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How To Prevent Substance Abuse Relapse After Rehab

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 18, 2019

Completing an addiction treatment program is only the beginning of leading a life of recovery. Many individuals often find themselves relapsing due to the environment or people that surround them after treatment. It is important to have a relapse prevention plan in place in order to avoid falling back into the cycle of addiction.

Most of the time, people focus on telling you how to get help for your addiction the first time around. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there walking the edge of an addiction relapse that can occur after an extended period of sobriety.

It isn’t uncommon for previous addicts to fall back into destructive patterns during their path towards clean living. Thus, successfully completing rehab is just the beginning. There are many people, events, and things that can spring up in your life and challenge everything that you have gained during the time that you’ve been sober.

In general, there are three primary causes of relapse: mental, physical, and emotional.

Physical Relapse

Addicts who did not receive proper care the first time through rehabilitation will be the ones most likely to experience a physical relapse. This is when the body itself craves the drug. This can be seen from a variety of symptoms, such as shakes, fever, nausea, muscles aches, and much more. When the addict experiences these side effects from withdrawal they typically revert to their habits because taking their drug of choice will temporarily curb these unpleasant feelings.

However, the addict must realize that succumbing to this urge will not solve their physical cravings, but rather cause them to continue to increase their use of the drug to get the desired effects, and before they know it, they are in the throes of addiction again.

This can be prevented by receiving quality detox during your time in rehabilitation. Whether you choose a medical or natural detox, the results will be the same. Your body will be flushed with the drug and because there are no remnant particles, you will not experience physical dependence or cravings. Physical relapse can also reoccur if the recovering addict stops taking their recommended medication as well, so be sure to stay on top of all prescriptions given by your doctor.

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Mental Relapse

Mental cravings aren’t as easy to suppress. There isn’t some mental detox that will permanently clear your mind of cravings. Instead, the best weapon you have against your own brain is completely individualized. This is where receiving quality rehabilitation the first time around comes in. Therapy will give the recovering addict tools and methods to help them cope with their cravings. The most popular and successful treatment for relapse prevention is Marlatt’s Cognitive-Behavioral Model, also known as Relapse Prevention Therapy.

Even with previous guidance and training, however, there are certain vulnerable times during recovery where the addict is tempted to fall back into old habits. It is then that they should reach out to local or online support groups. As there is power in numbers, it can be extremely helpful for them to talk with others going through the same thing.

It is also beneficial to receive professional support at this time through a psychologist or therapist. Even opening up and talking with friends and family about it will bring relief by just getting it out on the table.

With the added support and new techniques learned, the addict is more likely to feel empowered rather than helpless and realize that they can take charge of their life and stay away from substance abuse. Don’t be afraid or be ashamed to seek help if you are struggling.

Another thing one can do to avoid mental relapse is to distract yourself for a little while. Thoughts tend to be only fleeting and temporary, especially when you are busy and living life to the fullest. Avoid situations where you may find yourself bored or complacent. Create a healthy and busy schedule, that way you don’t have spare time to give in to your cravings. And finally, don’t think about it for the long haul. Take your sober lifestyle one day at a time; this will make the goal more approachable and less daunting.

Emotional Relapse

Finally, emotional relapse is the hardest to prevent and keep under control. Everything from moments of stress and anxiety, from being in a place where you used to use, from seeing people who have either condoned or done drugs alongside you, can be a trigger for relapse. Again, it is difficult because these happenings and feelings can occur spur of the moment. It only takes a second for someone to offer you a hit or for you to feel anxious enough to want to score. It is then up to you to remember what you have been taught in rehab to fight off these triggers.

Other feelings that can trigger relapse are anger, apathy, depression, and loneliness. Major life happenings, such as the death of a loved one, financial trouble, the loss of a job, or divorce can create enough misery and stress to cause yourself to want to use. Realize that you are feeling these things, and then treat with self-care. Do something to relax, be it exercise, a massage, spending time with a loved one, reading a good book. Just step away from the negative situation for a while until you are calm enough to handle it.

Reward yourself for good behavior by eating a healthy and delicious meal, getting a good night’s sleep, or doing an activity you enjoy. And above all, avoid glamorizing old drug habits or ruminating over them. Often times, you may only remember the perceived benefits, but one must remember to recall all the negatives that came out of drugs as well.

What Happens When You Make A Mistake?

In the end, if you do fall short and use, it isn’t the end of the world, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you are instantly an addict again. If the recovering addict can admit that they have made a mistake and accept their shortcoming, they are usually able to get back on the bandwagon of sobriety fairly easily with family support, guidance from professionals, and a confident attitude towards their full recovery.

Having previous solid experience in a rehabilitation program is a great help for those who have stumbled on their path of sobriety. The techniques and skills they learned during their stay can help them get back on track, or getting in contact with a counselor or doctor who they worked with previously can be a great resource for support.

Unfortunately, if one didn’t receive adequate help in the past because either the program wasn’t the right fit or because it wasn’t of quality, recovering addicts can have qualms about trying rehabilitation again. But don’t let your negative experiences sway your decision to get help. Make sure that this time around you receive professional and superior treatment. Don’t skimp on the quality of care just to save money or because it seems more convenient at the time. Worry about getting yourself better first and foremost.

Whether your first stay in a rehab center was a good experience or not, reach out and ask for help when you stumble. When you gather support and have other people holding you responsible for your actions, it’s a lot easier to get back on the straight and narrow.

Finding Help at

That’s where we come in, we have the knowledge and resources to match you up with the best treatment facility for your specific needs. We will take all things into consideration and make sure that you or your loved one gets the care and support they need to make a full recovery this time around. Contact us today.

View Infographic “How To Prevent Substance Abuse Relapse After Rehab”

How To Prevent Substance Abuse Relapse Infographic

Our “Recovery And Beyond Drug Rehab Guide” can be helpful for relapse prevention. Download it here for your own personal use.

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