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Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

To maintain a period of recovery from substance use disorders, a person must use every tool possible. For many, a complete and comprehensive relapse prevention plan is one of the most effective strategies for sustaining a period of abstinence from alcohol and other drugs.

Why Do I Need a Relapse Prevention Plan?

What is a relapse prevention plan? As the name suggests, a relapse prevention plan is a specific course of action to use when there is a high risk of relapse. Since relapse can be psychologically and physically damaging, avoiding a relapse can help eliminate serious injuries.

A person needs a plan based on relapse prevention principles because they will face many obstacles and barriers during their recovery. A relapse prevention plan helps an individual identify possible issues before they occur, list practical coping skills and connect to helpful supports when faced with the urge to use substances.

Creating an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan

The notion of creating an effective relapse prevention plan can seem intimidating to some, but the process is quite simple and straightforward. Since a person’s recovery is unique to their experiences, the relapse prevention plan is individualized to their needs.

There is no wrong way to complete a relapse prevention plan. A relapse prevention plan can:

  • Be handwritten on a scrap piece of paper
  • Be completely electronic and made on a phone, tablet or computer
  • Involve a list of information
  • Use pictures and diagrams
  • Be private or openly shared with supportive family and friends

Any relapse prevention plan is more effective than no relapse prevention plan at all. The most effective relapse prevention plans are fluid documents that change and grow over time, rather than stay rigid and static.

What to Include in Your Relapse Prevention Plan

What to include in a relapse prevention plan is a personal choice based on the person’s distinctive position. When building a plan, a person should consider consulting with the client worksheets available from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


Triggers are the people, places, things, feeling and situations that make a person want to use drugs and alcohol. They can be very specific situations, like an anniversary of a significant event, or very broad ones, like an entire month or season.

Whatever the case, it is valuable for the person to document every possible trigger. This process helps them identify the triggers they can avoid and prepare accordingly for the triggers they cannot.


Triggers create cravings. Cravings are strong desires to get and use alcohol and other drugs.

A person should list the physical and mental cravings on the plan so that they can build awareness and understanding of their situation. By recognizing the craving, they can take action early to prevent a relapse.

Healthy Tools

Healthy tools are positive activities, thoughts or behaviors a person can use instead of drugs or alcohol. Not every healthy tool will be right for each person, but some options include:

  • Physical activities like walking, biking, hiking, yoga and swimming
  • Calling a friend on the phone
  • Watching a funny movie or listening to music
  • Relaxation
  • Eating a healthy meal
  • Taking a nap

These tools focus on self-care and improving well-being. A person should list all that apply.

Recovery Tools

Recovery tools are specifically geared toward maintaining abstinence from substances. Examples include:

  • Attending a support group or meeting
  • Scheduling a therapy appointment
  • Contacting a recovery support
  • Reading recovery literature

A list of meetings, helpful websites and therapy appointments is an excellent addition to any plan.

Helpful Supports

Other people can trigger cravings, but they can also help prevent them. Making a list of available supports, their addresses and their phone numbers can help keep a person feel connected and find support during tough times.

A person may seem supportive at some times and triggering at other times, so it is important that only people dedicated to recovery are added to this section.

Action Plan

Now is the time to use all the information gathered to create the action plan. At this stage, the person establishes what they will do when the risk of relapse grows.

For example, they may decide to:

Use relaxation skills and funny movies when cravings are low
Use walking and a support group when cravings are moderate
Use therapy appointments and visiting with a friend when cravings are high

Whatever the course of action, it must be clearly stated with no room for interpretation.

A solid relapse prevention plan is a crucial part of recovery, but it is not a replacement for professional mental health counseling. If you or a loved one has been experiencing more cravings, it could be time to seek out treatment from Next Generation Village. Our inpatient treatment options can help you lead a life free from substance misuse. Contact us to begin the path toward recovery today.

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