Why Is Relapse Prevention Important?

The rehabilitation process of an addicted patient is a challenge where the ultimate goal is to permanently abandon drug use or addictive behavior. It is a path that will not be easy where treatment must be adapted to the circumstances of each patient. However, on this journey to full recovery, there may be obstacles that will need to be addressed. One of them is the risk of suffering a relapse, that is, that the patient relapses early into his addiction treatment. The key in these cases is not to collapse, if not to learn from mistakes, and to continue moving forward until full recovery.

Understanding Relapse

Relapse means returning to a pattern of thought and behavior typical of the addiction that the addict wants to overcome. The consequence is to return to drug use during the pre-recovery state. Sometimes relapse is viewed as a treatment failure. However, it can be seen in another way, and that is to understand relapse as part of the learning process that the patient goes through during his rehabilitation, realizing the things he does well and what he does not do well.

The great difficulty of getting out of an addiction is that it involves getting rid of very assimilated behaviors. When the relapse process is analyzed, it is characterized by a series of risk decisions that lead to relapse itself. By themselves, these decisions carry relative risk. However, the effect is cumulative so that at some point the person will consume again as they will no longer be able to resist the temptation and the triggers.

Why Does Relapse Occur?

A relapse can occur for several reasons. However, there are some situations that are more conducive to suffering from this problem. The most common is due to personal conflicts (discussions with a partner, problems at work, etc.), due to social pressure (places where addictive behavior is encouraged, invitations to consume, etc.), and due to negative emotional states (anxiety, depression, irritability, etc.). In this sense, the circumstances in which a patient has more instances of relapsing are those in which he has failed to identify a particular situation as risky. An example would be that the person goes for coffee and ends up ordering an alcoholic drink. Not being able to carry out the coping strategies learned during treatment in the face of an unforeseen situation is another situation that usually leads to relapse.

Is It Possible to Prevent a Relapse?

One of the goals of addiction treatment is to prevent future relapses once you have regained control over your behavior. For this, it is necessary to develop specific skills to prevent relapse, in the event that it has occurred. Furthermore, it also implies a general change in the patient’s lifestyle. The aim is to identify the risk situations that can cause a relapse, learn appropriate responses to face these situations, and modify the cognitive distortions on their ability to control addictive behaviors. On the other hand, it is advisable to modify expectations about the consequences of addictive behavior and act on the mechanisms of self-deception. 


Finally, when facing a longer-term process, it is good to carry out a series of actions, mainly, to avoid the craving for addictive behavior. It is also necessary to solve specific problems such as anxiety or depression and introduce changes in lifestyle. With this, it is recommended that the patient obtain other sources of gratification alternative to the addictive behavior. It is best to seek affordable substance abuse treatment where relapse prevention is part of the process.