Relapse prevention plan: Should I have one?

Relapse prevention plans. Do they really help? Should former drug addicts and alcoholics take the time to make out a plan to prevent relapse? More here.

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Should I have a relapse prevention plan?

The above is a good question for those of you who have recently stopped using or drinking, and a good reminder for those of us who have been abstinent for a while.  Keep in mind that it’s better to plan ahead of yourself, than to have to admit drinking to your sponsor or to go through the process of starting over again in recovery.  We’ll review the major principles behind this plan and discuss who relapse prevention programs can help here.

What is a relapse prevention plan?

1. Know yourself.

2. Make changes.

3. Be honest.

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4. Know what to do during crisis moments.

1. Addiction is a disease but in remission by abstinence.

Relapse prevention starts with the realization that the use and abuse of substances including alcohol is a life time issue. A true addict or alcoholic never is “cured” of their disease. Abstinence keeps addiction in remission but we have all seen the results, often fatal, of those who believe themselves to be bullet proof over time. A relapse prevention program is a daily recognition that we are, on a daily basis, one using occasion away from a return to active addiction and the pain that brings.

2. Do the hard work of recovery.

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A relapse prevention program includes changes in people, places and things and the hard work needed to make changes inside of you. We all want to have a life, and in fully engaging life, it is impossible to avoid people and places where the drug of your choice, or a substitute, is available.  Getting clean and sober is different than staying clean and sober.

3. Be honest when you have cravings or an urge to use.

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Relapse prevention involves an awareness of your condition at all times and being honest with yourself when you feel an urge. You need to identify what is going on in your mental process and be honest with it in order to stay away from old behaviors.

4. Know what to do if you want to drink or drug.

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Finally, you must know exactly what to do when a situation occurs. It may involve simply getting away from the place or people; it means having phone numbers you can call when you get uncomfortable or having a trusted person within range at a social or business occasion. It does mean staying fit spiritually on a very frequent (daily) basis.

Everyone needs a relapse prevention plan

None of us are bullet proof. No matter how long you have been clean and sober, don’t take it for granted. The insanity can jump out and bite you in the ass at anytime; don’t get cocky!

Bottom line, everyone needs a relapse prevention plan and conscious awareness of their condition and that includes “old timers” like me.

About the author
I am a Master Life Coach who is ICF certified and a certified addictions coach. I consider myself recovered from the effects of addiction (16 years) but still in recovery mode as it relates to personal growth. Professionally, I am university educated, a former corporate CEO and have been in the consulting business for over two decades. I'm a husband, father, grandfather, friend, uncle son, a trusted confidant and many other things but bottom line, I'm Keith. I hope that I can help SOME out there with ideas that will make you think deeply.


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  1. Hi Nan. Have you considered creating a drug contract for your son? Also, how old is he? What about halfway houses in your area? They often set limitations and boundaries which set healthy for addicts in early recovery. Drug testing, 12 step meetings, and curfew he addicts structure recovery, and have consequences when they use. Of course, addicts meet other addicts in halfway houses, but your son needs to want to get clean to have a chance.

    Also, have you tried Al Anon? You cannot control your son’s choice to stay away from drugs. But you can manage your own feelings about it. I’m just concerned that codependency may be present and you want to really step back and check yourself for codependent behaviors.

  2. Hi, my name is Nan. My son has been addicted to heroin going on 11 yrs. He was pulled over for a traffic violation last summer, and they found hundreds of used needles in the trunk of his car. He was subsequently fined and put on probation. He went to see his Probation Officer 3 days after Christmas, and failed his drug test and was put in jail for 30 days. Two days after Christmas (2011 btw), he stole our Wii game system along with all accessories & games, and pawned it to buy heroin. After jail, he went to a rehab facility, then came home. He was home for exactly a week and a half and he got a check for his last 2 days at his job. He is a licensed professional water well driller and his net pay was $750+ per week. He said he was going to the bank and would be right back. Instead he went and bought 3 bags of heroin. He shot them all at one time, walked into a store and collapsed. They called 911 and he had to be recuisitated. He nearly lost his life for the 4th time. He called us to come and get him and we refused. He called a cab to get back to his car, came home very upset and packed a few things a went back to our local hospital. They gave him some ativan and transported him to a psychiatric facility. He stayed there for a week, then they were able to find him a bed at a long term rehab place. He has stolen thousands of dollars worth of things from his dad and I. He knows that he won’t be allowed to live in our home unless he stays clean and sober. I am so scared that he will OD again when he comes home. I am in need of some good advice on how to cope when he does come home. We love him very much and want to help him stay clean.

  3. As someone who has fully recovered from drugs and alcohol abuse, and now help people through recovery, I always come back to the belief that it is ultimately my choice. It is my choice not to do drugs anymore and it is my choice to live a healthy life. My prevention plan is taking responsibility for my actions, changing my limiting beliefs about myself, and getting rid of toxic environments or people that could add to the issue. I am a huge believer in nutrition and how that affects people from relapsing. I know for my my nutrition and health was the defining factor in staying sober and feeling good. If we don’t change our brain chemistry with healthy nutrients, how do we expect to change.

  4. Hey,

    Nice post. I stumbled across this whilst doing research for my recent blog post about the prevalence of drug addiction.

    I must admit I didn’t look to see how reversible the effects of dopamine are once a person has been addicted to various substances but, going on testimonies I’ve heard, I imagine pretty irreversible, although not entirely. Feel free to ask any questions on my blog and I will endeavour to answer them.

    Kind regards,
    Dr Paul (neuroscientist)

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