Top 10 Relapse Prevention Skills

Learning relapse prevention skills are an integral part of recovery. Learn how these skills help avoid relapse here.

Table of Contents

What Is Relapse?

After a person has used drugs or alcohol for an extended period, their body will become reliant on the feelings that the substance creates. The release of dopamine or serotonin in the body from these substances creates a “high” or euphoric feeling that often makes it hard for the person to stop using the substance. However, after a person has stopped using drugs for some time and has gone through recovery or rehab, they might still be at risk of relapsing.

Relapsing is when a person begins to use the substance they were reliant or dependent upon again and stops trying to maintain their goals of reducing or completely stopping their usage. 1

Why Does Relapse Happen?

Relapse can happen for many reasons, depending on the individual, how long they were using the substance, and if they have relapsed before. However, most relapses occur due to a specific stressor that may cause the individual to relapse to cope.2

Why Are Relapse Prevention Skills Important?

Relapse prevention strategies are important so that people have other ways to cope so that they don’t feel as inclined to turn to substances for relief. Certain ways to integrate these skills into the recovery program are to create relapse prevention therapy and prevention groups that cater to everyone’s needs.

What Are the Signs of Relapse in Addiction?

There are many signs and stages of relapse for those who struggle with addiction. Learning to notice these relapse signs can be imperative for getting you or your loved one help before you relapse. There are often three stages of potential relapse, each with its own symptoms of relapse:3

Emotional Relapse

This stage is often the first sign of unconscious relapse. People generally don’t think about using substances again, but their situation or current behavior might start putting them more at risk of relapse. These signs can include isolation, poor self-care, anxiety, or low social support.

Mental Relapse

During the mental relapse stage, many people actively think about using substances again. For alcoholics, this might look like thinking about how to get alcohol or struggling with not buying some at the store. People who used illicit substances might be trying to figure out how to contact who they used to receive the drugs from. Signs of this may be lying or sneaking around.

Physical Relapse

It isn’t until individuals reach this stage that they have “actually” relapsed. Physical relapse is when the person starts to use substances again, and the signs of this are usually similar to how they acted when they were using substances before going through recovery.

Top 10 Relapse Prevention Skills

Cultivating healthy relapse-prevention coping skills can make all the difference during recovery. Some relapse prevention skills work better for some than they do for others, but common coping skills for relapse prevention will be detailed below.

Know Your Causes

Certain situations may make it hard for you to stay sober. This can include events such as seeing someone you used to use drugs with or even simply seeing the same brand of whiskey at the grocery store that you used to drink. Figuring out the potential causes of relapse and creating a relapse prevention program for them can help mitigate potential setbacks.


Providing yourself with self-care is imperative during the recovery process. This often includes learning how to care for yourself physically and mentally, staying in touch with friends and family or creating new connections and support systems. These relapse prevention skills are often seen as preventive measures during the recovery process.


During recovery, individuals are encouraged to pay attention to potential smaller causes that may cause them to relapse. HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired, and one such acronym to keep in mind. This helps you also focus on self-care and giving yourself what you need to reduce the chances of potentially relapsing.4

Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness are other relapse-prevention activities that can help you or your loved one. This type of self-care can help individuals be more patient and forgiving of themselves while allowing them to explore thoughts and fears in a safe space.

Joining Support Groups

Support groups are another type of relapse prevention program. Joining Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or another type of support group will remind you that you’re not alone and give you the social network you may need.

Grounding Techniques

These techniques are types of coping skills for relapse prevention that have you focus on the present moment to distract yourself from intrusive or negative thoughts. Some physical grounding techniques include walking, immersing your hands in water, or even holding a piece of ice and focusing on the cold sensation. Mental grounding techniques include reciting something from memory or describing what’s around you in detail.5

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing often works in the same way that meditation and mindfulness do. It allows you to take time for yourself, learn your stressors, and calmly work through them.

Making an Emergency Contact List

Creating an emergency contact list helps in many ways. It can help you realize that the people on that list are important to you and care about your well-being while also showing that they are counting on you to stay at your best during recovery.

Play the Tape Through

This visualization technique involves you thinking about all the potential circumstances that will arise if you do give in to your desire to relapse. This exercise aims to show the individual that if they give in to “just one drink,” they could be right back where they were before they went through recovery.

Ask for Help

And finally, one of the most important relapse prevention skills is to ask for help. Whether this be from friends, family, or medical personnel, knowing when to ask for help can greatly mitigate your chances of relapsing and can put you back on the right track for your recovery.

Factors That May Affect Relapse Prevention Strategies

There are certain stressors or factors that could affect a person’s relapse prevention coping skills. These will be discussed further below.

Contributing Factors

While the individual factors vary from person to person, these may include:

  • Environment: If a person is still in an environment that encourages drug or alcohol use, it may be harder for them to adhere to the relapse prevention strategies they cultivated.
  • Level of Motivation: If someone is not motivated to stay sober, then they could relapse easier than someone who is utilizing their relapse prevention skills with more motivation.
  • Severity of Addiction: If one’s addiction was severe, especially if they used substances for many years, it is often harder to not relapse than those who didn’t have as severe of an addiction.
  • Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions: Co-occurring mental health conditions can make it harder to stay sober as well. Symptoms from anxiety, depression, or mood disorders can make it harder to cultivate healthy coping skills for relapse prevention.

Treatment Programs for Relapse Prevention

There are various treatment programs for those looking to create and keep healthy relapse prevention strategies. While treatment may not be necessary for every relapse a person may go through, it is highly recommended. This way, individuals can get the medical and emotional support they need during a relapse. This will make it easier to stick to certain relapse prevention skills.

Is There Hope After a Complete Relapse?

If you’ve gone through a relapse after being clean from substances, you may feel defeated, hopeless, or disappointed in yourself. While these feelings are all completely valid, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope after undergoing a physical relapse. You can go through recovery again. It’s important to be patient and give yourself the care you need during this time.

Learn Relapse Prevention Skills at Soledad House

Soledad House is a women’s only clinic that can help you cultivate and keep healthy relapse prevention coping skills and strategies. We offer individual therapy, group therapy, yoga therapy, and relapse prevention education that can assist you with staying sober from substances.

We will be with you every step, and our biggest goal is to help you create lasting change in your life. Reach out today to begin or continue healing.