how to prevent relapse

Studies have consistently shown that around 50% of people who set out on the journey to sobriety will experience at least one incident of relapse. The occurrence is so common, that some substance abuse professionals are even considering that the concept of relapse should be included in addiction treatment. One of the tenets in Narcotics Anonymous, for instance, points out that a relapse experience can result in a participant’s renewed devotion to the idea of staying sober.

Relapse may not spell the end of your recovery journey, but it is definitely better to avoid the risks associated with going back to the destructive lifestyle that you have already turned your back on. With each relapse comes more chance of destroying everything you have worked for. One more binge can mean the loss of jobs, relationships, trust, freedom, and even lives.

Risk Factors for Relapse

Human beings are such complex creatures that finding any reason to point toward why some people are more prone to substance abuse and relapse has proved elusive. Most treatment providers rely on a mix of hypotheses when it comes to applying treatment methods. Common factors that are noted as placing a person at risk of continued substance abuse include physical makeup, habits learned in childhood and the presence of other mental problems.


Some experts point to a biological cause for addictive behavior. From this perspective, the physical makeup of certain people causes them to be more at risk of both abusing substances and developing an addiction, than others. While there has not been a specific gene identified as contributing to the risk, researchers point to the tendency of addiction to run in families as a clue that something hereditary is going on with the behavior. Studies of adopted children who mimic the drug abuse of biological parents are often utilized in support of the genetic component of addictive tendencies.


Other researchers don’t see the prevalence of substance abuse in family lines as indicative of a genetic basis for addiction. Rather, they point to the tendency of children to learn unhealthy coping mechanisms from their parents. If your parents – and often their parents before them – tend to cope with stress in unhealthy ways, the chances of you learning to escape the stresses of life through drug or alcohol use may be more likely. One support for the idea that the environment contributes to substance abuse includes the notable rate of substance abuse tendency for those who grew up in households that are abusive or neglectful. Children who don’t learn healthy coping skills in the home can end up being adults who don’t practice healthy coping skills.

Co-occurring Disorder

While there are disagreements between experts on the source of addictive tendencies, both camps tend to agree that the presence of other mental health disorders increases the risk of continuing in a substance abuse disorder. In the field of counseling, the tendency for a person suffering from disorders such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to use substances is often referred to as self-medication. Rather than seeking psychiatric support, a self-medicating person will attempt to ease the symptoms of a mental health disorder through drinking alcohol, taking prescription pills from others, or using street drugs.

Preventing Relapse

Knowledge is the most powerful tool that any person can have. A crucial piece of learning to live life without addiction is arming yourself with information about what it is that drives you toward using substances, and what it is that motivates you to stay away from them. Identify the sources of your decisions to engage in addiction, and work toward finding the most effective way to repair any breaches in your resolve to continue on toward a brighter future.

Know Your Triggers

Whether your tendency toward addiction started in childhood or is fueled by current, underlying, mental health conditions, the first task toward changing the mindset and behavior of relapse is to become aware of the thoughts and feelings which precede that voice of temptation. These experiences which occur directly before feeling the temptation to return to using drugs or alcohol are known as triggers, and they can be both identified, and thwarted. Assistance from a trained professional can help you to identify these factors.

Develop Your Coping Skills

Simply knowing what triggers your temptation to escape through substance abuse isn’t enough. You must also have a game plan in place for how to react to the temptation. The steps that you actively take to stave off any temptations to return to substance abuse are known as coping skills. The coping skills that work for you can be as unique as you are. Some of the more popular techniques for coping with temptation include practicing mindfulness, engaging in some physical exercise, and getting involved in distracting activities.

Surround Yourself With Healthy People

Our ability to be influenced by others in our social group doesn’t end with adolescence. The type of people that we hang around as adults can affect our own resolve to stay healthy and sober. The large impact of the environment on the ability to stay sober is what fuels the popularity of sober living homes and rehabilitation facilities. People who are unable to separate themselves from others who persist in using drugs or alcohol are less likely to abstain, themselves. Getting away from negative people and unhealthy environments can provide you with space you need to properly tend to your wellbeing, and surrounding yourself with people who are going somewhere in life can serve as inspiration.

Get Involved in Your Future

One of the recurring themes in continued substance abuse is a lack of hope. Having hope means that there is something to look forward to in life. Setting achievable goals and then working consistently toward reaching those goals has the benefit of breeding more hope. Small successes give us the confidence to press onward toward more, so be smart about setting yourself up for success in the early stages of your recovery.