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How to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that can affect every area of your life. Unfortunately, substance use disorders are fairly common in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives.”[1]

Because addiction is a chronic disease, many people suffer from relapses. Relapses occur when you return to substance abuse after a period of intentional abstinence. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that the addiction relapse rate is somewhere between 40-60%.[2]

While the relapse rates for addiction may seem high, it is possible to maintain long-term sobriety. Drug and alcohol rehab centers can help you create a relapse prevention plan that arms you with all of the tools and services you need to prevent relapse and navigate triggers in the real world.

What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Addiction treatment facilities protect you from outside triggers, making it easier for you to focus on your sobriety. Once you leave the program, you must rely on the skills you developed during treatment to manage and overcome the triggers you will face. Relapse prevention plans aim to make adjusting to sobriety easier by including techniques and strategies that reduce your risk of returning to substance abuse after addiction treatment.

Relapse prevention plans are highly individualized, which means all of the tools and techniques included in your plan will be methods you are comfortable with using. The main goals of relapse prevention planning are identifying and addressing high-risk situations for relapse while teaching you how to maintain desired behavioral changes. If you follow your relapse prevention plan exactly, you’ll be more likely to stay sober.

How to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan

Relapse prevention plans should be created based on your personal needs, so every tool, technique, and service included in your goal should be something that works for you. Typically, relapse prevention plans are created during a drug rehab program with the help of your therapist and treatment team.

Identify Your Triggers

One of the first things you should do when creating a relapse prevention plan is to identify your triggers. Triggers are extremely personal, what may cause one person to crave substances may not affect you at all. Identifying your personal triggers will help you prepare for facing them in real life.

Examples of common addiction relapse triggers include:

  • Seeing a liquor store you used to frequent
  • Talking with old friends you used to abuse substances with
  • Seeing your drug of choice in person or a movie
  • Smelling something that reminds you of your drug of choice
  • Experiencing high levels of stress or other negative emotions
  • Feeling bored or lonely
  • Relationship troubles

Make a List of Ways to Deal With Cravings

Now that you have identified your triggers, it’s time to start thinking about how to overcome the cravings that result from triggers. During treatment, you probably learned a plethora of healthy coping mechanisms that you can use to manage triggers. When making a relapse prevention plan, you should include the coping mechanisms that worked for you.

Examples of coping mechanisms to help with drug and alcohol cravings include:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Talking with a friend
  • Attending therapy or group counseling
  • Exercising
  • Engaging in self-care activities

Learn About Relapse Prevention Techniques

When you are creating a relapse prevention plan, you must be educated on the techniques that can help you stay sober. There are tons of relapse prevention techniques out there, so you should look for ones that resonate with you. Becoming educated about these techniques will help you understand how and when to use them.

Examples of relapse prevention techniques include:

  • Urge surfing
  • HALT
  • Playing the tape through
  • Grounding techniques
  • Deep breathing
  • Asking for support

Attend Support Groups and Programs

Community is one of the most important aspects of addiction recovery. Having a group of people who understand and support you can do wonders for your sobriety. Attending support groups and 12-step programs can provide you with that sense of community and help you foster mutually beneficial relationships with people who understand you.

There are tons of support groups to choose from, from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to SMART Recovery or Moderation Management. No matter how you practice your recovery, there is a support group out there for you.

During relapse prevention planning, your therapist or case manager will help you learn about your different support group options and locate meetings near you. As a result, you will leave rehab feeling prepared–you don’t have to figure things out on your own.

Practice Healthy Lifestyle Changes and Self Care

In addition to sobriety maintenance techniques, you should also practice self-care and make healthy lifestyle changes. These are changes that everyone makes in their lives at some point. Self-care includes eating healthy, starting an exercise routine, and carving out a certain amount of time each day to do something you love like reading or watching a comfort show on TV.

While these lifestyle changes may seem irrelevant to addiction recovery, they help keep your mind and body healthy. Taking care of your mind and body can reduce high levels of stress, burnout, and even physical health conditions. You will feel better and be less likely to relapse.

Creating an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan at Next Step Recovery

If you or a loved one suffer from addiction, Next Step Recovery can help you begin a new way of life. With a combination of medical detox, evidence-based behavioral therapy, and relapse prevention planning, we can help you obtain all of the tools you need to maintain long-term sobriety.

Our intensive outpatient program (IOP) and sober living for men are uniquely designed to help men in recovery thrive and avoid addiction relapse. Our compassionate addiction counselors are committed to working with each client individually so they can create a relapse prevention plan that works for them.

To learn more about our North Carolina addiction treatment programs or to find help for yourself or a loved one, please contact us today.


  1. National Institutes of Health (NIH): 10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives, Retrieved Feb 2023 from
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, Retrieved Feb 2023 from

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