Josh Chandler | April 15, 2015

Relapse Prevention and Post-Treatment Survival

The term ‘Relapse Prevention’ is an often discussed and occasionally misunderstood phrase. The easiest way to understand it is simply break it down to what it sounds like: prevention of issues that will lead back to substance abuse. And frankly, that’s exactly what it is. Along with being aware of potential relapse we can also add practices that will keep the mind active and thinking in terms of recovery, such as stress management and a sense of community.


Relapse Prevention

Anyone who has been involved in recovery, either as a recovering addict or those working in the field, is aware relapse prevention. All employees at recovery facilities have some training in this all-important facet of treatment. Relapse Prevention is defined more clinically as a ‘cognitive-behavioral’ approach to identifying and averting dangerous situations, primarily in relation to substance abuse. Cognitive-behavioral is ‘structured, short-term, present-oriented psychotherapy’, and in treatment it is often done in the group setting.

It’s important to note that ‘relapse’ doesn’t only apply to returning to drug/alcohol abuse. It involves re-addressing a world of behaviors that can lead to substance abuse. For the most part, many relapse prevention groups focus on ‘people, places and things’ that need to be avoided in post-acute recovery. A good, simple way to view it is that all 12-step programs are relapse prevention-based by the fact that the collective experience helps prevent a return to past behavior. It’s obvious that it’s a long-term plan that really begins after initial treatment. Beyond merely quit drugs or drinking, you need to guide your new life on the premise that you will not have substances to turn to when things aren’t going that well…and the fact of the matter is that just because you’re sober, things won’t always be perfect!


Stress Management and identifying Triggers

Utilizing post-treatment care will enable you to navigate these tough times. One of the key aspects of this is stress management. By identifying stressful situations such as those related to crisis, work, family, school or money (now, that’s a big one for everybody…) one becomes more aware of when, why and how they build up. Stress management generally digs deeper than this, and often presents diet, rest, and time management regiments as tools to lower stress, hopefully lowering the chance of being overwhelmed  by it, and with that goes the possibility of returning to substance abuse. Other problems that often appear in the early stages of recovery are legal, medical and financial issues. These can cause a huge amount of stress, and aside from whatever consequences they may appear, if they remain unchecked or ignored, stress levels can escalate… and for some, going back to active drug use is a viable alternative. Relapse prevention addresses such issues with a view towards a larger degree of responsibility, and lowered anxiety. There are many other tools that relapse prevention can provide those in recovery, and just a few of these would be identifying an over-expectation of outcomes, learning new coping skills, option reduction, and just  being aware of  your motivations. Two of the most important are the identification of cravings and triggers. These are rarely the same for every person, and generally individual therapy provides the most successful level of identifying these issues. However, positive and negative results of dealings with cravings are excellent subjects for the group setting.


Post-Rehab Survival and Developing Patience

Once you have completed treatment, it’s important to congratulate yourself. You need to look at your achievements and recognize what you’ve done for yourself. And remember, you’re the one that did it. Certainly you had a lot of help – and you will continue to – but you are the one who did the work, and it’s no small feat. Without resting on your achievements, it’s important for the health of your spirit to take a moment and give yourself credit; you certainly deserve it.

Along with this, remember where you were at when you entered treatment; you’ve come a long way. One strength that nearly everyone has had to develop in treatment is patience. The time it took while you were in detox, and then acclimating yourself to the treatment program as well as getting to know your therapist and/or counselor. As well, patience was certainly needed when you were becoming acclimated with the peer group that you were in during group sessions with, etc. All of this took time, and the more time you spent developing these areas, the more you got out of it. And the same now holds true of the next phase of your life…more than ever.

All situations are different; be they economic circumstances, relationships that need to be rebuilt or re-defined, living situations, and so on. Utilizing the patience you’ve developed in treatment is extremely important right now. Try not to jump back into your old life, because chances are the faster you do, the better chance for old behaviors and patterns to re-emerge, and that’s exactly what you need to avoid.



Relapse is a familiar element of the continuing recovery process. Addiction is a chronic disease. Managing it after you’re out of rehab involves lifestyle changes, regular doctor visits and, from time to time, adjustments in your treatment plan. Hopefully you won’t relapse, but if you do, it could be a sign that it’s time for a new approach. Although relapse is certainly not expected or desired, it is – in some cases – a natural part of recovery, which as we know, doesn’t end when you leave the treatment facility. Recovery involves a lifetime plan, due to the fact it’s not a disease that is known as ‘cure-able’. It’s merely part of an ongoing process of living in a healthier fashion.


Simple Steps to Success

There are several simple steps one can take after treatment that help build an ongoing foundation to help continue sobriety. Find sober friends that aren’t involved in using drugs. Not only people in recovery – although this can be very helpful – but perhaps a group of ‘normies’ who’s lifestyle hasn’t been based around drugs. These friends can be a fine balance to those relationships you’ve developed in both your treatment facilities, as well as 12-step fellowships. Blending a new group of friends is not unlike a recipe, and your friends do not all have to be from a recovery community.

Being aware of your work environment and the potential for triggers to relapse is very important.  Valid example would be an alcoholic who had a career as a professional bartender. On the surface at least, this appears not a proper idea for a stable ‘get-well’ job. Check out some new avenues… taking advantage of new opportunities is going to revolutionize your life. You don’t know what is coming up. As well, you took a chance on becoming sober, and although it’s not all sublime and constant joy…it’s probably worked out a little better than you’d thought when you entered treatment.

Keeping up with therapy and/or group meetings (12-step, etc) is extremely critical. Your recovery, again, is an ongoing process, so continued work in uncovering underlying issues that need to be defined and resolved is vital in your continued sobriety. The process of this effort in and of itself is going to keep you occupied and engaged in your continued healing.

Helping others. It’s very true; you can only keep what you have by giving it away. The more you help someone in recovery makes it less likely for you to relapse.  In the end, successful sobriety and recovery is all about making the right choices; and that takes us back to the beginning of this article in terms of being having patience. Take the time to make informed, solid decisions that aren’t based on emotional reaction, but on uncomplicated logic and a general sense of doing the next right thing.

Addiction,Drug Rehab,Recovery,Rehab,Relapse,Treatment,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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