Know thy enemy. When it comes to succeeding in recovery from substance use, identifying the potential hazards in advance is the key to protecting the new life you have worked so hard to craft. Creating a relapse prevention plan is the first actionable step to take to help shore up recovery following inpatient treatment.
With the understanding that a substance use disorder is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain, it is clear that the recovery process must involve a concentrated effort to avoid recurrence. A relapse prevention plan provides a workable blueprint that can help someone new in recovery from veering off-track. This can be a written document, a workbook, or a verbal plan that was developed while still in treatment. Steps to take to protect recovery might include distractions, such as hitting the gym or going for a hike. It may mean calling a sponsor or supportive family member. It might involve hiring a sober companion. There are umpteen actionable steps to include in the plan to ward off a relapse.
The more care you take with developing this important plan of action, the more effective it will be when cravings emerge or triggers spark uncomfortable emotions. The plan should be thorough and honest, with multiple responses that can be utilized when the time comes when recovery is threatened.
About Relapsing to Substance Use
Here’s the thing about substance use disorders, they humble you. While as humans we like to think we are in control of our lives, the power of a substance use disorder can bring you to your knees. To leave inpatient treatment assured that you’ve “got this thing” is shortsighted, unless you leave with an ironclad relapse prevention plan in hand. Even then, humility should always dictate the need for vigilance.
In reality the habits that resulted in altered brain pathways and neurotransmitters are not immediately overcome in a few short months. It takes time to establish new healthy habits in recovery. Recovery skills are in their nascent form, not practiced and second nature yet.
Cravings can suddenly present themselves when least expected. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are three basic models of craving:
- Reinforcement model. Based on the use of the substance to produce an elevated mood or to relieve unpleasant emotions such as stress or anger. An unconscious learning process, like behavioral modification, leads to reinforcement of the behavior that produces the positive experience.
- Social learning model. This model involves trigger-related cravings that occur during or after treatment. This cues conscious coping strategies for maintaining abstinence, and success depends on the drinker’s confidence in their ability to resist the urge to use the substance.
- Cognitive processing model. This model is based on the belief that substance use becomes a habit that requires little effort or attention, like any habit eventually becomes. Avoiding relapse involves initiating problem-solving skills needed to block the automatic behavior.
The high risk of relapse is a tangible reminder of the foe you are facing down. In fact, before leaving treatment you should have identified the potential landmines and have a defined plan of attack under your belt in the form of a well-crafted relapse prevention plan.
6 Tips for Creating a Relaspe Prevention Plan
- Set recovery goals. Create a list of personal recovery goals that will help you stay focused on a bright new future. These might include career goals, improving core relationships, making amends, growing spiritually, or revisiting past hobbies or interests.
- Identify triggers. A solid relapse prevention plan starts will a detailed list of known triggers. Dig deep to identify each and every one. See them as the enemy.
- Think offensively. When plotting a strategy, plan with an offensive mindset. Restore health and wellness through regular exercise and a nutritious diet, create self-accountability measures, adhere to medication-supported recovery (MSR), and continue outpatient therapy.
- Know the warning signs. Relapse is the end result of a set of warning signs that were ignored. Get familiar with the red flags of an impending relapse back to substance use.
- Have recovery tools defined. During inpatient treatment recovery tools were taught but haven’t yet been accessed. List them. Get familiar with them and begin practicing them immediately: conflict resolution strategies, better communication skills, self-affirming thought patterns, and relaxation techniques.
- Define actions to take. Each person will define his or her own unique relaspe prevention strategies. List several offensive actions to take when warning signs flash, and employ them. Some examples include:
- Call the sponsor or members of support system
- Got to a recovery community meeting
- See therapist
- Go work out, take a brisk walk, go for a run, see a movie—distract
- Use mindfulness techniques, acknowledge the craving/trigger/impulse without judgment
- Take proactive steps when attending a social gathering where substances will be present, or avoid altogether
- Commit to developing a lifestyle conducive to recovery and avoid prior acquaintances who may threaten it
- Consider sober living housing or hiring a sober companion
Always remember that recovery exists on a continuum. As the journey unfolds there will likely be bumps in the road, which should not be viewed as failure. Instead the challenges faced in recovery should be seen as just that, as simply obstacles to overcome. An ironclad relapse prevention plan can help minimize those challenges.
Ashley Addiction Treatment provides compassionate support for individuals struggling with a substance use disorder. For more information about our luxury rehab program, please connect with us today at (866) 313-6307.