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Relapse Prevention
outpatient drug treatment center

Relapse Prevention

Most people are primarily concerned with initially achieving sobriety once they enter a rehab and recovery program. Although this is understandable, it is absolutely vital to consider relapse prevention programs during treatment. Regardless of strong willpower and motivation, recovering addicts will need to consistently practice relapse prevention strategies in order to maintain a lifetime in recovery. Relapse prevention programs teach addicts how to recognize their particular relapse triggers, build networks of support, and develop healthy strategies for coping with stress. Utilizing these skills is not only important in the time during and immediately following treatment, but important for the years to come. It is key to understand the nature of relapse and how it can be avoided with comprehensive relapse prevention strategies.



The Nature of Relapse


When an addict returns to substance abuse after days or even years of sobriety, this transition is known as a relapse. Some addicts may return to abusing the substance that initially landed them in rehab, others may begin abusing a new substance. Nevertheless, well over half of all addicts will return to substance abuse once they have attained sobriety.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic and complex disease. Like any chronic disease, addiction recovery requires long-term maintenance, as it is not a quick fix and it is not entirely curable.  Fortunately, studies have shown that relapse prevention programs have given addicts the recovery resources essential to abstaining from drug and/or alcohol abuse for the remainder of their lives.



Stages of Relapse


Relapse is a process and not an event; there are three main stages. The key to preventing a return to substance abuse is to understand how the process works. By recognizing each stage, an addict has a better chance of avoiding a potential setback. These stages include:


The first stage is emotional. This is a time in which an addict may begin to experience emotions that they may have associated with drug or alcohol abuse in the past. Some signs of this stage include feelings of isolation, mood swings, anxiety, and poor hygiene habits.


The mental stage occurs second. During this stage, an addict is conflicted about using again; part of them wants to, but the other part does not. Early on in this stage returning to substance abuse is simply an idea, as it progresses the addict may have developed a specific plan to use again.


The final stage is physical. At this time an addict may be on their way to the liquor store or headed to an old dealer’s house. It is very difficult to stop the process at this point.



The Role of Prevention Programs


Once detox has been completed, relapse prevention should begin immediately. Both in individual and group therapy sessions, the addict will be encouraged to think about what led them to turn to substance abuse and what they can replace the habit with to successfully manage particular negative emotions.


Relapse prevention may take a more specialized approach in the case of patients with a dual diagnosis. These prevention programs target underlying mental disorders, helping equip addicts with the tools needed to maintain long-term sobriety. For instance, someone who suffers from anxiety could benefit from alternative treatment methods such as biofeedback or yoga. These therapies focus on taking control of feelings of anxiousness through empowerment and relaxation.


At the end of treatment, it is of utmost importance that the recovering addict thinks about what they will do to maintain sobriety once they have returned back to their old lives. Developing healthy relationships with non addicts and engaging in new hobbies is a common relapse prevention technique. Finding support from a network of people who understand the complex nature of addiction and its triggers is strongly encouraged. Life is more enjoyable outside the confines of substance abuse.