Medically Reviewed

How to Create a Relapse Prevention Plan that Works

- 7 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that requires long-term maintenance to sustain recovery. In other words, your sobriety journey does not end when you complete an addiction treatment program. To avoid relapsing, you’ll have to continue using tools and healthy coping mechanisms that keep you sober.

Unfortunately, the time after you complete treatment is one of the most vulnerable moments in your recovery. You will be exposed to new triggers and stressors out in the real world. As a result, it is important to have a relapse prevention plan that actually works for you.

Relapse prevention plans are outlines of warning signs for relapse to look out for, healthy coping strategies to prevent substance abuse, and a plan of action in case you experience a relapse. They are vital to maintaining long-term sobriety and extremely personal, which means yours might look different from someone else’s.

What you will learn:

  • What a relapse prevention plan is
  • How to create an effective recovery plan
  • What triggers to look out for
  • What type of plan you should put in place in case of a relapse

What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

Relapse prevention plans are critical to maintaining long-term sobriety. They are a tool that helps you recognize your unhealthy patterns that could lead to a relapse in the future. These plans should also include strategies that can help you cope with stressors, triggers, or uncomfortable emotions.

Typically, a relapse prevention plan is a document that you create and share with your treatment team, support system, and family members who are close to you. They tend to include a plan of action to take in case you experience a relapse down the road.

The addiction relapse rate is between 40 and 60%, so having a plan to stay sober is one of the most important parts of recovery.[1]

Creating an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan

When you are creating a relapse prevention plan, you want to make sure you are including everything you will need. If you’ve never made one before, it can be helpful to understand the most important tools and information to include.

Assess Your History

Your relapse prevention plan should be based on your history with your substance use disorder. For example, if you have relapsed before, you should think about what factors led to your relapse so you can avoid them in the future.

A few questions to ask yourself about your addiction history include:

  • Was there a time when you were more prone to substance abuse? What factors made you crave drugs and alcohol the most?
  • Were there specific people present in your life when you experienced heavy substance use?
  • What thought patterns or emotions made you more likely to abuse substances?
  • What led to your previous relapses?

Identify Triggers

It is also important to identify any potential triggers for relapses. Being aware of things that could potentially trigger you will prepare you to use the correct coping mechanisms when they arise.

Examples of common triggers include:

  • Places or events that remind you of your substance abuse
  • People who abused substances with you
  • Thoughts, emotions, or memories that cause you to crave drugs and alcohol
  • Anniversaries or times of the year (i.e. holidays or birthdays) that used to cause you to engage in substance abuse
  • Mental health symptoms that make you want to self-medicate

List Preventative Tools

Once you have figured out your patterns and triggers for substance abuse, it’s time to start thinking about what tools will help you stay sober. Generally, people include things like regular therapy, taking medication for mental illnesses, or attending weekly support groups like 12-step programs.

You could also include healthy habits that will help you cope with daily stress or keep your mental health in check. For example, exercising, eating healthy, having a good sleeping routine, and journaling are good relapse-prevention tools to incorporate into your daily life.

Establish a Plan of Action

Lastly, you’ll want to have a plan of action in place in case you experience a relapse. Having a plan will help you overcome your relapse faster, putting you back on track towards recovery.

Oftentimes, plans for relapses involve telling someone you trust like a sponsor, therapist, or a loved one. Letting someone know will keep you accountable and make it less likely for you to continue abusing substances.

Then, you should work with a professional to determine what you need to do to get back on track. This might involve scheduling therapy more frequently, attending detox, or going back to an inpatient facility. The method for returning to sobriety will depend on how severe your relapse was.

Get Connected With a Top-Rated Drug and Alcohol Rehab Program

If you or a loved one has experienced a relapse, it might be time to consider attending drug and alcohol rehab. At PAX Memphis, we can connect you with a highly-rated addiction treatment center in your area.

Contact us today to get connected with a substance abuse recovery program near you.


  1. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Treatment and Recovery