Vita Recovery

Relapse prevention

Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is a challenging and long process; it also comes with the risk of relapse. Luckily, relapse prevention strategies are part of Vita Recovery's addiction treatments and are some of the most important clinical innovations in substance use disorder treatment programs.

A substance abuse relapse prevention plan can help you or a loved one maintain recovery.

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Understanding Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Our exclusive treatment programs include various addiction therapies that enable a person to identify their triggers for drug use and develop coping skills to respond to these healthily. There is certainly a correlation between completing treatment, longer lengths of treatment, and treatment outcomes.

We know that coming across triggers and risk factors that increase the chances of returning to active drug or alcohol addiction after treatment is a natural part of the recovery process. While our treatment programs help with addiction medicine and managing post-acute withdrawal symptoms, certain internal or external cues may activate your urge to drink or return to drug abuse after treatment.

These cues increase the risk of relapse, so we help you identify early warning signs and learn relapse prevention tools.

We understand that the recovery process from drug and alcohol addiction is not quick because addiction is a chronic illness. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance abuse relapse rate is akin to asthma and hypertension. Their research points to 60% of individuals with substance use disorders sustaining recovery – although relapse and reentering into inpatient or outpatient treatment is critical to their recovery.




Warning Signs of Returning to Drug or Alcohol Use

Substance use is the final step in relapse but not its only part. Relapse warning signs can alert you to an active or impending relapse back to using drugs or alcohol. These signs may include:

  • Neglecting coping skills

  • Compulsive or risky behavior

  • Withdrawal from healthy habits

  • Returning to unhealthy behaviors and environments

  • Mood swings

  • Deception or dishonesty

  • Withdrawal from group or social activities

  • Destructive thoughts

  • Depression and/or anxiety

  • Isolation

What Is Relapse Prevention?

The following ideas are helpful when learning about what it means to make a relapse prevention plan.

  • Recovery is a process consisting of personal growth and developmental milestones.

  • Relapse is a gradual process with various stages; treatment aims to help a person recognize the early stages of relapse to prevent it more successfully.

  • The main tools of relapse prevention are cognitive behavioral therapy and mind-body relaxation, which can help to develop healthy coping skills

  • Tools for relapse prevention generally involve a person changing their life. This includes increasing self-awareness, self-care, and life balance.

Get the help you need today!

Our world-class facility has all the amenities and resources you need to navigate recovery.

Understanding the Stages of Recovery

The stages of recovery are not the same for every person. Recovery is a process of personal growth in which each stage has its own risks of relapse and the need to meet developmental goals to progress to the next stage.

Abstinence Stage

As soon as you or a loved one cease drug or alcohol use, the abstinence stage has begun. Here, the main concerns are coping with cravings and avoiding relapse. Tasks at this stage include dealing with post-acute withdrawal, acceptance of an addiction, developing coping skills, and practicing honesty and self-care.

Psychological and emotional symptoms of post-acute withdrawal, poor self-care, and a mental struggle with a substance use disorder become risks and may tempt you to make big external changes in early recovery. Instead, improved emotional and physical self-care is vital, and big choices are best to be avoided at first.

Repair Stage

Commonly thought to last two to three years, this stage aims to repair damage caused by substance use disorders. While you may feel progressively better, addressing adverse life events associated with your substance use or past trauma may be challenging at times.

This stage comes with confronting the harms caused by addiction to your self-esteem, relationships, employment, or finances.

Negative self-labeling and guilt have to be overcome through cognitive therapy while you learn and understand that you are not your addiction. Self-care becomes an integral part of recovery, developing a balanced and healthy lifestyle, repairing relationships, and attending self-help groups.

Growth Stage

This stage is generally thought to start three to five years after stopping substance use and is expected to last for the rest of your life. It includes experiences and developing skills that were missed out on due to substance use disorders. While the repair stage of recovery is more about catching up, the growth stage is more about moving forward.

Identifying and repairing negative or self-destructive thoughts and patterns and challenging fears through cognitive therapy may enable you to give back or help others. A periodical reevaluation of a person's lifestyle is important.



The Phases of Relapse

Emotional Relapse

In emotional relapse, you may not be thinking about drug or alcohol abuse. Instead, you may be experiencing emotions and behaving in ways that may set you up for future relapse.

Emotional relapse may come with defensiveness, anxiety, anger, or mood swings. You may find that you isolate yourself and keep your emotions bottled up, causing you to avoid asking for help or going to group therapy meetings.

The common denominator of emotional relapse is poor self-care, such as poor eating habits or sleep.

Mental Relapse

This stage is an internal tug-of-war in early recovery, whereby you may feel as if there are two opposing parts in you. One part wants to remain in recovery, while the other part continues to crave and romanticize using drugs or alcohol.

You may find yourself thinking about and glamorizing your past use. This includes remembering the places or people associated with substance abuse or reminiscing on your good times while excluding the bad.

The mental relapse stage often involves a cognitive challenge: you may bargain with yourself. You may be convinced that those who are not addicted to substances do not experience the same negative feelings or have the same problems. Therefore an escape from negative feelings becomes defensible or necessary.

