preventing relapse

Preventing a Relapse

by Pat Fontana

Recovery from an addiction is a long-term process. There will always be temptations that may attempt to pull the addict back into the world of drug or alcohol abuse. An effective treatment program gives the addict the controls needed to overcome those temptations, but relapses do happen. Preventing a relapse takes an understanding of potential triggers, a focus on recovery, and appropriate strategies for success.

Gradual Process

Just as addiction does not happen immediately, relapse is also something that occurs gradually. Three stages of relapse have been identified, which is helpful in identifying potential warning signs. Emotional relapse happens when the addict bottles up emotions, stops going to support meetings, and begins to deny that there is an issue. Mental relapse involves cravings for drugs or alcohol and the addict looking for ways to better control their use. Finally, physical relapse is the return to drug or alcohol use and abuse.

Relapse Isn’t Failure

It is critically important for the recovering addict to understand that a relapse does not mean that treatment has failed or that the addict has failed. Addiction is a chronic condition and relapse can often be part of the process, as treatment involves changing behaviors that are deeply rooted. While taking the steps necessary to prevent a relapse can help, experiencing a relapse simply means that the addict may need additional treatment to continue recovery.

Recognize Triggers

One of the first steps in preventing a relapse is to recognize the common triggers that may occur as the result of an enhanced sensitivity to stress. During the initial stages of recovery, especially, sensitivity to reward is likewise lower. Relapse triggers for the addict to be aware of include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms that create a heightened sense of discomfort
  • Feelings such as hunger, fatigue, loneliness, and anger that are unpleasant for the addict to have to deal with
  • A feeling of isolation, particularly when being alone with one’s own thoughts for too long
  • Associating with friends who use and abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Returning to physical locations associated with prior drug or alcohol abuse
  • A firm belief and a sense of overconfidence that the addiction is under control
  • Relationship issues, especially breakups.

Support Network

An effective technique for preventing a relapse is to take advantage of a support network. This could be a formal support group dedicated to encouraging addicts in their recovery or it could include supportive and positive friends. The addict’s support network should consist of people who do not use drugs or alcohol and who will contribute to the focus on a successful recovery. It may be necessary for the addict to remove certain people from his or her life and include only healthy, sober, and helpful people in a new social network.


Another strategy that will help the addict in preventing a relapse is the technique of mindfulness. An effective therapy to reduce the stress that can be associated with relapses, mindfulness is the practice of engaging in conscious awareness without judgment. Learning to focus on one’s thoughts without derision, regret, or worry can help the addict prevent a relapse through:

  • Urge surfing – recognizing cravings but letting them pass like watching ocean waves that crest and then recede
  • A decrease in the need to control certain situations
  • An improvement in communication, by focusing on intentional responses
  • The ability to cope more effectively with the emotional distress that accompanies addiction recovery.


Exercising, getting plenty of rest, and eating healthy are effective strategies for preventing a relapse. When the addict feels better physically, the temptation to use drugs or alcohol that may negatively affect his or her health can be significantly reduced. Self-care also contributes to an overall sense of confidence and well-being, a state of being that addicts feel they need drugs or alcohol to reach. The stress and tension involved in managing withdrawal can be reduced through mind-body relaxation techniques as well. Finding the time to relax can make a significant difference in the addict’s ability to prevent a relapse.

Contact South Miami Recovery to Learn More About Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention education equips people to live a happy life in recovery. South Miami Recovery offers treatment programs such as relapse prevention and mindfulness therapy to support the recovering addict. Contact South Miami Recovery by calling 305.661.0055 to learn more about how we can help.