7 Relapse Prevention Strategies That Actually Work

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Dane O'Leary March 27, 2020

Going to drug rehab for treatment is only the first step of recovery. In fact, it’s often said that the real work begins after completing an addiction treatment program. Because that’s when you go from the relative safety of a drug addiction treatment center to being responsible for preventing relapse on your own. Fortunately, there are relapse prevention strategies you can use to safeguard his or her recovery.

So instead of wondering about how to prevent relapse, take a look at seven relapse prevention strategies that actually work.

1. Take Care of Yourself

Without a doubt, the most important relapse prevention strategy is taking care of yourself. This encompasses virtually all aspects of self-care, from making sure you’re eating a healthy diet to getting enough sleep each night.

Health is important. When we’re healthy, we feel better, think more clearly, make better choices, and are more productive. But when a person becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, that individual’s health suffers. This often leads to more substance abuse, which, in turn, prolongs the addiction. So it follows that poor health in recovery would be a catalyst for relapse.

2. Know Your Limits

People who abuse alcohol and drugs often do so because these substances provide some amount of relief, whether it’s emotional or physical. In other words, they use substance abuse in lieu of healthier and more effective ways of coping. Over time, this tendency to “self-medicate” begins to feel more natural. 

The unfortunate consequence is that it often means people suffering from addiction lose the ability to cope with emotional or physical distress without alcohol or drugs.

The inability to cope is as much a catalyst for relapse as it is a risk factor for addiction. Basically, this type of relapse occurs when someone finds himself or herself in a very difficult, stressful, or dangerous situation; unable to cope in a healthier way, that person resorts back to alcohol or drugs as a quick fix.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that people in recovery need to be acutely aware of their limits. When someone is very aware of his or her limits, then that person is exponentially less likely to put himself or herself in situations that could trigger a relapse. This means knowing your threshold when it comes to stress and anxiety, knowing situations to avoid, and having a strategy for when you unexpectedly reach your limit.

3. Know Your Triggers

Although it’s similar to knowing your limits, knowing your triggers is a distinct relapse prevention strategy for one major reason: If you want to sustain your sobriety indefinitely, then knowing your triggers is a requirement. 

When you’re not aware of your triggers, it becomes very possible — or even likely — that you’ll find yourself unexpectedly confronted by a trigger. To make matters worse, your lack of knowledge regarding your triggers would mean that you’re ill-equipped to deal with it. 

4. Build a Strong Support System

It’s often said that addiction is a family disease, which conveys how the disease affects more than just the person who’s actually addicted. Recovery is quite similar in that the person in recovery often needs the support of family and friends to maintain his or her sobriety.

With a support system in place, relapse is far less likely. Because a support system is like having a “wingman” to help with things like self-care, minimizing exposure to triggers, and many other aspects of recovery. Family and friends often see things that had gone unrecognized because of their outside perspective. 

Additionally, a support system provides encouragement that often makes it easier for people in recovery to stay sober and achieve their next recovery milestones.

5. Celebrate Your Victories

Recovery isn’t easy. It requires continuous effort and dedication to stay sober, which can get monotonous and even quite tiring. So you need to find ways to stay motivated in recovery, otherwise, you run the risk of relapse.

There are a number of different milestones and achievements in recovery that are worthy of celebration. For instance, you could celebrate the completion of your drug rehab program, six months of continuous sobriety, finding your first sponsor, getting your first post-treatment job, and the list goes on. Whatever you choose to celebrate, celebrating your victories is a great strategy for staving off relapse. 

First, celebrating will invariably spark feelings of accomplishment and validation. Think of it as a more fun version of patting yourself on the back for a job well done, which reinforces the behaviors that resulted in your achievement.

Another reason why celebrating your victories in recovery is effective for relapse prevention is because it’s something fun and positive to do that’s associated with recovery. Considering how much hard work it takes to stay sober, celebrating your victories is a way to reap the benefits of all those efforts. 

6. Create Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

Drug treatment and rehabilitation of all types are highly goal-oriented. For instance, consider twelve-step programs for a moment — although “One day at a time” is a common refrain, there’s an emphasis on earning chips for hitting each sobriety milestone (e.g. 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, a year, etc). It may seem arbitrary, but setting and working toward goals is very beneficial, especially when it comes to relapse prevention.

Goals give us things to focus on and work toward. Additionally, we can set goals strategically, such as by breaking long-term goals into a series of shorter-term goals. Those goals that you achieve in the interim will give you the feeling of making progress. As a result, you’ll feel less discouraged about how much more time you’ll need to put toward your long-term goals.

7. Find a Project or Hobby

Idle hands are the devil’s playground, as the saying goes. Basically, this expression refers to how people are less inclined to make mistakes when they can focus their attention on other things. In fact, people often take up hobbies for this very reason.

For many people in recovery, it’s not until completing treatment and returning home that they realize just how much of their time had been devoted to alcohol and drug abuse. Obviously, getting that time back is a good thing; but on the flip side, all that empty time — which was previously filled by drinking or drug use — will feel like a hole that needs to be filled. So it becomes very easy to return to the behavior that used to fill all that time.

Finding something in which to invest all that time is a great way to minimize the likelihood of returning to a life of substance abuse. It can be almost any type of project or hobby; choose something you find interesting, enjoyable, or productive. Or you might consider using this as an opportunity to acquire a new skill.

Find Health and Sobriety at Silicon Beach Treatment Center

Relapse prevention is a concern for late-stage recovery. Before you can begin implementing relapse prevention strategies, you need to get sober.

Our outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles offers a number of valuable resources that can help you or your loved one take the first steps of recovery. From an intensive outpatient program (IOP) to our case management and crisis intervention, our Los Angeles rehab is focused on treating every aspect of addiction so that our patients can become the best versions of themselves.

To learn more about the programs available at Silicon Beach Treatment Center, contact us today.

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