SMART Relapse Prevention

by Alex, Recovery Coach

Relaspse Prevention 1
In SMART Recovery, we often talk about changing behaviors that are unhealthy and abstaining from the use of drugs or the behaviors that we would like to stop engaging in. What we should also talk about is the possibility of relapse.

Because we’re human, relapses will happen; it is part of the recovery process.

Relapse is also preventable if we can recognize the signs in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Relaspse Prevention 2

Relapse is not an event, it is a process. There are three stages of relapse:

  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Physical

Emotional Relapse

In this stage, you may not be actively thinking about using, but your emotions and behaviors might be creating a situation where relapse is imminent.

The signs of emotional relapse are:
• Anxiety
• Anger
• Defensiveness
• Mood swings
• Isolation
• Not asking for help
• Poor eating and sleep habits

If you are aware enough to recognize these symptoms, you can modify your behavior to cut relapse off at the pass. The most important thing do at this stage is to take care of yourself. Think about why you feel the urge to use: you want to escape real life, you want to reward yourself after a hard day, you’re tired… When you recognize these reasons, you want to put something positive in its place. If you have poor eating habits or poor sleeping habits, you’ll be tired and want to use or act out the behavior that’s not good for you. If you are feeling anxious and don’t practice self-relaxation techniques, you are on a one way trip to feeling uncomfortable and one step closer to using.

When you practice self-care, you can avoid these feelings and stay on track in your recovery.

Relaspse Prevention 5

Mental Relapse

In this stage, your thoughts have turned against you. There is a part of you that wants to use or engage in the unsafe behavior, while there is another part of you that doesn’t. In the beginning phase of this stage, they’re only idle thoughts, but in the later phase, you’re certainly thinking about using.

The signs of mental relapse:
• Thinking about the people and places where you used to use with
• Glamorizing your past experiences when you used
• Lying
• Hanging out with the people you used with
• Fantasizing about using
• Thinking about relapsing
• Planning on how you are going to relapse
• Adjusting your schedule to obtain the substance

At this point it gets harder to resist the urge to use as the need gets stronger.
If you are able to identify these thoughts, think back to your past experiences, the good and the bad.

One tends to remember the good times more than the bad, but be honest with yourself and think about all of the negative consequences you went through when you used last time.

What happened? Did you think that you could use once and be done with it? The fantasy that they can use once has gotten many people neck deep in their addiction. Go through your last experiences and let that show you what lies before you if you go back to that behavior.

Ways to combat these urges:
Tell someone that you’re having urges. Call a friend, sponsor, or a peer in recovery.
Distract yourself. Take a walk or call a friend. Keep busy. You know what they say about idle hands.
Wait for 30 minutes. Most urges don’t last longer than 15 to 30 minutes. Keep yourself busy with something and you’ll probably forget about the urge for the moment.
Do your recovery one day at a time. Make goals throughout the day that you can achieve.
Make relaxation part of your recovery. This is important to do when you’re tense because it keeps you from doing what’s familiar and wrong and leads you to do something new and right.

Physical Relapse
This is the final stage. At this stage, if you’re thinking about using and haven’t used positive coping skills to address the thoughts, then relapse is sure to happen. Relaspse Prevention 3It’s hard to stop it once you’ve reached this far.

It’s important to know yourself well enough to recognize the early warning signs before you reach this point to successfully avoid relapse.


If relapse occurs, remember: It’s never too late to start over!

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