14 Tips for Preventing Relapse

alcohol relapse - featured image

alcohol relapse - featured image

Congratulations on your decision to lead a substance-free life. Unfortunately, addiction is a chronic disease like hypertension and asthma, meaning it has no cure, and you are at risk of a relapse. However, there are things you can do to prevent relapse and maintain a sober lifestyle. Read on for 14 tips for relapse prevention.

1. Enroll in a comprehensive treatment program

Deciding to quit substance abuse is one thing. However, stopping the cycle of addiction is a different thing altogether, and it can be difficult on your own. Consider enrolling in treatment programs as they provide an environment that allows you to focus your energy on preventing relapse and achieving a long-term substance abuse recovery.

Depending on your needs, there are various addiction treatment programs you could choose from. They include inpatient facilities, outpatient programs, and detox, each with experiential therapy, educational classes, and group and individual therapy options. Be sure to attend your treatment program all through to achieve optimum results.

2. Follow through on your aftercare plan

At the end of a substance abuse treatment, counselors and case managers often help patients develop an aftercare plan to follow after leaving the rehab center. This could include attending drug and alcohol counseling, outpatient programs, 12-step meetings, or enrolling in a sober living institution, depending on your needs. Be sure to adhere to the outlined program to reduce the chances of a relapse.

3. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a relapse

An effective way to prevent relapse during substance abuse recovery is to identify and understand the early signs of relapse. This enables you to seek the necessary help quickly before using drugs again. With that being said, the signs and symptoms may vary depending on the different stages of relapse. They include;

Emotional relapse

Emotional relapse is the first stage of deterioration, whereby you start caring about using drugs again. It can be challenging to recognize emotional relapse. You often experience a range of emotions similar to when you had just completed your rehab treatment, more so when you have the lingering effect of withdrawal.

However, if you are constantly overwhelmed by emotions and allow them to take over your life or refuse to deal with them, you are more vulnerable to an emotional relapse, and you should consider seeking help. The signs of emotional relapse include:

  • Self-isolation and defensiveness
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Frustration and anger
  • Depression and sadness
  • Poor sleeping and eating habits
  • Troubles in processing emotions
  • Lack of motivation
  • Intensified emotional sensitivity

Mental relapse

The mental relapse stage is more recognizable as you become aware of alcohol and drug abuse thoughts. While the emotional relapse phase makes you uncomfortable about using again, this stage triggers you to consider returning to substance abuse seriously. Here are some of the tell-tale indicators of a mental relapse:

  • Fantasizing about alcohol and drugs
  • Experiencing fond memories of past substance abuse days
  • Interacting with old friends who use drugs
  • Thinking or planning where and when to get drugs and alcohol
  • Visiting the areas you used to abuse 
  • Being insincere about your behaviors and emotions

Physical relapse

This is the final stage of relapse, where you start using drugs after recovery. It could be anything from taking a single shot of alcohol or overdosing on heroin. 

support group

4. Join a support group

The sobriety journey can be difficult, so you should not do it by yourself. You can quickly turn back to your old habits when you do not have someone to hold you accountable. Consider finding a group you could share your sobriety goals with, depend on and turn to when facing the challenges of living a substance-free life or feeling alone.

Since a support group is filled with individuals who have gone through similar situations and experiences as you have, they are likely to be more understanding of your struggles and provide the proper support. Be sure to identify individuals within your group whom you can interact and spend time together or reach out to when experiencing a difficult time outside the group hours.

5. Practice self-awareness

Having bad days where you feel angry, anxious, stressed, or depressed is part of everyday life. However, it is more difficult for a recovering addict to cope with bad days, which could lead to a relapse. Consider maintaining a sense of self-awareness to identify shifts in your emotions and find healthy ways to cope with them, including going for walks or meditation to help you handle personal issues and problems before they escalate into a full relapse. 

6. Avoid temptations

It is easier to remain sober in a rehab center as the environment is designed to help individuals recover from drug addiction. However, outside the rehab environment, you are faced with tons of different cues and triggers that make staying sober challenging. To avoid a relapse, stay clear of places, people, or things that may tempt you to start using again. While you will eventually start interacting with old friends or visiting these places, consider staying away for the first few months after leaving the rehabilitation center to avoid temptations.

7. Sleep

According to The New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) reports,  fatigue and insomnia, some of the most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms, are potential triggers for relapse during a substance abuse recovery. For this reason, you should prioritize getting at least seven-hour sleep to allow your mind to recharge and relax. If you often have trouble sleeping, you should consider developing a bedtime routine, eating a balanced diet, and regularly exercising.

8. Eat a balanced diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial to your substance abuse recovery journey as it enhances your brain’s ability to make better decisions. A balanced meal helps you maintain better willpower even when faced with a challenging situation, enabling you to combat relapse. 

Eating healthy also provides your body with essential nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, which help you fight depression, a major cause for most drug and alcohol abuse relapse.

9. Engage in regular exercise

Regular exercise does more than boost your confidence or help you stay fit. It also produces natural chemicals in the brain that boost your mood and pleasure. This enables you to reduce the risk of developing depression and anxiety, some of the most common triggers of alcohol and drug abuse relapse by up to 25%. Exercising is also an effective coping mechanism and reduces cravings for alcohol and drugs when feeling stressed.

10. Maintain a busy schedule

Although you need a bit of free time to relax and break the day’s monotony, too much idle time gives room for thought about drug and alcohol abuse to creep up. Develop a busy schedule to reduce the time spent combating thoughts about substance abuse. Have a structure of your day and fill it with activities you look forward to and enjoy when substance cravings hit. This could include learning a new skill, trying a new hobby, visiting sober and supportive friends, picking up trash from your neighborhood, or volunteering in a homeless or animal shelter.

11. Build new and healthy relationships

The people you surround yourself with have a significant impact on your sobriety journey. While you may have spent a considerable amount of your time in the rehab making amends with family, friends, and relationships you had violated when abusing drugs and alcohol, the amend-making process must continue even into independent sober living. However, this does not mean that you should maintain all relationships. Consider cutting off old drug-using friends, as they can disrupt your sobriety. Create and maintain relationships that are healthy and beneficial to your sober lifestyle.

12. Hire a therapist for continued therapy

Be sure to find a therapist or counselor after leaving the rehab center for ongoing therapy to avoid relapsing. Therapists are trained professionals who understand the challenges of living a substance-free life after addiction, so they are well equipped to provide relevant support and advice. A therapist can also provide a safe space to help you work through the present and past issues you did not work through during treatment that could trigger a relapse.

emergency contact

13. Keep an emergency contact list

Understand that you will often be surrounded by situations and people who may tempt you to use again, so you need to be prepared at all times to avoid a relapse. You can achieve this by developing an emergency contact list, if you do not already have one, of people you could reach out to when the temptation to use drugs and alcohol again presents itself or when feeling discouraged. Your emergency contact list could include your friends, relatives, sponsor, members of your support group, or your therapist. Be sure to place the list in an accessible area so that you can easily retrieve it when you need it the most. 

 14. Take one day at a time

Worrying about whether you will remain sober in the future or being overwhelmed by thinking ahead could trigger a relapse. Each day is different, so you should focus on living in the present, one day at a time.


Although preventing relapse is a long-term challenging process, it can be done. Consider implementing the above strategies to achieve a happy, drug-free life.