What Is A Good Relapse Prevention Plan?

It Gives You A Relapse Prevention Outline
It Identifies Relapse Prevention Strategies



Relapse prevention Plan
Many relapse prevention strategies are woefully inadequate despite being essential for long term recovery




Before discussing relapse prevention plans, we need a definition of relapse:

  • An alcohol relapse is when an alcoholic (or any addict for that matter) who stopped drinking at some point in the past, goes back to drinking. This might be just one drink or many drinks.
  • A relapse can last an hour, a day, a month or many years.
  • Relapse prevention is the process of avoiding going back to drinking using a relapse prevention plan, and is ongoing for the recovering alcoholic.
  • A Relapse Prevention Plan is a coherent, systematic plan, the purpose of which is to outline relapse prevention strategies tailored for each alcoholic and their unique circumstances.

For a comprehensive look at the emotional causes of relapse in alcoholics and how to deal with them, read alcohol relapse triggers.


The Difference Between An Alcohol Treatment Program And Relapse Prevention

It is important to keep in mind that an alcohol treatment program is one thing and a relapse prevention plan is another. An alcohol treatment program is usually around one month in length, involves detoxing from alcohol, therapy sessions, group work and lays the foundations for a life without alcohol.

The latter, however, is a comprehensive and focused post-treatment program provided by alcohol rehabilitation facilities (or at least should be) that help patients stay sober and alcohol-free after their rehab.

A relapse prevention plan and the relapse prevention outline it provides, is essential in maintaining the good work you started at the treatment center.

A comprehensive relapse prevention outline consists of preventive measures that focus on the emotional, mental and physical concerns of the recovering alcoholic.


Critical To Recovery

Relapse prevention is actually the most critical aspect of the treatment program. All the good work undertaken to stop drinking, detoxing from alcohol etc. will be rendered ineffectual if the patient goes into relapse. On top of this if the relapse is particularly severe the individual will have to go back into a treatment program.

Alcoholics go back to drinking becuase of relapse triggers. There are two main triggers that cause alcoholics to return to drinking:

  1. They don’t have the appropriate support mechanisms. That is a plan for sober living and/or aftercare.
  2. They don’t live in an appropriate environment that is conducive to a sober and alcohol-free lifestyle.
Thus, it is essential that these two critical aspects of recovery are addressed so that alcoholics have a decent chance of maintaining sobriety.


5 Relapse Prevention Strategies

Relapse prevention needs to encompass the following areas:

  • Motivational Variables – While alcoholism medications can help former alcoholics maintain their sobriety and stay away from alcohol, the need for a long-term solution will largely hinge on mechanisms that will boost the confidence and motivation of the patient in maintaining an alcohol-free lifestyle.
  • Management of Uncontrollable Cravings – Negative thoughts and uncontrollable cravings are the major challenges of a recovering alcoholic. This key element of the relapse prevention plan is skill-centered and will entirely depend on how the patient is able to take control of his or her daily routine amid all the pressures and temptations. The good thing about the situation is that the intensity and degree of negative thoughts and cravings will dissipate over time and, with positive reinforcement, can eventually be rendered ineffectual.
  • Coping Mechanisms – Relapse prevention is anchored on the coping skills of the former alcoholics. These refer to the skill set that will include communication skills, interpersonal skills and essential social skills.
  • Pinpointing, Acknowledging and Processing Emotions – Experts stress the need to focus on places, things and people that can trigger relapse and make full recovery difficult. However, you have to remember that external variables are not really the main concerns of a comprehensive relapse prevention plan. Our actions or responses to these external stimuli are the extension of our emotions, and we need to get a good handle of the latter in order to stay sober.
  • Boosting Self-Confidence and Enhancing Positive Self-Image– Positive mirroring and reinforcement of self-confidence are essential tools for former alcoholics that will help them stay sober. The absence of these essential elements will definitely undercut the ability of a person to fend off the temptation and craving for alcohol.

YOUR Relapse Prevention Plan

If you don't have any relapse prevention strategies because you didn't attend a treatment center, then you may need to make a relapse prevention plan for yourself.

Below you will find 9 areas that you should consider when planning your alcohol relapse prevention. Copy and paste these questions and then print them out.

Answer the questions. Your answers will be your relapse prevention plan They will give you a good idea as to what needs to be done to avoid relapsing.

Refer to your plan every day, thereby ensuring you will remain focused on your alcohol relapse prevention outline.


  1. Outline the plans you have for:
    • Living arrangements
    • Work/Study
  2. What support will you have in the following areas?
    • Family
    • Work
    • Friends/colleagues
    • Counseling/relapse prevention therapy
  3. If you are attending a support group/group therapy how many sessions do you plan to attend each week?
    • If you are going to AA, do you have a sponsor? If not, when do you plan to get one?
  4. Now that you have given up drinking, what will your social life consist of?
  5. List three examples of lifestyle changes you will have to make to facilitate your recovery from alcohol?
  6. What can you do to improve your relationships with your family?
  7. List 3-5 short term realistic goals.
  8. List 3 situations that might put your recovery in jeopardy.
  9. List 3 steps that you could take to help you cope with the above situations.



Terence Gorski and Merlene Miller have written the definitive guide to avoiding relapse. By studying countless cases of relapse they have been able to identify the triggers, both emotional and situational, that cause recovering addicts to return to drinking. Staying Sober: A Guide for Relapse Prevention is an invaluable resource for all those who struggle to stay sober.







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Deborah Morrow, M.S. Addiction Psychology, is the director of treatment programs for The Alcoholism Guide website. In her practice, Deborah provides on-line coaching and support for those dependent on alcohol or who require other services such as relapse prevention or court mandated services. (Read More)



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