Relapse prevention

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Many professionals in the addiction recovery field don't fully understand the difference between a Sobriety Maintenance Plan and a Relapse Prevention Plan. This is an important distinction, and one that should not be overlooked. Understanding the differences between the two plans can not only enrich the lives of recovering individuals, it can often prevent a devastating relapse from occurring.

Sobriety Maintenance is the art of proactively planning the day to day activities and support mechanisms that will fill the recovering person's newly sober life. A Sobriety Maintenance Plan might include such action items as seeing a therapist, attending 12-Step meetings, improving physical health, taking time off for recreation, etc. This is an ongoing plan that repeats daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.

Relapse Prevention, on the other hand, is the practice of proactively planning for the onset of a possible relapse and preparing a response that will prevent that relapse from occurring. A Relapse Prevention Plan is what saves the client if and when the Maintenance Plan breaks down. Without effective Relapse Prevention planning, the best Sobriety Maintenance Plan in the world simply isn't enough.

The relapse rates for addiction should be compared to the relapse rates of other chronic illnesses. The relapse rate for Type I diabetes is 30% to 50%. The relapse rate for hypertension and asthma is 50% to 70%.

Drug and alcohol addiction should be treated like any other chronic illness, with relapse being an indication of the need for renewed intervention. Having said that, these statistics also indicate that relapse does not occur in a large number of cases. To a large degree, these successful cases are due to effective Relapse Prevention Planning.

A Relapse Prevention Plan is a written document created by the client with the help of a counselor that contains specific, concrete practices that will help the client avoid relapse. Clients recovering in hospitals or at residential treatment centers usually receive several hours of planning each week. In the best case scenario clients will complete their own plan before being discharged.

This plan contains specific information about the client's situational triggers, belief-system triggers, and emotional triggers, and includes specific plans for behavioral coping, emotional and mental coping, and information for people supporting their recovery about signs and symptoms of a relapse and what they can do to help. By the time they return home they have a concrete, personalized plan for managing the inevitable stresses that will occur during a reintegration into normal life.

In most cases, the counselor also provides post-discharge support by following up with each client on a weekly basis, referring to the client's workbook and adjusting and refining the plan as needed. The counselor is also available to consult with other professionals that are supporting the recovering person. In this way the client's plan can be continually updated and refined according to actual life experiences, and supporting professionals can be made aware of what works and what doesn't.

These two different but related tools, a Sobriety Maintenance Plan and a Relapse Prevention Plan, are both essential weapons in the battle against relapse. With both plans in place, recovering individuals can enjoy the rich new life that a Sobriety Maintenance Plan will create, along with the protection against relapse that a good Relapse Prevention Plan will assure.