What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Use this guide to learn about what a relapse prevention plan is and how to create one. You don’t have to undergo recovery alone.

What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse prevention plan is a variety of interventions that include techniques, measures, and tools to help people avoid relapses during and after substance use disorder treatment and stay sober.

Relapse prevention plans can be written or verbal plans that are followed with the assistance of a professional or expert in long-term recovery. The goal of designing a relapse prevention plan is to know what to avoid that may pose a risk to recovery.
Relapse Prevention Plan


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What Is a Relapse?

A relapse occurs when a person backslides and returns to the use of drugs or alcohol after a period of sobriety. Several factors may lead to a relapse, and the best way to avoid it is to replace old coping skills with new ones. Thus, formulating a relapse prevention plan is crucial in ensuring the individual enjoys a smooth path to recovery.

Research shows that the risk of relapse is reduced when individuals are informed and aware of early relapse signs and have already formulated relapse prevention coping skills. The following are different stages of relapse:

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is the first stage and entails a period where negative emotions and thoughts creep in, making people contemplate returning to drugs or alcohol. Individuals with emotional relapses often suffer from moodiness, depression, and loneliness.

Mental Relapse

Following emotional relapse, mental relapse begins setting in. Mental relapse does not include substance use; however, it does include thoughts of returning to old coping habits. For example, after addiction treatment, triggers may resurface that cause the individual to search for a way to cope. Then, thoughts of returning to the substances that helped them escape triggers begin formulating.

Physical Relapse

At this stage, the individual has begun the act of drinking alcohol or taking other substances. Physical relapse occurs due to the failure to address the symptoms of emotional and mental relapse.

Symptoms and Signs of When a Relapse Prevention Plan Is Needed

There are times when people may begin showing or feeling signs of relapse but are not aware of it or avoid seeking help and do not have a relapse prevention plan in place. The following includes some common signs and symptoms that may indicate a plan is needed:
  • Anxiety 
  • Mood swings, moderate or severe
  • Isolation in social situations
  • Defensiveness
  • Not asking for help when struggling
  • Not attending meetings or sessions for recovery
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleeping habits 

Models of Relapse Prevention

There are a few relapse prevention models that can be followed, including steps and methods.

Gorski-Cenaps Relapse Prevention Model

Terry Gorski is a world-renowned expert in substance abuse and mental health. According to his model, the following nine steps are required when creating a Gorski relapse prevention plan.
  • Self-regulation: Physical, psychological, and social stabilization 
  • Integration: Self-assessment
  • Understanding: Educate oneself on relapse warning signs and prevention techniques
  • Self-knowledge: Recognize warning signs that indicate when relapse is likely to occur
  • Coping skills: Effectively manage the warning signs
  • Change: Revision of the recovery plan 
  • Awareness: Inventory training
  • Support: Involvement of others
  • Maintenance: Well-detailed follow-up plan

Marlatt Model of Relapse Prevention

The Marlatt model depicts how tonic (stable) and phasic (short-lived) influences interact to predict the likelihood of a relapse. The distinction between these two variables is that the tonic processes reflect one’s susceptibility to relapse, whereas phasic responses are factors that either cause or prevent relapse.

What to Include in a Relapse Plan Prevention Template

While each person’s relapse prevention plan is distinct, certain elements are beneficial to include in the plan.


Begin by making a list of the people, places, and things that could lead to a relapse. Of course, it is okay to be unaware of particular triggers, as some may only be known when experienced firsthand. Nonetheless, asking oneself the following questions can be useful when determining triggers:
  • Where did I use the substance that could have triggered me? 
  • What addictive thoughts can cause me to relapse?
  • What emotions are associated with a relapse?
  • Who could I see that would remind me of substance abuse?

How to Manage Cravings

Cravings may lead to a relapse. So, formulating an effective plan to defy cravings is crucial. Make a list of people to call when cravings begin to set in, select activities that divert attention from cravings, and determine ways to eliminate craving desires.

Prevention Tools

Make a list of relapse prevention tools that have been useful in recovery. Examples of prevention tools are exercising, writing, or attending a support meeting.

Support Groups and Programs

Dedicate thoughts and energy to support groups. It would be best to connect with new people who understand the battles of addiction and the path to recovery.

Lifestyle Changes

People can include how they want to rectify the damages addiction caused them in their relapse prevention plans. Note that the components may change over time, so people might need to revisit their relapse prevention plans when needed.

Tips for Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

  • Set recovery goals
  • Identify triggers
  • Think offensively
  • Know the warning signs
  • Have recovery tools defined
  • Define actions to take 
drug relapse prevention      

Steps to Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

People can develop a relapse prevention plan on their own if they wish, but it may be beneficial to seek the collaboration of an expert on the subject matter. Research shows relapse prevention to be an efficient and successful treatment plan to maintain sobriety and improve psychosocial functioning.

The following are factors to consider when developing a relapse prevention plan:

Access Your History With Drugs and Alcohol

When developing a relapse prevention plan, consider the following questions:
  • Was there a period you were more prone to substance abuse? 
  • What type of thought patterns are you likely to employ?
  • Why did you previously relapse? 
It is critical to determine what caused a previous relapse to avoid them in the future.

Determine Any Sign That Could Lead to a Relapse

Attempt to identify a list of situations that could lead to a potential relapse and the warning signs. When relapse is imminent, some people start to feel and act differently. Therefore, people can better understand their relapse behaviors by making a list of warning signs.

Establish an Action Plan

It is helpful for people to make a relapse prevention action plan outlining what they would do or like to do instead of using drugs or alcohol.
Consider other channels for pain and frustration. For example, instead of drinking or using a substance, plan to attend a support meeting or immediately call a family or close friend. People are more likely to get back on track with a well-detailed plan.

Get Help at Concise Recovery

The road to substance abuse recovery is rocky and can involve some setbacks. Statistics show that rates of relapse are between 40% and 60%. In addition, relapsing after a period of sobriety can have adverse effects on a person’s health, and the risk of overdosing is high because the tolerance level is lower than it once was.

Thus, a relapse prevention plan will keep people on the right track during their recovery and prevent them from relapsing. Contact us at Concise Recovery today to learn more about our addiction treatment program and relapse prevention plans.