life.
Why Are Relapse Prevention Plans Important?
Approximately half of recovering addicts relapse at least once.
It’s important to note that a relapse doesn’t mean that you are no longer recovering or that you should give up. With a large percentage of people relapsing, it’s seen as a common part of the process.
Having a plan, however, can help prevent relapses from occurring. It’s similar to role-playing before a situation occurs; rather than acting out your actions and reactions, however, you’ll just think them through in your mind and type or write them out so you can refer to them. You can place it in your portable calendar or purse. You can also type it right into your phone so it’s always at your fingertips. Knowing ahead of time what you plan to do and say when tricky situations come up gives you one less decision to make because you’ve already made it!
What Should Go Into a Relapse Prevention Plan?
Every person’s situation is unique, but there are some features that all relapse prevention plans should include. Here are four of them:
- The names of people who you can call at any time of the day or night when you are feeling like a relapse might be imminent. These should be people who have been supportive of your journey and who will encourage you to do the right thing.
- The name and number of your counselor. While he or she won’t be available at 2:00 am or on a Saturday evening, just calling and leaving a voicemail can give you the reflection time you need to avoid making a bad choice.
- The acronym HALT. It stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. If you begin having cravings, consider whether you are dealing with hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue. If so, you can take the steps necessary to address the problem. Get something to eat, talk about your feelings with a loved one, make plans to get together with a friend, or take a nap.
- A list of activities and things that you enjoy. By making a list of things you like to do, you’ll have a way to reward yourself for making good choices or getting through a tough day (or a tough hour). If you’re bored and tempted to check in at your old hangouts, a list of alternative activities can keep you on the straight and narrow.
When Is Your Plan Helpful?
Many days, you won’t need your relapse plan. These are the days when things are going well for you and you aren’t having any severe cravings or feeling tempted to put yourself in a potentially precarious situation. Other days, however, you might not be as fortunate. These are the times when you should take out your relapse prevention plan and depend on it as a source of ideas on how to get through the difficult moments.
Some occasions that might make your plan helpful include:
- The winter holidays
- Painful anniversary dates
- The loss of a loved one
- A national or local tragedy
- The loss of a job
- An argument with a friend or family member
- The breakup of a romantic relationship.
These are all times when you might need to rely on the plans you’ve already made for yourself.
Who Can Help You Stick to Your Plan?
During the recovery process, it’s important that you put together a support system for yourself. This will include different categories of people. Don’t be shy about asking for help; remember that your loved ones and the professionals who have been caring for you all want to see you succeed.
Your family members and friends who have been supportive are going to be a strong segment of your support system. This is particularly true of the people you live with. Whether you are living with family or a close friend, be sure to tell them what you need in terms of encouragement. It is also helpful to share with them the signs of a possible relapse so they can encourage you to get back on track if they notice that you’re struggling.
You should continue going to support group meetings. The people in your meetings are on a journey similar to yours. You can be an encouragement to those who are newer to recovery (or who have relapsed and are getting back on track), and you can be encouraged by those who are farther along in the process. Over time, some of these group members might become close friends.
What Should You Do If You Do Relapse?
If you do relapse, it’s important that you don’t give up on your recovery. Many, many people relapse and then go on to live happy, healthy, drug-free lives. You should seek help sooner rather than later. As soon as you realize that you’re in a dangerous place, call the people in your support system and ask for help. Go back to therapy if you haven’t been going, and check back into a rehabilitation center if you need inpatient care.
Once you are out of the crisis, a counselor can help you determine what went wrong and how you might handle a similar situation in the future. These ideas should go into your relapse prevention plan to help you avoid another relapse.
Creating a relapse prevention plan is a way for you to take control of your recovery. If you still feel like you need help creating plan for yourself, talk to your mental health professional or addiction specialist and they will be able to assist you.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.