What is Relapse Prevention?

Anyone who has struggled with addiction or who loves someone who has struggled with addiction is very aware of the very real danger of relapse. Many of us have experienced it first hand and can understand the feeling of utter defeat and frustration after a period of sobriety.

It may seem like it comes out of nowhere, but for those who have relapsed and come back, we know that there is always a way to prevent it. That is why many treatment centers are now offering relapse prevention groups to their clients.

Relapse Prevention

It can seem like a pretty dark topic to discuss in treatment, but in the grand scheme of things, it is one of the most helpful tools to have for long-term sobriety, especially for first-timers. So, what is relapse prevention? How does someone prevent a relapse? Is anyone ever “doomed”?

The long and short of it is, if you are a real addict or alcoholic, relapse is something that is ALWAYS possible, but there are certain tools and safeguards to help protect your butt when times get tough. Here are a few different plans of action that will always ensure that you are not one step away from a drink or a drug.

Do Your Steps

Whether you choose to work AA, NA, CA, HA, EA, etc., the only thing that matters, truly, is that you are actively working the program. This means:


  • Finding a sponsor who has completely worked their steps
  • Going to meetings
  • Asking questions
  • Taking time alone to work on your steps
  • Doing them even when you don’t feel like it


The reason the steps are crucial in relapse prevention is that they are a “design for living” that actually works.

Does it feel like you are stressed out all the time? Work step three. Feel like everyone is out to get you? Take a look at step four. Are you aware that you are procrastinating or holding grudges or manipulating? Work steps 6 and 7. Are you ashamed of ever going back home to see your old friends and acquaintances? Work steps 8 and 9.

These steps were not created to punish you or make you feel like you are back in school doing traumatic homework. The steps were designed to show you your own unhealthy behavior patterns, clear them out, and allow you to actually communicate and create healthy relationships with other humans. The connection with others is what brings us to our next relapse prevention technique.

Relapse Prevention

Making Sober Supports

Most of us hate ourselves when we come in here, and we assume everyone else will too. This creates a barrier between us and the people who want to get to know us. When we stay out of the loop, it is easier for us to hide, easier to disappear, and easier for people to not notice if we go back out.

A crucial tool in relapse prevention, if you truly want to stay sober, is to get connected to people in the fellowship. Find people that:

  • Have worked or are working the steps
  • Don’t live like they are still out running the streets
  • Have experience, strength, and hope to offer you
  • Will notice when you miss a meeting

These people are going to be the most annoying, but most meaningful relationships you will ever have. They understand you, even if they don’t know you, and they will love you anyway.

Making sober supports is easy if you just go to meetings and introduce yourself over coffee, share that you are new, or have a sponsor who will introduce you to people.

Grounding Techniques

There is this saying in the rooms, that if you move a muscle, you can change your thoughts. What it means is, we as addicts and alcoholics in early sobriety, are completely and utterly ruled by our minds. However, that does not mean that our thoughts are the truth, and that does not mean that our thoughts are even rational.

When we find ourselves pissed off at the world and everyone in it, because your halfway house has too many rules, or no one wants to hire you, or whatever else we tell ourselves in order to isolate, we have to remember that it is all temporary.

Rather than picking up a drink or drug in times like these, it can be very beneficial to practice grounding before we fall victim to our impulses. There are so many ways to do this, so it is a pretty cool experiment to try them out and find what works for you. You can try:

  • Meditating
  • The Five Senses techniques (5 things you see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste)
  • Mindful eating (put food in your mouth and focus on the way it feels, tastes, any other sensations for one full minute before you chew and swallow)
  • Going for a walk
  • Deep breathing

The opportunities are endless, and when you finally realize that you have the ability to change your thoughts and perceptions on situations around you, the world starts to open. THAT right there is an example of the psychic change and spiritual experience that they speak about in the steps.

In the end, having healthy relapse prevention tools really just looks like working a solid program. Every person that comes back into the rooms says the same things on why the relapsed. They are:

  • “I Stopped going to meetings”
  • “I stopped calling my sponsor”
  • “I started to isolate”
  • “I stopped praying”

The basic fundamental truth behind any program of recovery is the connection. Addiction is a disease that is fueled by our lack of connection with the world around us, the people in it, and everything that brings us joy. When we stay close, stay open, and stay connected, relapse prevention takes care of itself.