Relapse Prevention

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Relapse occurs in stages, and the earliest may take place weeks or months before you even use a substance again. By recognizing and addressing the early triggers for relapse, you can develop the necessary coping skills and have the greatest chance of recovery. If you have tried to quit and relapsed, you are not alone.

At United Recovery CA, we are dedicated to providing compassionate, effective relapse prevention techniques in a welcoming, safe environment as part of our residential treatment or extended treatment program.

This article will discuss relapse and how therapy can help people recognize pre-relapse symptoms in connection with substance abuse.

What Is Relapse?

Addiction is a chronic medical condition, and relapsing with substance use disorders is very common. Individuals who seek professional help and commit to peer support groups are less likely to relapse.

Key points to keep in mind include:

  1. Relapse is a process that has distinct stages, and through treatment, patients can learn to identify the early stages, as this is where treatment success is most likely to occur.
  2. Relapse prevention is a personal growth process with milestones (which are different for everyone). Each recovery stage presents its relapse risks, but these can be managed with professional intervention.
  3. The primary relapse prevention tools are cognitive therapy and mind-body relaxation to help you develop healthy coping skills.
  4. Most relapses can be understood within the parameters of some basic principles:
    • Creating a new life that makes it easy for you not to use again
    • Being transparent and honest
    • Asking for help
    • Not breaking or bending the rules

The Stages of Relapse

Relapse is a process that is made up of three distinct but connected stages:

Emotional relapse

During an emotional relapse, you are not actively thinking about using because you do not want to repeat your last relapse. Ultimately, a lack of self-care in the holistic sense (emotional, physical, and psychological self-care) contributes to an emotional relapse.

Some of the signs of emotional relapse include

  • Bottling your emotions up and keeping them to yourself to the extent that they affect your mood
  • Isolating yourself
  • Not attending meetings or attending the meetings but not sharing
  • Putting too much focus on others’ problems or how others affect you
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits

Mental relapse

During the mental relapse stage, patients have a mental conflict: you are split between wanting to and not wanting to use again.

Some of the signs of mental relapse include

  • Having cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Thinking of the people, places, and objects associated with substance use
  • Minifying or glamorizing the consequences of using
  • Bargaining (thinking of scenarios where using the substance is acceptable)
  • Lying
  • Thinking of ways to control the use
  • Looking for opportunities to relapse
  • Planning to relapse

Physical relapse

A physical relapse occurs when you start using the substance again. Sometimes it is subdivided into:

  • “Lapse”: the initial use
  • “Relapse”: uncontrolled use of the substance

Using just once can lead to uncontrolled use or obsessive or uncontrolled thinking, leading to a relapse.

Do You Need Help?

We offer initial assessment and advice via phone or contact form.

Therapies Used for Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention techniques are often combined to assist you in making the changes to your life more comfortable. While a detox program will assist with physical addiction, withdrawal, and mood swings, using the appropriate relapse prevention techniques must be addressed in a therapeutic environment to address the underlying issues and common triggers that motivate you to use substances.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

The benefits of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for relapse prevention have been widely documented. CBT can help patients change their negative thinking and learn healthy coping skills to break old habits. During CBT sessions, patients often learn to

  • Address fear
  • Redefine what fun means
  • Grow and learn from setbacks in life
  • Learn to be uncomfortable with the process of recovery and building a new life.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy brings two contradictory but essential components together: acceptance of substance use and changing the behavior. With DBT, a patient can overcome negative behaviors and emotions and replace them with positive behaviors and emotions.
The five functions of DBT include

  • Enhancing capabilities
  • Generalizing capabilities
  • Improving motivation and reducing negative behaviors
  • Structuring the environment
  • Enhancing and maintaining therapist capability and motivation

DBT also benefits patients with a dual diagnosis, who may be suffering from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

Trauma Therapy

Recovery can be complex where trauma is involved because a lot of trauma occurs during childhood and may not be recognized or repressed. Trauma causes pain, and many users resort to substance use to numb or dull the pain of their trauma, self-medicate, or escape the trauma.

Relapse is very common in trauma-based addictions, especially where the patient attempts to recover independently because the underlying trauma hasn’t been addressed.

Learn more about trauma therapy


Mindfulness or Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention focuses on the period after treatment when you are most likely to experience relapse. It can be considered an extended part of addiction treatment to help you recognize and manage your reactions to triggers.

Through mindfulness, you can learn an important technique called ‘urge surfing,’ which teaches you to ride the wave of craving or urge rather than give in to it. In doing this, you learn to take a moment of mindfulness and respond with intent rather than an automatic emotional reaction, which may worsen the urge.

Relapse Prevention in Addiction Treatment

During an emotional relapse, the goal of treatment might be to educate patients about self-care: what it is and why it is important. It may be helpful to compare your current behavior to your past relapses to help identify denial. During a mental relapse, avoiding high-risk situations is very important, as you may struggle to identify high-risk situations, or you may believe that avoiding them is a sign of weakness.

