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What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Learn more about relapse prevention, an important part of an addiction treatment program, and resources that can help.

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What Is Relapse Prevention?

Relapse prevention is an important part of a substance abuse treatment program. Substance abuse relapse prevention involves creating a structured plan that helps prevent relapse during and after addiction treatment. Having relapse prevention strategies in place leads to higher rates of success in a treatment program.

Relapse Prevention Definition

Relapse prevention is a cognitive behavioral approach to treatment that involves learning skills during treatment to help prevent a relapse from occurring. Relapse prevention involves identifying situations that can put patients at a higher risk for relapse and teaching coping mechanisms and ways that patients can avoid those situations or manage their addiction in difficult circumstances.1

What are the Origins of Relapse Prevention?

Relapse prevention was developed in the 1980s by G. Alan Marlatt. It was later published in a text in 1985 with Judith Gordon. Relapse prevention therapy is based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory (SCT). It emphasizes the importance of personal belief in someone’s success in staying sober.

Stages of Relapse

When using the relapse prevention model, it’s important to know what the stages of relapse are. The three stages of relapse are emotional, mental, and physical. These will be detailed below.2

Emotional Relapse

The first stage of relapse is emotional. Someone may not even be thinking about using drugs during this stage. However, their emotions are likely setting them up for relapse. This is why it’s important to pay attention to emotional well-being during addiction treatment. Common warning signs of emotional relapse are:

  • Bottling up emotions
  • Isolation from family or friends
  • Mood swings
  • Not actively participating in therapy sessions or support group meetings
  • Not attending recovery support group meetings
  • Not managing mental health problems
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits

Mental Relapse

The second stage of relapse is a mental relapse. Mental relapse is when someone begins to have thoughts about using drugs. Common signs of mental relapse are:

  • Cravings or urges to use drugs or alcohol
  • Hanging out with people who use drugs or drink
  • Minimizing consequences of drug use
  • Planning a relapse
  • Thinking about people or places associated with past drug use
  • Thinking of plans to control drug use
  • Thinking of scenarios where it would be acceptable to drink or use drugs

Physical Relapse

The last stage of relapse is a physical relapse. This is when someone actually has a relapse on drugs. It is important that anyone who has a physical relapse receives help immediately. There are resources available, and you don’t have to go through it alone.

What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse prevention plan involves steps that can be followed to prevent relapse during and after addiction treatment to maintain long-term sobriety.

Relapse Prevention Plan Meaning

A relapse prevention plan means identifying situations that make a relapse more likely for a client and teaching relapse prevention skills to help manage an addiction long term.

How to Write a Relapse Prevention Plan

When writing a relapse prevention plan, you should work with a therapist or treatment provider to identify situations that may lead to relapse, signs of relapse, and steps you can take to prevent a relapse from occurring. Creating a good relapse prevention plan may take some time and thought, but it will help your recovery during treatment immensely.

What Does Relapse Prevention Include?

Relapse prevention includes:

  • Identifying situations that make someone more likely to relapse 
  • Learning the warning signs of relapse
  • Building life skills to prevent relapse
  • Putting in place strategies that can help someone stay on track 
  • Learning what to do if you begin struggling 

Relapse Prevention Template

During addiction treatment, your treatment provider can help you write an in-depth relapse prevention plan that covers these aspects:3

  • Write down the reasons you have decided to stop drinking or using drugs.
  • Identify the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that could lead to relapse.
  • List healthy ways of coping with feelings, thoughts, and behavior associated with relapse.
  • Identify people you can call or places you can go if you think you might relapse.

Relapse Prevention Strategies

Common relapse prevention strategies include:

  • Building awareness
  • Helping patients develop their coping skills
  • Planning for emergencies
  • Assess the client’s confidence to recover
  • Thinking about positive thoughts related to substance use

Relapse Prevention Skills

There are many skills that can be used to help prevent addiction relapse. These skills include:


Self-care is one of the most important relapse prevention techniques. Self-care includes eating healthy, exercising, keeping a healthy sleep schedule, and maintaining positive daily habits.


HALT is an acronym that is often used in relapse prevention. It stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Managing all four of these natural human conditions is important in preventing a relapse from occurring.4

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention techniques can also be very useful. Common mindfulness skills in relapse prevention are meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and thinking positive thoughts.

Knowing Your Triggers

An important part of relapse prevention is knowing your triggers. Identifying triggers can help you avoid risky situations or learn coping mechanisms to prevent relapse in common daily situations.

Participating in a Support Group

Relapse prevention group activities, such as support groups, can also be beneficial. Support groups will give you a supportive environment that will provide steps and guidance towards maintaining sobriety.

Grounding Techniques

Grounding techniques may also be used in relapse prevention to build relaxation and feelings of positive well-being. This can be helpful for dealing with stressful situations in everyday life.

Deep Breathing

When you are faced with a difficult situation that could cause a relapse, taking some deep breaths can be helpful. This helps calm the body and mind so you can focus on steps you can take to cope and manage your addiction effectively.

Making an Emergency Contact List

An emergency contact list of people you can trust is important in preventing relapse. This gives you a positive support system of people you can call if you’re thinking about using drugs or alcohol.

Playing the Tape Through

Before taking action, play the tape through and think of the consequences of what you are about to do. This can be a helpful step in relapse prevention to understand the long-term effects of your actions and how relapse will affect you.

Getting Help

If you feel like you may relapse on drugs or if you or someone you know did relapse, it’s important to get immediate help. This helps prevent the situation from getting worse. There are many resources available that can help.

Treatment for Relapse Prevention

If you are looking for addiction treatment that involves relapse prevention strategies, skills, and a relapse prevention plan, there are many great options available.

Relapse Prevention

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Relapse Prevention

One of the most effective forms of relapse prevention in addiction treatment is CBT for relapse prevention. CBT relapse prevention involves working with a behavioral therapist to create a relapse prevention plan as you work on getting sober and maintaining sobriety long-term.

Find Help at Great Oaks

If you are searching for addiction treatment that will help you create a relapse prevention plan, Great Oaks can help. Great Oaks Recovery can help you every step of the way during addiction treatment. Knowledgeable treatment professionals at Great Oaks know how to get you the best possible results from your addiction treatment, including creating a plan for relapse prevention. Contact us today for more information about how we can help you.



Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.