Relapse starts in the mind prior to the action. The relapse process begins long before that first drink, drug, or mental health issues. With this, a relapse prevention plan must be set in place in early recovery so to understand early warning signs, triggers, or addictive thinking. When these thoughts and behaviors come up, individuals must be ready so not to suddenly find themselves in a potential relapse situation. A relapse prevention plan must be set so those in danger know exactly what to do. Those in recovery also should plan for anticipating problems, as addiction is a disease, so to avoid them. When the relapse process begins, it is paramount that action is taken to reverse this process before the addiction thought process takes over. Developing a plan provides awareness of the relapse process before it is set in motion.
In creating a relapse prevention plan, attention should be given to multiple risk and protective factors. Continual awareness of the relapse process is necessary. With that being said, denying thoughts or behaviors that supported old ways of thinking do not have to be avoided. If anything, these signs should be focused on so to prevent the relapse process.
There are nine steps in learning to recognize and stop the early warning signs of relapse.
- Stabilization. For relapse prevention to work, the individual must be sober and in control. Relapses seem to have a difficult time in managing their emotions and feelings, unable to reach out for help. In early recovery, staying sober for one day at a time should be the key goal.
- Assessment. This process identifies recurrent problematic behaviors that lead to relapse. This step includes assessing problems, life history, alcohol and drug use history, and recover/relapse history. The life history outlines each developmental life periods. Following this, a detailed alcohol and drug use history exploring the thought process behind using drugs and alcohol. Finally, the recovery and relapse history is compiled, starting with attempts at sobriety or periods of abstinence. The purpose of this is to abstract the reasons each period of abstinence resulted in a relapse. It is common to experience the same recurring patterns of problems that caused another relapse.
- Relapse Education. Educating relapsers about the relapse process and how to manage it reinforces four major messages: Relapse is a normal and natural part of recovery for chemical dependency (although it does not have to be); Relapse is a progression that starts in the mind; Learning to identify warning signs; and that there is hope.
- Warning Sign Identification. Problems that cause relapse, or have caused relapse must be identified.
- Relapse Prevention Planning. Writing a list of personal warning signs, triggers, or emotions that can lead to relapse should be established in hopes to prevent the relapse process. With each relapse warning sign, a general coping strategy should be implemented. This builds defense mechanisms that the relapse can put into place when warning signs appear.
- Recovery Plan. This is a schedule of activities puts those in danger of relapse into contact with people who will help them. The relapse prevention planning is called a “Twelve Step Plus” approach to recovery.
- Inventory Training. Morning and evening inventory allow one to recognize and manage warning signs. With each inventory, individuals are able to review their problems and progress each day.
- Family Involvement. Encouraging family members to attend Alanon meetings helps the individual in recovery by receiving support, establishing boundaries, and recovering from codependency.
- Follow-Up. As recovery progresses, warning signs change. Relapse prevention plans must be updated regularly to identify warning signs as they change throughout recovery.