Top 10 Tips to Prevent Relapse

Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: December 9, 2021

Every person in recovery from drug addiction is at risk for relapse, no matter how much time it’s been since they last used a substance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a disorder indicated by compulsive drug use, often despite any consequences, that leads to long-lasting changes in the brain.

Addiction is both a chronic and relapsing disease. This means, similar to other diseases like hypertension and asthma, that it has no cure. Relapse is a common part of all chronic diseases and addiction is no different. Studies place the rates of relapse for substance use disorders anywhere between 40 and 60 percent.

If you’re in recovery from a substance use disorder and relapsed, it does not mean that you failed. It doesn’t negate your previous efforts to stay drug-free and it doesn’t mean that any treatment program you attended wasn’t successful. But it doesn’t mean that you should use it as an excuse to continue using drugs, either.

Although there is no cure for addiction, there are things you can do to prevent relapse. It takes proactive and ongoing effort to counter addiction’s disruptive effects on your brain. You have plenty of resources available to support your long-term recovery journey. These tips can give you some ideas to incorporate into your recovery in order to stay clean and sober.

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1. Lay the groundwork with a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

It isn’t easy to stop the cycle of addiction on your own. You aren’t alone if you’ve had a hard time trying to quit using by yourself. Addiction treatment is a great place to start when you’re looking to get clean. It places you in an environment where you can focus all your energy on laying the groundwork to prevent relapse and live a life of long-term recovery.

There are many different options for addiction treatment programs available depending on your needs. From detox to inpatient facilities to outpatient programs, there is a program for you. The combination of individual and group therapy, educational classes, and experiential therapy options help you learn to live free from drugs.

2. Attend your treatment program all the way through.

It might seem obvious to some, but an important part of preventing relapse includes attending your treatment program the entire way through. People who choose to leave treatment early against clinical advice hinder their recovery. Even if there are aspects of addiction treatment that you don’t fully enjoy, there’s always something to learn and take away from them.

The effort you put into treatment sets the pace for your recovery journey. If you only put in a minimal amount of effort or leave your program early, you aren’t giving yourself the best chance to remain sober. If you get the opportunity to attend treatment, take advantage of it and make the most of the program available to you.

3. Develop and follow through on your aftercare plan.

Toward the end of your time in treatment, you’ll sit with your counselor or case manager and develop an aftercare plan. Aftercare refers to the support plan you’ll follow after graduating your program and leaving the treatment facility. Adhering to your outlined program is one of the best ways to prevent relapse.

The majority of aftercare plans include some form of outpatient program or drug and alcohol counseling. Some include 12-step meetings or living in a sober living. The details of your specific aftercare plan will depend on the requirements and offerings available at your facility.

4. Build a support network to keep in touch with after treatment.

Trying to stay away from drugs and prevent relapse on your own is a difficult challenge. It’s more tempting to turn back to drugs when you don’t have a support group to hold you accountable. It’s helpful to have a group you can turn to when you’re feeling alone and challenged by the pressures of living drug-free.

Your aftercare plan may include group therapy which is a great place to start. Find a few people from your group who you’d like to spend time with while outside of treatment. Exchange numbers and reach out to one another when you’re having a difficult time outside of group hours.

5. Find a therapist for ongoing individual therapy.

If your aftercare plan doesn’t include ongoing therapy, you might want to find a therapist on your own. It’s helpful to maintain regular contact with a counselor or therapist who understands the added difficulty of living a life in recovery.

Therapy gives you a safe place to work through challenges in the present moment, as well as issues from your past that you didn’t get to work through in treatment. If you can continue seeing a therapist after treatment it will be a great way to prevent relapse.

6. Attend 12-step meetings or other recovery support groups.

12-step meetings or other recovery support groups give you access to a room of people who understand your struggles. There are groups for any problem you might have, from drugs and alcohol to gambling and overeating. Some people don’t appreciate the 12-step approach to recovery, so groups like SMART Recovery or Refuge Recovery may be helpful to prevent relapse.

7. Discover some new hobbies or reconnect with old ones.

Only after getting clean do you realize how time-consuming it is to maintain a life of active drug addiction. Most of your time is spent either under the influence of drugs or coming up with the money you need to buy more drugs. Once you remove substances from the equation you’re left with a lot of free time.

Idle time isn’t the safest thing in early recovery. If you want to prevent relapse, use your time to find some new activities you enjoy or rediscover those that addiction took away from you. Try out a new recipe in the kitchen, go to a concert with some sober friends, or join a slow pitch softball league. There are countless ways to occupy your time that don’t include drugs.

8. Get your body moving.

Depression and anxiety are common struggles in the first few weeks and months of recovery. It takes time to adjust to your new life without using drugs as a bandage to cover your emotions. Exercise is a great way to release endorphins in your brain that boost your energy and regulate your mood. Whether it’s walking, jogging, yoga, biking, swimming, lifting weights, or something else, there’s bound to be a way to get your body moving that you’ll enjoy.

9. Make use of a journal.

Journaling is a great multipurpose way to prevent relapse. Use your journal as a way to track your moods, things that tempt you to use, and ways to spend your time that you find enjoyable. Journaling is a great way to reflect on where you came from, assess your goals, and set up a plan to pursue your dreams in recovery.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Asking for help doesn’t always come easy but if you want to prevent relapse you have to learn how to ask for help. This could mean reaching out to your case manager or therapist, your recovery support group, or another set group of friends. Maybe you need to try out a self-help recovery program or a 12-step program.

It might be difficult at first but it gets easier as you practice. You don’t have to deal with a drug-free life on your own. The more you reach out to others and ask for help along the way, the better your chance of maintaining long-term recovery.

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