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What to Expect From Relapse Prevention Therapy

relapse prevention therapy
Millions of people live with addiction in the United States, and many suffer a range of serious consequences to their physical and mental health. With evidence-based treatment, people can recover from addiction and learn how to stay sober for life. For most, though, recovery is not a straight path. The majority of people in recovery will experience at least one relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40-60% of people who seek treatment relapse at some point or another.[1] Relapse prevention therapy can help people avoid relapse or increase their ability to avoid another one.

What is the Goal of Relapse Prevention Therapy?

Addiction is not a condition that can be cured. Instead, people who have completed treatment must continue to stay engaged in recovery and committed to sobriety. Even with the best intentions and comprehensive, high-quality treatment, most people in recovery will have at least one relapse. A relapse shouldn’t be seen as the end of the road in recovery. People must learn from it, get additional treatment or support, and re-commit to sobriety. While relapse isn’t the end of the road, it can feel like a major setback. Many people who relapse feel discouraged or doubt their ability to stay sober. It can take some time to recover from a relapse and get back on the right track. It is important to do everything you can to avoid a relapse. Relapse prevention therapy can be part of any treatment plan. This type of therapy is not just about preventing a relapse–it is about understanding why relapses are likely to happen and actively preparing for situations that might lead to them. Even if someone does end up having a relapse, the work they do in relapse prevention therapy can be helpful as they learn from it and move forward.

What Happens During Relapse Prevention Therapy?

During relapse prevention therapy, the client and therapist work together to increase the client’s ability to resist returning to substance abuse. This happens in several stages and can use a variety of techniques.

Identify Triggers

Triggers are situations where a person might feel the desire to use substances again. This may include:
  • Places
  • People
  • Times of day
  • Special events and dates
  • Stress
  • Parties
  • Depression
  • Boredom

These and other things might trigger cravings for drugs or alcohol. For example, if someone used to frequently attend happy hours after work or begin drinking when they get home, that time may be triggering for them while in recovery. Or, if someone suddenly finds themselves without something to fill their time, they may become restless and feel the urge to use drugs or alcohol.

During relapse prevention therapy, people work with a therapist to identify triggers that may lead to cravings. Together, the client and therapist create a plan for how to avoid triggers when possible. When it is not possible to avoid the triggers, people must increase their ability to cope with them. This often means developing strategies that help them focus on maintaining sobriety by staying in control of their behavior.

Increase Coping Skills

Patients must learn how to manage the stress and cravings for drugs or alcohol. This can mean different things for people, but often includes:

  • Receiving regular medical care and taking medications as prescribed
  • Increasing social support
  • Find work and activities to stay busy
  • Avoid triggers
  • Making a fresh start–getting rid of paraphernalia, deleting contacts of triggering people, moving to a new place if possible
People may also begin holistic therapies or practices that help them manage stress and promote healing. Things like exercise, meditation, acupuncture, outdoor recreation, or creative expression can help people avoid relapse.

Make an Emergency Plan

Despite all the planning and preparation people do to prevent relapse, some triggers are unexpected or unavoidable. It is important to make a plan for when an unexpected, strong trigger comes up. During therapy, people may make a concrete plan for how they will handle emergencies. This could be deciding who they would call, practicing being assertive about saying no to drugs or alcohol, or learning how to accept and deal with the intensity of cravings they experience. A therapist may also determine their clients’ likelihood of relapse and advise about what their client may and may not be able to manage at that time.

Using Relapse Prevention Therapy During Addiction Treatment

Relapse prevention therapy can be used during treatment or after graduation. Participating in this type of therapy gives people a chance to prepare for the likelihood that they will face triggers in recovery. This type of therapy can be incorporated into a treatment plan, both during individual therapy sessions and as part of group therapy sessions. Relapse prevention is also important for people who have had a relapse and are recommitting to sobriety. It can be an empowering process to identify triggers, learn new coping skills, and take back some of the control they lost during the relapse.
relapse prevention therapy cta

Get The Care You Need and Deserve

Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

Find Help for Yourself or an Addicted Loved One Today

If you or someone you love requires addiction treatment, reach out to the staff at Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment. We offer a range of comprehensive, adaptable programs that can help you overcome addiction and learn how to live a healthy, sober lifestyle. Don’t wait another day for the treatment you need. Call today to learn about starting one of our substance abuse treatment programs.


Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC
Clinical Director

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