The completion of the rehabilitation process doesn’t always ensure long-term sobriety. Once returning to daily life, all of the triggers that were around before treatment will still be present, and illustrating your newly learned tools will become more necessary than ever. It is important to remember that addiction, like any other chronic disease, requires a lifelong treatment plan.

Failure to maintain sobriety could result in recovering substance users experimenting with doses they were familiar with before treatment, only to find their tolerance has decreased dramatically, which can lead to an overdose. The result could be fatal.

Unfortunately, relapse does occur, but it is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s actually an expected part of recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that between 40 percent and 60 percent of individuals relapse outside of treatment. Relapse is defined as a return to substance abuse after a time of being sober.

While there is no cure for addiction, drug and alcohol abuse can be treated. The right treatments allow many people to manage their addictions and live meaningful and productive lives. There is hope.

Three Stages of Relapse

Relapse is a process, not an event. The West Virginia Department of Human and Health Resources suggests that relapse begins weeks, even months before an individual in recovery engages in the physical act. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these steps and be aware of the warning signs that lead up to relapse.

Emotional Relapse: In this stage, someone in recovery may not be thinking of using, but the behaviors are indicative of someone being set up for a relapse. Symptoms to be wary include:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Defensive
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Poor eating habits
  • Isolation

These symptoms are associated with what is called post-acute withdrawal. Having a better understanding of what this stage about provides an easier path to maintaining sobriety.

Mental Relapse: At this stage, people in recovery are fighting their best battle to resist the urges of using. Someone in this phase of relapse is especially vulnerable because once they have made up their mind, there is little anyone can do to stop them. Some signs to look out for are:

  • Beginning to think about old places
  • Beginning to think about people they have used with
  • Speaking about the using days as glamorous
  • Lying to loved ones, friends, colleagues
  • Striking up conversations with old using friends
  • Starting to think about relapse

As the clutches of addiction begin to squeeze, maintaining sobriety at this point becomes increasingly difficult. It’s necessary to distract yourself, reach out to friends, and if you find yourself with the urge to use, just wait 30 minutes. Urges typically last for this length of time, and if the recovering user can give some extra time to think about the gravity of the situation, the person will stand a better chance of getting through this urge.

Woman on a couch with a therapistPhysical: When “relapse” comes to mind, this is the stage most often associated with the word.

If the recovering user is unable to fight the mental urges, this will be the step that follows that results in breaking sobriety.

All a person in recovery needs to use drugs or alcohol once is to activate the intense cravings that initially started this cycle.

This is the final stage leading back to addiction.

Each of these stages has its own unique set of warning signs, and if the parties involved create a relapse prevention plan, it can help identify these stages with the hope of stopping relapse in its tracks.

What do Relapse Prevention Plans Look Like?

The conclusion of treatment and detox does not guarantee long-term sobriety, but creating road maps of how the mountains and valleys will be navigated is crucial. As mentioned previously, addiction is a disease that requires lifelong treatment. Preparing yourself for the tough road ahead is the best way to begin post-treatment.

These plans don’t have to be long and drawn out or difficult. They can be simple solutions to a challenge that may be faced. While it is important to mention that there are detours on the road to recovery, it’s also important to not have to overthink them. Having a plan can ease some of the anxiety. Here are some areas to consider:

Change Your Life

While life has already changed after a successful stint in rehab, it’s important to begin evaluating what caused these behaviors in the first place. It’s one thing to talk about triggers in the comfort of a facility where they are not present, but it is an entirely different scenario when they are present and around without the safety net of treatment. Take small steps such as adjusting to a sleep schedule by waking up earlier, exercise, and remain active to keep the mind busy.

Redefine “Fun”

One of the hardest challenges of sobriety is redefining what is fun. It is easy to fall back into the thoughts of the “glamorous” lifestyle of the past, but remember that the mind can shield dark thoughts. Most “fun” memories are about the days using. Once the person can detach themselves and introduce different aspects into their lives, they will be able to achieve a positive outcome.


Honesty is always the best policy, and in the height of addiction, it is common for users to lie. As with the change being experienced, it is a behavior that will take some time to change as well. As long as there is consistency, it is something that will come naturally with time. Remain honest about needing help. Make a habit of honesty, and eventually, it will become natural.

Ask for Help

This is not something that can be dealt with alone. To be successful, it is imperative to reach out for help. It is important not just to be honest with everyone around, but with yourself as well. It’s understandable that the person recovering from addiction wants to feel in control. But as a disease, it is well out of control, which is why it is being managed. Once it is realized that there are friends, family, and medical professionals willing to do anything to help with sobriety, this will help moving forward.

Exercise Self-Care

All of these rules are intended to overlap to make it easier to avoid situations that can end in relapse. Self-care will help you avoid negative emotions that can/will drive the person back to using. This will also create a new reward center within the brain that replaces what drugs/alcohol once did. It can be something as simple as a piece of cake.

Stick to the Rules

It may sound obvious, but this is the most important rule. Creating a prevention plan serves no purpose if the person creating it doesn’t follow along. Recovery is not easy, but with the right guidance in place, it is possible. It requires daily management, but the outcome leads to a long desirable life.

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