Relapse Prevention in Early Recovery: 6 Tips for Staying on Track

Recovery is a long journey with no clear ending point. Staying sober and resisting cravings certainly becomes easier with time, but avoiding relapse is always an active effort. To fully recover, you need to continually check in with yourself and keep working toward your mental, physical, and spiritual goals. Creating a clear, specific relapse prevention plan helps you stay on track.

Your relapse prevention plan is your toolbox of strategies that help you stay grounded and avoid backsliding in your recovery. Developing your plan may be an ongoing process of trial and error. Different people feel drawn to different techniques, so you have to find the strategies that work best for you.

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Here Are Six Tips for Relapse Prevention in Early Recovery

1. Identify Your Relapse Triggers

Figuring out what triggers your cravings is one of the most important relapse prevention tips, especially during the early stages of recovery. Your cravings may seem to hit you out of nowhere, but there’s almost always an internal or environmental trigger. Try keeping a journal to gain insight and identify patterns in your thoughts and emotions. Once you know what your biggest triggers are, you can avoid those situations or mentally prepare yourself for them in advance.

The following are some of the most common relapse triggers for people in early recovery:

  • Stress
  • Visiting places where you used to use substances
  • Spending time around people who drink or use drugs
  • Reminiscing about your past drug or alcohol use
  • Toxic relationships or relationships with enablers
  • Mental or physical illness
  • Exciting life events or milestones

One great technique to avoid relapse is to remember the acronym HALT, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. All four of these feelings are major relapse triggers. If you’re experiencing cravings, ask yourself whether HALT could be a factor at play.

2. Know the Stages of Relapse

Relapse doesn’t begin when you pick up drugs or alcohol. Before you start using again, you will most likely go through other stages. The first stage is emotional relapse, which can happen when you stop taking care of yourself emotionally. You’re not yet thinking about relapsing, but you’re feeling stressed, anxious, hopeless, or lonely.

The next stage is mental relapse. At this point, you’re considering turning back to drugs or alcohol. You’re making excuses for yourself or coming up with reasons to justify using substances. You might feel like you’re battling with yourself to avoid relapse, but a part of you desperately wants to use. Now, the physical relapse may happen, which can send you spiraling back into full addiction. However, if you recognize that you’re experiencing the earlier stages of relapse, you can seek support before you reach this point.

3. Use Other Coping Strategies

Substance use is a coping mechanism for painful emotions or experiences. These feelings don’t go away when you get sober. To fully recover, you have to develop positive coping skills to replace your substance use. Then, you can use these strategies when feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed to reduce the risk of relapse.

In early recovery, it’s also okay to lean on other coping strategies that aren’t entirely healthy. If candy helps to quell cravings and reduce your stress, allow yourself to eat candy whenever you want. If scrolling through social media on your phone alleviates your anxious thoughts, give yourself time and space to do that. Ideally, you’ll let go of these less healthy coping mechanisms as you continue working on recovery. Right now, though, they’re a far better alternative to substance use.

4. Practice Self-care

Self-care is a broad idea that looks different for everyone, but it’s a vital part of relapse prevention in early recovery. The purpose of self-care is to embrace habits that make your life feel balanced, manageable, and sustainable. By actively caring for your physical, mental, and emotional health on a daily basis, you become much more resilient to stress.

Here are some helpful self-care habits that you could incorporate into your daily routine to avoid relapse:

  • Get at least seven or eight hours of sleep every night.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Eat your favorite foods, but add fruits and vegetables to your meals.
  • Find relaxing hobbies to do on your own, such as reading, painting, or hiking.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself and your life.
  • Take a break from your phone if the constant connection is weighing on your mind.
  • Say “no” to invitations or requests that you’re not interested in or don’t have the energy for.

5. Seek Support

Recovery can feel incredibly isolating, but this doesn’t mean you’re alone. Social support is absolutely essential to prevent relapse. If you’re struggling, you should reach out to trusted loved ones without hesitation.

Building a new social support network is sometimes necessary to reduce the risk of relapse. Being around people who use drugs or alcohol can be a major trigger. If all of your friends use substances, it may be time to seek out some new sober friends. Support groups are an excellent place to connect with people who share your goals. Not only can you support one another on the path to recovery, but you can also just socialize and have fun without drugs or alcohol.

6. Continue Professional Treatment

Starting or continuing professional treatment while overcoming addiction is always ideal. Many people attend inpatient or intensive outpatient programs in their first weeks of sobriety, which is a valuable opportunity to fully commit to recovery in a safe and structured environment.

Professional care doesn’t have to end there, though. Support groups, individual therapy, and family therapy are all great resources when navigating your first months of recovery. In counseling, you can dive deep into your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs surrounding your addiction while developing positive coping skills to prevent relapse. Some people continue to work with a therapist for years into their sobriety, which can have enormous mental health benefits.

Burning Tree Programs offers both short-term and long-term addiction services. We provide inpatient treatment as well as thorough discharge planning and aftercare to reduce the risk of relapse in our clients. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please reach out to us today for support.


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