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How to Avoid Relapse in Early Recovery

In terms of recovery success, crisis resolution is only half the battle. Achieving stability after a recovery program is often more challenging than recovery after an acute mental health crisis or addiction withdrawal. 

Drug and alcohol addiction relapse occurs when a person reinstates substance-seeking behavior.1 In mental health disorders, some define relapse as occurring when a person first experiences an increase in symptoms from baseline, while others define relapse as re-hospitalization. Read further here for tips to learn how to avoid alcohol and drug relapse.

Avoid Relapse

Identifying Early Signs

To avoid relapse, the first step is to identify personal signs of impending relapse. These will be individualized, but there are common themes. 

There are predictors for relapse in both the addiction and mental health spaces. A strong predictor for relapse within the mental health and addiction spaces is environmental or familial stress, including lack of resources at home, money constraints, and conflict with family members. Critical comments from family members are a powerful predictor of relapse.2

If we know that environmental stress is a strong predictor for addiction relapse, take it a step further and identify the specific type of environmental stress you or your loved one are prone to experiencing. If it is the lack of stable housing, include housing contingency plans in the treatment plan and ensure a financial plan is in place to secure appropriate housing.

Suppose we know that a holiday is coming up and that comments from family members will be made. In that case, a person may choose to forego family events to avoid triggers, or they may choose to engage in additional talk therapy sessions or meditations before the event. 

Spend time thinking about your or your loved one’s triggers or predictors of relapse. This helps to provide a sense of understanding and control and inform the treatment plan.

Treatment Plan to Avoid Relapse

A treatment plan should be developed with the assistance and guidance of your mental health provider or recovery counselor. Because families play an integral part in recovery and relapse, they should also be aware of and involved in the treatment plan.  

A treatment plan should address maintenance and crisis so that the person is supported daily as well as in cases of relapse. 2

The following models help maintain stability and reduce the likelihood of relapse:

Sober Network

A person who struggles with sobriety should protect herself by surrounding herself only with people who exemplify her current and future state. That means a person struggling with addiction should avoid situations in which she will be exposed to alcohol and drug use. That may represent the loss of a circle of friends or family members. While stepping away from those circles of comfort is undoubtedly challenging, her treatment plan can focus on the positive side of creating a new, sober network. 

Relationships are built upon the foundation of trust. Trusting her new network’s intentions and goals will provide comfort in times of stress. 

Due to the strong association between mental health disorders and substance abuse, it is wise to include this approach in the treatment plan for a person suffering from a mental health disorder. A sober network reduces the likelihood that a person suffering from a mental health disorder will self-medicate.  

Exercise Plan

Including an exercise plan has more benefits than helping to prevent relapse. It also promotes maintaining a healthy weight, increases muscle mass, and reduces the risk of secondary diseases. Regarding addiction, exercising activates the same chemical pathways as most drugs, effectively negating the need for pleasure stimulation from drugs. Exercise reduces stress and improves coping through directed energy release for mental health.

Interestingly, studies show that exercise performed outdoors is more beneficial than indoors. Also, people who report exercising outdoors report greater chances of repeating the exercise again.3

Family Guidelines

Integrate some guidelines into a treatment plan that outlines who, what, where, and when the family should contact the recoveree. Having some constraints will promote privacy and autonomy while having structure helps ensure support is provided. 

According to Johansen et al. (2021),

“Including the family in relapse prevention interventions has significantly proven to reduce relapse in both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”

Productive Work

Having a dedicated space for the healthy expenditure of energy allows for personal development. We discussed exercise as an energy outlet, but there are many other ways to direct our energies. Most of our energy is directed toward our work and average daily activities. 

In the case of addiction, energy is focused on the sourcing of substances. In a mental health crisis, energy lacks focus and manifests as emotional and physical symptoms. 

Driving energy towards something productive allows an individual to take control over their decisions and reduces the likelihood of relapse. 

Productive work can be incorporated into a treatment plan, including community outreach, passion projects, and leadership opportunities. Community outreach and leadership improve feelings of worthiness and drive. Work that is fulfilling has a greater chance of sustaining results daily. The pursuit of a passion project allows for fulfillment through creativity and enjoyment. It is essential in the treatment plan to balance responsibility with passion.

Where Can I Get Help?

Help and support after recovery are available to you through Relevance Recovery and its aftercare program. This program is designed to improve long-term success through guided therapies that take a holistic approach. 

Your treatment plan identified through Relevance Recovery will include the methods above and many more exciting and valuable approaches. 

At Relevance Recovery, we partner with CFC Loud N Clear – a New Jersey 501c3 organization that aims to support long-term recovery through a sober, supportive network. Treatment is available to diagnosed individuals and their families. We specialize in providing treatment for any recovery period. Our individualized programs in New Jersey will help you or your loved one fight the disease that is impacting your life. You can even verify your insurance benefits prior to completing the entire admissions process. Contact us today to get started.



  1. Koob, G. F., & Volkow, N. D. (2016). Neurobiology of addiction: a neurocircuitry analysis. The Lancet. Psychiatry3(8), 760–773. 
  1. Johansen, K. K., Hounsgaard, L., Hansen, J. P., & Fluttert, F. (2021). Early Recognition Method – Amplifying relapse management in community mental health care; a comprehensive study of the effects on relapse and readmission. Archives of psychiatric nursing35(6), 587–594. 

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