Building a Solid Relapse Prevention Plan

Relapse Prevention Plan

Do you have a relapse prevention plan yet?

There’s a common misconception that relapse is just a part of getting sober – this couldn’t be further from the truth. Somewhere along the way, people became convinced that you simply had to relapse if you were fighting for your sobriety.

Between 40 percent and 60 percent of people who struggle with addiction , including alcohol use disorder, will relapse. (

I’m here to tell you that with a solid foundation and a relapse prevention plan, that doesn’t have to be true.

It’s time to understand that not everyone has to relapse and that relapse isn’t some kind of built in thing with your sober journey. Relapsing is simply a side effect of feeling triggered. And, in order to fight triggers, you need a plan.

Ask any great sports team or military leader about how they are so successful. Chances are high that they will tell you they have a plan of attack. Recovery and relapse are the same way. Obviously you need a plan for getting sober, that much is true, but not everyone realizes that a good plan for relapse will be important in the long run.

Developing a plan to not relapse isn’t the same as having a sobriety plan. A relapse prevention plan is specifically designed to address situations and long term reasons for relapse. It is easy to think of relapse as something that happens suddenly due to a mistake or something similar.

The truth?

Relapse is something that occurs over time and is a gradual process. Believe it or not, your potential relapse started months ago. It might be something small such as a change in your sleeping habits. Suddenly you find yourself not sleeping as much because you have lots of extra work or the pandemic is raising your stress levels. 

It is at this moment that your brain will slowly start to filter in thoughts about relapse. Maybe the occasional memory of a “good time” you had drinking with your buddies. Perhaps it is a very brief reminder of how alcohol makes you feel a bit relaxed after a stressful work day.

Whatever it is, relapse actually starts way before the act of breaking your sobriety.

The goal is to stop that process from happening.

And a solid relapse prevention plan will be your foundational approach.

What is a relapse prevention plan?

Think of this like your action plan to help prevent physical relapse. It’s an important part of your ongoing journey into sobriety and recovery. Some people make an actual physical document, like a treatment plan. Others simply read articles like this and know how to handle things going forward.

However you choose to approach your relapse prevention action plan, you should be considering as many protective factors as possible to support a full recovery. This is your time to 

What goes into a relapse prevention plan?

It’s best to think of this in terms of five basic components:

  • Emotional health
  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Goals
  • Support systems

These five basic components form the foundation of your relapse prevention plan. You need to be developing skills and resiliency in all of the areas mentioned. 

For your emotional health think of a list of positive emotions that you can write down. You can reference these as part of your written plan any time you feel triggered. These positive emotions should be tied to experiences in your life that remind you of good experiences.

Take each of the five areas and come up with a written plan to address them if it comes up. This is all about taking better care of yourself. Think of it like your own personal treatment plan that you can whip out if needed.

How to use the relapse prevention plan

Part of having a healthy lifestyle post-recovery is understanding the warning signs of potential relapse and when to use your action plan you’ve created. Preparing for high-risk situations is what keeps you sober!


How do you know the warning signs? 

Sometimes the warning signs are easy to identify. Others take time to manifest themselves. Relapse triggers are the most common “visible” issues for you to deal with and you’re probably familiar with some of these.

We’ve talked about triggers lots of times here on this site so we won’t go deep into them. However, to prevent relapse you need to have a solid plan to fight them.

When you do feel triggered you should refer back to the strong foundation you built into your recovery plan. Go back to the fundamentals like journaling, sleeping and eating right, taking care of your mental health and relying on coping skills you’ve been developing.

A possible relapse doesn’t mean a guaranteed relapse at all. But you should be aware that you need to snap yourself out of a possible relapse. In our book, The Sobriety Success Method, we talk about how to develop the skills needed to avoid relapse and we also cover it in The Ultimate Addiction and Recovery course available on this site.

There are lots of options available for you.

First and foremost is the idea that a mental relapse preceeds the physical relapse. This means that addictive thoughts start to bubble up as a challenge to your long-term sobriety. Your ability to practise things like relaxation techniques can help you counteract this mental relapse stage.

It is extremely unlikely that a potential trigger will suddenly cause a physical relapse. While these things may happen, this is true, the likely story is that this relapse has been on the cards for a while.

Those of you who have a support group available as part of your addiction treatment will have likely heard stories like these before.

Is it normal to relapse?

The answer to this question is hard to quantify. While relapse rates for people in addiction treatment programs are generally on the high side, each persons recovery process and care plan is different. We don’t consider relapsing to be a normal part of recovery. The thinking goes that if you assume that it is normal then you assume it will happen.

The preference is to embrace the positive changes and healthy habits you have been developing throughout your journey. Use these tactics to fight for your long-term recovery. Fighting back against your old alcohol usage patterns with things like meditation, journaling, developing the right social support and peer support will ensure you don’t ever have to relapse.

One final note to think about is your physical health. Keeping yourself in good physical shape, as mentioned earlier, makes you less likely to relapse. Remember you are fighting active addiction which will decrease over time but only if you keep at it using your toolbox of techniques.

Example relapse prevention plan

Remember that long-term recovery is a gradual process that becomes easier over time. Here is an example relapse prevention plan you can use as inspiration:

  1. If I am experiencing high-risk situations I will do _________________________ to keep myself healthy and avoid negative consequences.
  2. When I am feeling down or blue I will call/write/journal/run/take a cold shower/_________________ so that I avoid relapsing
  3. I know that I can talk to _____________________ for social support and I have told them about my process for reaching out if necessary
  4. As part of my treatment process the following location is a safe place that I have designated in my life which will be the foundation of my recovery journey: ________________________ (pick a place that you can visit any time which has no access to alcohol)
  5. I am committed to the following lifestyle changes to ensure that I avoid the addictive substances in my life:
    1. __________________________
    2. __________________________
    3. __________________________
    4. __________________________
    5. __________________________

Feel free to adjust, adapt or add your own parts to this plan. There are no strict guidelines when it comes to creating these plans. What is important, however, is that you find some way to keep it with you in close reach.

During the initial phase of your recovery, access to this relapse prevention plan is probably even more important. These early days are crucial to helping you fight this chronic disease.

If you need help or advice you can contact us directly here at or check in with whatever support group you have near you. Living a life in recovery and sobriety is so worth it.

Remember to check out The Ultimate Addiction and Recovery course for a complete program designed to support your sober from home journey.

Nick Roberts
Nick Roberts
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