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5 Key Components of a Relapse Prevention Plan

5 characteristics of a successful relapse prevention plan graphic

Congratulations! You’ve completed detox and an addiction treatment program. You deserve recognition for this effort but your work isn’t done. Lifelong sobriety takes work and is easier to achieve if you have a relapse prevention plan in place.

Why is a Relapse Prevention Plan (RPP) important?

Unfortunately, relapse is more likely than not. While precise relapse rates can be hard to obtain, estimated rates of relapse are 40-60%. Surprisingly, these relapse rates are comparable to those of other chronic disorders that require behavioral changes like high blood pressure or diabetes. These numbers mean that relapse is very common, especially during the first six months of recovery. Therefore, a plan of action and for support for the newly sober individual is an important factor for success. It makes sense to plan for the possibility of relapse and have an action plan in place to help the person get back on track to a healthy, sober life. This article covers exactly how to create a relapse prevention plan.

What is a relapse prevention plan?

A RPP is a written plan, created with the newly sober person that recognizes the triggers that encourage alcohol or drug use, sets specific goals for personal growth, and a plan of action to both prevent relapse and take action quickly should a relapse occur.

How to create a relapse prevention plan – the basics

Your RPP is an important component for success in sobriety. It may seem obvious to some, but step one is ensure you are sober at the time you write your plan. At a minimum, you should be fully detoxed and have at least a few days of solid sobriety in order for planning to be effective. Seek assistance in creating your plan. While you can create a plan on your own, assistance from an addiction expert adds perspective and objectivity that can result in a more effective plan. Join an advocacy or relapse prevention program. A relapse prevention program offers professional assistance with goal setting, plan creation, and support as you work to stick with the plan. Put your RPP in writing. Have a clear outline of the steps to be taken if a relapse occurs.

Step 1: Assess your history

Why did you start on the path of substance abuse? Were you coping with a traumatic experience, relieving stress, or just being social? What situations or people place you in a high-risk situation? Have you relapsed before? What led to that relapse? A clear understanding of your personal use patterns can provide a road map for preventing a relapse. Your plan should have a specific actions to deal with each high-risk situation. Learning from past relapse is an essential part of avoiding future relapse. Assume you will run into high risk situations. Build into your RPP strategies to reduce temptation and deal with those situations that arise. Some examples:

  • Plan alternate routes to avoid bars you may have frequented or sober social engagements in your off time.
  • Role-play scenarios with a family member or friend to find ways to refuse or avoid drugs. Practice until it feels natural.
  • Plan an escape from triggering situations such as family, a fight, or a party that is providing a strong temptation. Where can you go to support your resolve to stay sober?
  • Attend a meeting or call your sponsor. Sharing your feelings with a trusted person is helpful.

Step 2: Identify your triggers

A “trigger” is anything in your life that creates a craving to use or abuse alcohol or drugs. A trigger can be a situation, feelings, a person, an event, or anything that adds stress or perpetuates a past pattern of abuse. Triggering events are unique to the person. It’s important that you know yours and plan a course of action for each possibility. What are the warning signs you’re at risk of relapse? Once again, working with a trained therapist or counselor is extremely helpful to uncover your personal triggers, recognize warning signs, and plan an action for each.

Step 3: Set goals for your life

Success in sobriety is far more than just “not using.” Success is living a healthy and productive life.  Set personal goals that create new habits and hobbies. One example would be a regular plan of physical activity. Yoga, gym workouts, running, and other physical activity supports both a healthy body and promotes a healthy brain. Other healthy habits to adopt include a better diet and meditation. Do you have professional goals or need to master better ways to communicate with your family? What is important to you? Create a plan for growth and set goals that take your life where you want it to be.  Actions such as these will help you to manage stress as well as reinforce your sense of self-worth.

Step 4: Plan for relapse

The first part of your RPP is all about prevention. The second part of your plan is an action plan in case of relapse. Write out step-by-step exactly what you, or your family should do if relapse happens. Are there people you should call? Do you have a therapist or counselor that needs to know? Will you enter an addiction treatment program or attend a support group? Discuss with your support network how each person can help you get back on track. It is important your loved ones follow through with these instructions.

Step 5: Involve other people

Research has shown that people with a support network have better long-term success with sobriety. Having more than one form of support is also essential for successful outcomes. Have a list of trusted people you can call when you are experiencing cravings. It is okay if they just listen when you need to talk. However, it is a good idea to get out and do something like go for a run, grab a cup of coffee or attend a movie with a friend. Recovery should not be lonely. While relationships and bonds with other people are important to your success, avoiding people and situations that may serve as triggers is also key. Work to avoid those who are toxic to your mental and emotional health.  Develop a plan with your therapist or sponsor on how to avoid these individuals. Participate in a 12-step group and attend regular meetings. Find a sponsor and sponsor others. One of the benefits of group participation is the development of new friendships with peers who are also working the twelves steps and engaged in a life of sobriety. Remind yourself that life will get stressful at times, but no matter how bad life may seem in the moment, the benefits of staying sober greatly outweigh any short-term relief you may get from using again. Over time, the cravings and risk of relapse will diminish.

A word to families

This article has been written for those new to recovery. If you’ve read this article, then it is clear you are looking for the best way to support your loved one. Research has demonstrated that long term success in sobriety is improved with the involvement of family and following through with continued treatment. That said, it is normal for family patterns and communication to be disrupted by addiction. Your best chance at helping your family member is to help yourself first. Find a family program for yourself. Many addiction treatment centers offer a family program or support group. Family support groups are generally free of charge to attend. Al-Anon is a national support group for families of addicts. Knowledge and support for you will enhance your ability to help another.  You can locate a local Al-Anon meeting by following this link.


If you or your loved one is not currently enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program, please call The Arbor admissions team to find out more about the programs we offer.  Relapse prevention is a primary focus for all our programs and our trained clinical staff can help you to create an effective plan to stay sober. References: