Relapse Prevention Planning

Keith Raskin, MA, LMHC
Director of Medical Assisted Treatment Programs

The holidays can be stressful. Stress at this time of year is often caused by several factors. This may include the hustle and bustle of shopping, the increased interaction with family, or painful reminders of loved ones that are no longer with us. For individuals suffering from the disease of addiction, this is an especially vulnerable time. This is often due to the increase in stressors and is complicated by the potential feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety that many feel around this time of year.

In addition, there is often exposure to triggering factors, situations where substances are being used, like at holiday parties and family events. Another reason these months may be become especially challenging is due to the fact that some individuals get out of their daily routine and away from their typical support systems. It is normal to go on holiday vacations, experience changes in work schedules, or even changes in eating and sleeping habits. All of these changes, whether positive or negative, take us away from the patterns that have supported recovery and may potentially threaten our recovery.

For people suffering from addiction, it is important to have a relapse prevention plan to assist in this time of increased stress. A relapse prevention plan is an essential component to building and maintaining a solid, recovery based lifestyle. Most people that suffer from addiction would agree, there are decisions made, thoughts and feelings experienced, as well as, behaviors engaged in, that are precursors to the return of using any substance. In fact, it is unrealistic to think that one would be able to avoid all triggering situations, even with all of the best efforts to avoid the people, places, and things identified as challenging to our recovery. During the holidays, this may include unavoidable family gatherings, passing by places that we used to use, or a simple visual reminder of a time when we were using. A relapse prevention plan includes specific steps to take when facing these triggers and stressful scenarios. While this plan may vary from very intricate to somewhat basic, a quality relapse prevention plan is designed to assist in establishing who to contact and who is identified in one’s support network. This may include linking with self-help groups, counselors, specific family members, and/or others. These are individuals to reach out to when triggered or even after a relapse occurs.

It is important to point out that it is often difficult to develop a relapse prevention plan alone. A counselor or substance abuse professional is able to engage individuals in planning by exploring triggering events, identifying healthy versus unhealthy patterns of behavior, assisting to determine consequences of relapse and the benefits of making good decisions. It is recommended that if you find the holidays to be a challenging time of year, and you do not have a plan in place, that you seek out the assistance of an addiction professional who may assist you in developing a thorough relapse prevention plan with the goal of supporting your recovery.