Fantasizing about substance use and starting to plan to use drugs or alcohol again is common. At the mental relapse stage, the thought of returning to drug or alcohol use progresses and, without intervention, may cause you to use again, despite your intention to abstain.

Physical Relapse

When early warning signs aren't acted upon, the physical relapse phase begins, and you use drugs or alcohol again. This could lead you back to regular use.

Reaching the physical relapse phase makes achieving abstinence very hard, which is why it is better to be aware of warning signs, follow your relapse prevention plan, and make sure to reach out for support whenever you feel the need in the earliest phase possible.

How Does Relapse Occur?

Relapse in substance use disorders does not happen in an instance but instead is a gradual process that may start weeks or months before the physical act of using drugs or alcohol again. The process involves three phases, during which you or a loved one is at risk at any time.

What Are Common Triggers of Substance Abuse Relapse?

physical weakness may be common triggers, other triggers include:

  • Stress

  • Uncomfortable emotions

  • Overconfidence instead of healthy confidence

  • Poor self-care

  • HALT – becoming too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired

  • Places a person used substances

  • Things that were part of, or remind you of, substance abuse

  • People that used to partake in substance use

Relapse Prevention Plans

Relapse prevention is a cognitive behavioral and skills-based approach that allows one of our therapists and a person in treatment to identify situations that may place them at a greater risk for relapse.

These include internal experiences such as positive thoughts about substance abuse and negative thoughts related to sobriety, thoughts that may arise without effort. They also include external cues such as people or places that you may associate with substance abuse.

You and an expert clinician work to identify cognitive and behavioral risk factors and develop strategies that consider your environment, the severity of addiction, level of motivation, co-occurring medical and mental health conditions, and your support system. A relapse prevention plan is created to achieve short- and long-term goals, maintain recovery, and prevent future relapse.

Vita Recovery's relapse prevention plans are usually written documents that are shared with your treatment team and support group. Your relapse prevention plan may include your triggers, cravings, support system information, and coping tools.

Listing ways in which you hope to amend damage caused by addiction (separated into areas such as education, relationships, and legal or financial issues) can help provide insight into why you initially decided to become sober and can help maintain your motivation.

Get the help you need today!

Our world-class facility has all the amenities and resources you need to navigate recovery.

Relapse Prevention Skills

Relapse prevention tools can be learned through our professional treatment and can prove essential in recovery.

Awareness: Identifying Triggers and Consequences

Triggers may be internal, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or stress, or external, such as people, places, or things. Making a list of internal and external triggers helps a person to gain awareness and thereby reduces the risk of relapse.

A comparison of the consequences of substance use versus not using can help in decision-making and reduce the risk of relapse. Awareness of thoughts that associate substance use with good outcomes, and the potential negative consequences of encountering high-risk situations, can challenge positive ideas about returning to substance use. This can help with mental relapse prevention.

Coping Skills

Replacing the negative coping mechanism of substance abuse with healthy habits results in positive outcomes in the long run. A mental health professional at Vita Recovery can help you to expand and develop your repertoire of healthy coping skills so that triggers or high-risk situations are addressed, regardless of whether they lead to substance use-related feelings, thoughts, or bodily sensations.

Stress Reduction Mind and Body Relaxation

Increased perceived stress and tension increase the risk of relapse. Mind-body relaxation reduces the use of drugs and alcohol and can help to prevent relapse, as it helps you to let go of negative thoughts, dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future.

Holistic treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, art therapy, and meditation help to reduce stress. Deep breathing techniques can be learned through healing activities that can be applied virtually anywhere.

Relapse-prevention therapy and mind-body relaxation are often combined into mindfulness-based relapse prevention. Mindfulness-based relapse prevention therapy – often including mindfulness meditation – may be used as an adjunctive treatment for substance use disorders and mental health conditions. This concept teaches you to become more self-aware and thereby better able to recognize and cope with potential triggers.

Part of creating a new life in recovery is setting aside time to relax. The practice of self-care during mind-body relaxation commonly translates into self-care for the rest of your life.

Ask for Help and Support

Attending treatment programs like ours - that offer therapy and counseling sessions - can prove vital. It can help a person to understand that they are not alone, learn about others' recovery and coping skills, and know that they have a safe place, free of judgment, to go to for support. A person in recovery should never hesitate to seek emotional support from group therapy, other adults, self-help groups, or trustworthy family members and friends.


The most important thing to do to help prevent relapse is to take good care of yourself. Poor self-care can lead to mentally and emotionally draining situations that make a person want to escape.

Self-care includes being honest with those in your recovery circle, doctors, counselors, family members, and sponsors. Developing healthy relationships with oneself and others, improving communication skills, and being part of recovery support groups are all important.

It also includes taking any medications or supplements as directed, taking up mind-body relaxation, and keeping your mind healthily occupied. Any existing physical or mental health issues should be addressed by seeking treatment. Creative endeavors and getting involved in volunteer work can also be greatly beneficial.

Another part of self-care involves proper nutrition and physical exercise. Eating a healthy diet and exercising can improve sleep quality, which is another important element of self-care. A structured sleep, exercise, and eating schedule may help.

To find out more about how Vita Recovery can help you with relapse prevention, get in touch today.

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