A physical relapse could be opportunistic: you may see an opportunity where you believe you will not get caught or no one else will know. Relapse prevention thus has a strong emphasis on helping you develop healthy exit strategies in these scenarios.

Relapse prevention cannot be over-simplified to “just saying no,” By this stage, saying no is too difficult (and too late) to be effective.

Five Methods to Help Prevent Relapse

Change your life

Recovery and the fear of relapse can make change seem overwhelming. “Change” is easier said than done because many patients want their life before substance use back. Recovery is not just “not using”; you need to create a new life where it is easier not to use the substance.

  • Change negative thinking patterns.
  • Avoid high-risk situations (the people, things, and places you positively associated with substance use)

Be transparent and honest.

Addiction and lying go together. An addict has to lie to the people around them to conceal their substance use. At some point, you then start lying to yourself.

  • By working with a professional, you can practice truth-telling, which is difficult if you have been lying for some time.
  • You can start admitting when you have not been honest and tell the truth within your recovery circle.

Practice self-care

The objective of substance use is often to reward, relax or escape. You can get the same benefits without using the substance by finding healthy alternatives. Again, this is often easier said than done because patients in recovery tend to be very hard on themselves.
By practicing mind-body relaxation and self-care techniques, you can

  • Manage stress and tension, which are common triggers for relapse
  • Release negative thinking and live in the past or the future
  • Practice being kind to yourself in a way that is not harmful

Ask for help

Asking for help can be difficult because many recovering users want to prove that they have the self-control to manage independently.
Joining a self-help group increases your chances of long-term recovery. Make the most of, and benefit from, a 12-step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous by:

  • Attending the meetings
  • Having a sponsor
  • Reading the resources and materials made available to you
  • Having a goal to abstain from using

Don’t break or bend the rules.

Commitment to the recovery process requires not bending or breaking the rules.

  • Avoid looking for loopholes in your recovery plan.
  • Do not ask for professional advice, and then ignore what is given to you.

Relapse Prevention – The United Recovery California Approach

At United Recovery California, we are committed to assisting our patients with long-term recovery and relapse prevention techniques. We recognize that relapse is a complex and gradual process and that at each stage, patients are at risk of relapse. We offer a multi-fold approach to treatment and focus on creating individualized treatment plans for each patient, focusing on their emotional and psychological needs.

We understand that returning to daily life can be highly stressful for our patients. Through the relevant aftercare, alumni interactions, and support meetings, we can assist our patients in maintaining long-term sobriety and in taking ownership of the lives they want to lead.

With professional help, our patients can manage the potential triggers associated with substance use disorders and make the change to long-term recovery.

Meet Your Recovery Team

Our caring and compassionate team is skilled and experienced in assisting patients through each stage of relapse prevention. Our team is committed to ensuring that each stage of recovery is as comfortable as possible and that our patients are equipped with the skills they need to maintain a sober life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is relapse?

Relapse is a gradual process that is made up of three key stages: emotional, mental, and physical relapse, where physical relapse is the act of using the substance again. It is precluded by an emotional and mental stage, which may occur a long time before the physical relapse. Each recovery stage presents its own risk of relapse.

How do I prevent a relapse?

Seeking professional help is the most effective way to avoid relapse because you will learn the tools and techniques required to maintain your sobriety. Understanding your motivation for using a substance, recognizing and managing your triggers, and changing your life for the better can help you to avoid a relapse.

Is relapse a failure?

Relapse is a very normal and very common part of the recovery process; 40 to 60% of patients in recovery will relapse. It is not a failure. Remember that by the time most patients seek professional help, they have already tried quitting independently. It is not a sign of failure but rather an indication that professional help is required to address the complexities of your addiction.

How to fix a relapse?

A relapse is a learning opportunity and a chance to use what you have learned to grow. After a relapse, the best thing to do is to reach out for professional help. Avoiding triggers, practicing healthy coping skills, getting help from support groups, and self-reflection are all relapse prevention techniques that you can benefit from when you seek professional help.

Who to call if I relapse?

You should call someone you trust and can rely on if you relapse. Depending on your stage of recovery, this could be a close friend, family member, therapist, or sponsor. The most important thing is that you reach out because relapse is not something that most people can handle on their own.

Where to find relapse help in California?

Please don’t give up: addiction and relapse are common in California. Please call us immediately for assistance. Despite the statistic that 21.6-million people aged 12 years or older had a substance use disorder in 2019, only 2.6-million (12.1%) sought treatment in a specialized facility. Your chances of relapsing decrease the longer you stay sober, and seeking professional help is the most effective way to manage relapse.

Do You Need Help?

If you’re looking for addiction help – our team of experts will help you find the needed support.
Call us now.