Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction isn’t easy. It can be a lengthy process that involves combating withdrawal symptoms and overcoming the urge to use again, which is why understanding relapse prevention strategies is so important. If you or a loved one is recovering from substance abuse, being aware of healthy coping skills can prevent relapse.

Understanding Relapse: Why It Happens and How to Prevent It

Drug and alcohol addiction is a chronic medical condition characterized by the inability to control alcohol or drug abuse. Statistics show that over 20 million Americans aged 12 and older are affected by substance use disorder, and nearly half of those in recovery are likely to relapse.

Relapse is the return to drug or alcohol use after abstaining for a period of time. There are three stages of relapse to watch out for:

  • Emotional relapse: While an individual may not be considering drinking or using drugs, they may start to neglect self-care and bottle up emotions.
  • Mental relapse: An individual may experience alcohol or drug cravings and nostalgic feelings associated with substance use.
  • Physical relapse: An individual returns to alcohol or drug use.

Why Are Relapse Prevention Skills so Important?

While it’s not uncommon for those struggling with substance abuse to relapse during the recovery process, this doesn’t mean the treatment is failing. Instead, it could signify a different type of treatment may be necessary to combat drug or alcohol abuse for good. For example, professional treatment like IOP or PHP can teach healthier coping skills, while medication like ketamine benefits those with addiction by reducing cravings. A relapse prevention plan can also provide quick support if a relapse occurs, which is why having a list of skills handy can be useful.

Top 10 Relapse Prevention Skills

1. Self-Care

Poor sleep and diet are often linked to mental health issues, which could put someone at risk for substance use disorders. Instead of reaching for drugs to feel better, try maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Establishing healthy habits that make you feel good can reduce the risk of relapse.


HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. These are some of the most common triggers for individuals recovering from substance dependence. If someone you know is experiencing any of these negative feelings, step in to provide emotional support. This may stop them from reaching for a drink instead.

3. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention helps individuals become more self-aware of their thoughts and behaviors, making it easier to cope with potential triggers. This includes accepting that cravings are a natural part of the relapse process rather than fighting them.

4. Know Your Triggers

Triggers can include emotions such as irritability, anxiety and anger or external factors, including places, people or objects that remind you of past use. Making a list of internal and external triggers during early recovery can help you gain awareness of what might cause relapse down the road.

5. Join a Support Group

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can introduce you to peers who understand what you’re going through. Group therapy can also provide positive peer support and encourage abstinence from substances.

6. Grounding Techniques

Grounding techniques can help reduce stress and anxiety associated with recovery. For example, the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique encourages you to use the five senses to focus on your environment instead of dwelling on negative thoughts.

7. Deep Breathing

Breathing can greatly impact your emotions and help regulate your overall mood, which is why deep breathing is used to improve mental health conditions. One breathing technique is the 4 x 4. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold and then release for four seconds. Deep breathing releases neurotransmitters in the brain that can trigger chemicals responsible for happiness and relaxation.

8. Make an Emergency Contact List

It can be hard to ignore a craving without help from supportive friends. Keeping a list of trusted friends and family members you can reach out to for help ensures you have someone to talk to whenever the urge to use arises.

9. Play the Tape Through

Before you reach for that one drink, play the tape through and consider what the consequences might be. For a recovering addict, it might not stop at one drink, which is why reminding yourself why you entered recovery and the positive improvements you’ve made since quitting can be beneficial for preventing relapses.

10. Get Help at Camelback Recovery

Staying away from addictive substances can be difficult. Camelback Recovery in Arizona provides various supportive services in a structured environment to help with illicit or prescription drug addiction. Contact us at 602-466-9880 to speak with an intake specialist and begin your recovery today.