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Relapse Prevention

Drug addiction is a deadly disease that, when left untreated, can ultimately prove to be uncomfortable, dangerous, and even fatal. To properly treat an addiction, simply “not taking it anymore” isn’t quite enough, and medically-supervised treatment is by far the safest way to handle recovery. By ensuring the comfort and happiness of a patient, treatment centers offer the individual the resources they need to achieve and maintain sobriety.

Commonly overlooked in treatment, relapse prevention is essential in making sure that a patient stays sober. Failing within the first months of recovery, anywhere between 40 and 60 percent of people with substance use disorder in treatment end up relapsing. Even after treatment, it is important to be on your toes in making sure that relapse is avoided at all costs. 

By practicing relapse prevention, people in recovery will enforce positive coping skills that they can apply to their everyday life after treatment. Relapse prevention aids in battling the chances of future developments of addiction and is essential throughout and after recovery. Addiction treatment is not easy, and different people have different cases that may vary in the chance of relapse. In engaging in treatment at a professional center, the risk of relapse is significantly lowered.

Knowing the proper information about relapse and relapse prevention before it happens can be essential while you engage in drug treatment and can easily be the difference between recovery and relapse. 

What Is Relapse Prevention?

Relapse prevention is a cognitive-behavioral method in which the goal is to determine and prevent high-risk activities that may cause someone to use a drug again. Conditions such as substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexual offending, obesity, depression, and anxiety are treated. Relapse prevention is commonly thought of to be optional and unnecessary by many people, but medical experts and professionals strongly disagree; relapse prevention is extremely important the process of substance abuse disorder and addiction treatment

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common method of treatment when pertaining to substance abuse disorder treatment. CBT targets the client’s negative behaviors and promotes newer, more positive behaviors instead. Seeing the function of CBT, it can be extremely useful in the process of relapse prevention. By reprogramming the patient’s brain to associate positive behaviors with happiness instead of substance abuse, CBT can ultimately influence a patient to make better decisions and continue their sobriety during and after treatment. 

Early detection is key in relapse prevention, and you must be on constant alert when it comes to both short-term and long-term relapse. Learning about relapse prevention helps those in recovery for substance abuse identify the risk factors before it is too late. Relapse occurs in three different stages: emotional, mental, and physical. Detecting relapse before it happens can easily prevent it and ensure that the individual is on the right track to becoming sober again.

What Causes Relapse?

Relapse is almost never an “out-of-the-blue” event, very commonly being led up to by a chain of events or processes. More often than not, there will be a rough timeline that traces back to different events and risk factors that will eventually push a victim over the edge and relapse.  

From exhaustion and stress to simply being at a party, there are many factors that can contribute to the likelihood of a patient to relapse. Encountering triggers while you are in treatment can easily lead to relapse, and disregarding relapse as an event that you “probably won’t do” is dangerous. Understanding what actually is a direct cause of relapse is beneficial not only in understanding relapse prevention but putting it into effect as well. 


Triggers are internal and/or external cues that cause a person to crave a certain substance, applying to both alcohol and other drugs. Detecting a trigger with one of the senses (usually smell or sight) can cause the brain to return to its old patterns of thinking and functionality and can bring about cravings very quickly. Though relapse is generally caused by multiple triggers, a patient can still relapse from just one trigger, so avoiding them is generally encouraged. 

Triggers can be many things, from emotions and thoughts to environmental factors. They are extremely common while a client is in treatment, and sometimes triggers can cause relapse to be unavoidable. While relapse should be avoided at all costs, just because someone relapses in treatment does not make it a failure. In fact, relapse can often tell doctors the reason for their addiction and help in the treatment overall. However, always remember that overconfidence and viewing relapse as “okay” should never be encouraged.

Some triggers that are common among those who are in recovery include:

  • Sadness
  • Happiness
  • Anger
  • Stress
  • Sickness
  • Relationships
  • Change in employment
  • Social events
  • Memories of past drug use
  • Paraphernalia

There are countless triggers since almost anything could be one. Triggers vary from person to person but all have one thing in common: They are the gateway to the relapse process. In relapse prevention, therapists will isolate triggers with clients and help them recognize what should be avoided (if possible) or how to respond to unavoidable triggers in a healthy manner.

Stages of Relapse

Since relapse is a process and not an event, it makes sense that there are certain warning signs that act as signs of a relapse. Relapse occurs in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical. As the relapse process progresses, it gets more challenging to stop the relapse from gaining momentum and ultimately reaching the physical act of using.

It’s important to understand and recognize the signs associated with each individual stage of relapse in order to implement relapse prevention technique:

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Emotional relapse is the first stage of relapse, and while it is commonly viewed as “less intense,” an emotional relapse can be the most difficult and uncomfortable stage. In the emotional stage, many victims will not be aware of the fact that they are at high-risk of relapse. In emotional relapse, an addict/someone going through treatment is not worried about relapsing and thus does not practice vigilant relapse prevention.

Although it can be severe and difficult to manage, emotional relapse is commonly known to be the easiest stage to recover from. Cognitive behavioral therapy is excellent at targeting the emotional connections between a trigger and the positive or negative connotation that a person associates that trigger with. In recovery, it is an important step in relapse prevention to ensure that you monitor your emotions very closely, as ignoring them can lead to emotional relapse.  


Mental relapse is the second stage of relapse, and (as the step up from an emotional relapse) the victim will transfer from having subliminal thoughts of using to actively and intentionally thinking of using again. Though it is common to have cravings during treatment, mental relapse differs from those minor thoughts. It consists of a victim’s brain to be consistently entertaining and thinking about using again.  

Craving and fantasizing about drugs may cause someone going through treatment to engage in high-risk activities. Skipping therapy sessions and meetings, planning on how you can obtain and use again, and other scheme-like activities are a part of mental relapse, and it is much more challenging to recover from mental relapse than it is emotional. However, if detected early enough, it can be put down and a victim can still get back on the right track.


Physically relapsing is the final stage of relapse, and the name is relatively self-explanatory. Physical relapse refers to the final action of using after a long period of abstinence, commonly leading to the development of addiction again. Once a user physically relapses, the effects are irreversible and relapse has occurred.

Though relapse has already happened, it is always important to keep in mind that it is not the end of the line for the patient. On the contrary, relapse can aid in a patient’s recovery by determining the exact reason for their addiction to begin with. If dealt with early enough if the treatment process, relapse can be avoided in future treatment by practicing relapse prevention techniques and practices.

Need Help?

Are you or someone you love currently struggling with drug or alcohol addiction? If so, Ocean Breeze Recovery is ready to help you. Our professional medical experts are on standby to provide you the 24-7 support you need to start taking back your life of sobriety, free from the weight of addiction. Our admission specialists are always on standby and ready to answer any questions you may have regarding any part of treatment. 

Call us today at 844.554.9279 and let us help you take back what is rightfully yours; the right to a sober life.


NIDA. (2018, July 20). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved from

Yale Journal of Biological Medicine. (2015, September 3) Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery Melemis. S. Retrieved from

Mary E. Larimer, Ph.D., Rebekka S. Palmer, and G. Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. Relapse Prevention (1999). Retrieved (April, 2018) from

PsychCentral. (2019, June 19) In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Martin, B., PsyD. Retrieved from

healthline. (2019, March 29) Relapse Prevention Plan: Techniques to Help You Stay on Track. 2. Know your triggers. Watson, S. Legg, T. PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH. Retrieved from

Psychology Today. (2012, October 19) Why Relapse Isn't a Sign of Failure. Sack, D. MD Retrieved from

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