Relapse Prevention: Excellent Tool for Addiction Recovery

To err is to be human. We all make mistakes, and most of the time that’s how we learn. In the process of beating an addiction to drugs or alcohol, these mistakes are called relapses. When a recovering addict slips and uses the substance he or she is addicted to again, it is called a relapse. Several factors contribute to why an addict relapses. How an addict copes with these factors plays a crucial role in possibly preventing the relapse altogether. A common term used to describe the factors that contribute to a relapse is ‘triggers’. Relapse Prevention rests on if an addict can healthily avoid triggers.

Relapse Prevention (RP) is a cognitive-behavioral treatment method that identifies such triggers and formulates ways to avoid them while still maintaining a balanced life. Since anywhere from 50-90% of recovering addicts eventually relapse, RP serves as a welcome method for lowering this awful statistic.


What is Relapse Prevention?

In 1985, professors Marlatt and Gordon proposed the Relapse Prevention model as a method for preventing alcohol relapses. The method beings with identifying high-risk situations, which the professors define as “the environmental and emotional characteristics of situations that are potentially associated with relapse.” Once high-risk situations are categorized, appropriate coping responses are utilized. According to the model, an addict can either have effective coping responses or ineffective ones. The effectivity of coping determines self-efficacy, or the belief in oneself to be able to exert control and “execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.”

With self-efficacy comes decreased likelihood of relapse. A lack of self-efficacy leads to a relapse, which can trigger the abstinence violation effect. This effect is what happens when a recovering addict uses again, feels guilt and shame because of it, and therefore uses more to mask the guilt and shame.

Regarding treatment, once the triggers are recognized, the patient’s responses to the triggers are analyzed as well as the patient’s lifestyle. With this information, the responses and/or weaknesses causing relapse in the patient can be curbed and/or strengthened.

What are the triggers?

There is a variety of triggers for relapse. Frankly, what triggers a recovering addict to relapse is personal to him or her. However, the majority of relapses can be attributed to some factor outside of addiction. Among the many recognized, reasons for relapse include improper aftercare, lack of self-efficacy, sobering up to appease others, certain people and places, loneliness, and addiction replacement.

Relapse Prevention

Relapse itself has three stages: emotional, mental, and physical. In emotional relapse, the addict is not actually using, but is exhibiting signs of anxiety, mood swings, poor hygience/health, etc. Preventing relapse in this stage means taking care of oneself and realizing self-importance. Ask for help. Set small-term goals. Eat well and sleep well.

The mental stage of relapse is when you want to use but you do not. The internal struggle where you desire but refrain is known as mental relapse. Signs include reminiscing on the (drug-fueled) old times, fantasizing about using, and lying about what one is thinking and feeling. Preventing relapse in this stage means talking to others, distracting yourself productively, surrounding yourself with the right people, or something as simple as taking a nap. Cravings go away.

The final stage of relapse is physical relapse. This is when the addict indulges in use somewhere along the path to recovery. At this point, the addict should seek professional assistance. The abstinence violation effect can make relapse turn into full-blown addiction.