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How Support Prevents Relapse from Substance Abuse

Much like addiction treatment, recovery from addiction is a long-term process. The path to sobriety comes with many ups and downs, and many find themselves relapsing. While relapse is a normal phase of recovery, it can be dangerous. Today, we’re exploring how support prevents relapse, and other relapse-prevention skills drug and alcohol addicts can use to overcome a setback. 

What Is Relapse?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, a relapse occurs when someone who has established abstinence or sobriety from experiences a recurrence of signs and symptoms of active addiction. Relapse can be resuming the use of substances or going back to the pathological pursuit of reward and relief they experienced with substance abuse.

It’s important to note that relapse isn’t solely a drug and alcohol abuse issue. Relapse is part of the recovery process for many chronic illnesses, including diabetes and hypertension. 

Warning Signs of Relapse

Friends and family can recognize warning signs of relapse and offer support as prevention. It’s important that both, those in recovery and those around them, are familiar with the triggers that can lead to relapse and the glaring signs someone’s already experiencing a setback. As a result, strong support prevents relapse when they can help identify warning signs.

Some warning signs of relapse include:

  • Isolating from others
  • New patterns of lying and dishonesty
  • Romanticizing previous substance abuse
  • Missing therapy or support group meetings
  • Spending more time with friends or people who drink or use drugs
  • Believing a slip is not a big deal

Understanding the Stages of Relapse

While the signs of relapse are indicative that someone might be struggling in their addiction recovery, it doesn’t mean they already have. Generally, a relapse doesn’t happen overnight. And yes, a slip might occur, but that also raises the risk of relapsing. Before someone experiences a full relapse episode, they’ll go through various stages.


In this stage, those in recovery aren’t considering going back to their old habits. However, they’re neglecting self-care and stop practicing coping behaviors. Essentially, this self-destructive behavior sets them up for failure shortly. As they continue to avoid self-care and focus on their overall health, they transition into the mental phase.


Here’s when they start to consider going back to drinking or using drugs. Even though they’re aware of the signs of relapse, their negative mindset wins. In this stage, people in recovery are likely to frequent places associated with their past addictive behaviors and lead to trigger cravings.

Mental relapse is when they romanticize past substance abuse and come up with ways to minimize their problem. They might start looking into ways to relapse, or they may even experience a full setback. 


In the final stage, someone already had a slip or started using a substance again. Some people feel remorseful about their slip and might find a new passion for recovery and become more committed. Others might experience physical relapse and begin using compulsively. A support system can help prevent relapse when noticing these signs.

How to Prevent Relapse

The best way to prevent relapse is to continue practicing coping behaviors and build a reliable support system. Those who cut back on group meetings, coping behaviors, and start isolating are the ones that have higher chances of relapse. Beyond using support to prevent relapse, there are many coping skills and preventions you can use to stay in your recovery path.

Prioritize self-care: Make sure you’re catering to your mental health needs and taking time to care for yourself and stay healthy.

Remember HALT: Whenever you’re feeling hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, speak to a sponsor, go to a meeting, or seek help from a therapist immediately to prevent trigger cravings.

Know your triggers: Do your best to stay away from anything that triggers your addictive behaviors. Generally, anything from stressful situations to hanging out with old friends can be a trigger.

Learn grounding techniques: Sometimes, triggers are unavoidable, so learn how to stay grounded with meditation or breathing techniques. 

Have an emergency contact list: The urge to drink or use can come at any given point, have the right contact numbers handy for support. Call a sponsor, your therapist, a family member or friend who knows your struggles and can help. Remember, reliable support prevents relapse when frequently integrated into your recovery.

Think about tomorrow: Some people call this “watch your movie.” The idea is to play out the worst possible scenario of what would happen if you relapse. Additionally, it is vital to think about the short- and long-term possibilities and consequences of returning to drink and use drugs.   

When to Go Back to Treatment

The fear of relapse can be debilitating. Sometimes, even with a full toolbox of coping strategies, the right support system, and a relapse prevention plan, you still need more help. 

The first thing to do after relapse is to seek help. Call your former therapist and ask them what your options are. By reaching out for help, you get to address what’s going on. You get to speak with others and receive feedback.

Some drug rehab facilities offer long-term addiction recovery treatment programs that incorporate 12-step meetings and other group therapy sessions to help people maintain long-term sobriety. Consider your current ability to stay clean or sober right now. Perhaps, going back to treatment might be the best option to prevent a relapse. 

Remember, this doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you have to check into a full-time rehab program. Instead, this means you recognize you still need support to prevent a relapse, and you’re taking matters into your own hands.

How Support Prevents Relapse

Many clinical experiences document that self-help groups and support can help individuals in recovery overcome the guilt and shame of addiction. Speaking with others in recovery allows you to handle whatever you’re experiencing instead of resorting back to using substances. Most feel that recovery is within their reach. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we understand how daunting and challenging drug and alcohol abuse recovery can be. Because of this, we offer specially-designed long-term recovery programs to help those struggling maintain their sobriety and wellbeing. If you or someone you know is a recovering addict struggling with their recovery journey, don’t hesitate to contact us today.  

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