Relapse prevention is a systematic method of teaching recovering patients to recognize and manage relapse warning signs. Relapse prevention becomes the primary focus for patients who are unable to maintain abstinence from alcohol or drugs despite primary treatment.

Recovery and relapse can be described as related processes that unfold in six stages:

  • Abstaining from alcohol and other drugs
  • Separating from people, places, and things that promote the use of alcohol or drugs, and establishing a social network that supports recovery
  • Stopping self-defeating behaviors that prevent awareness of painful feelings and irrational thoughts
  • Learning how to manage feelings and emotions responsibly without resorting to compulsive behavior or the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Learning to change addictive thinking patterns that create painful feelings and self-defeating behaviors
  • Identifying and changing the mistaken core beliefs about oneself, others, and the world that promote irrational thinking.

When people who have had a stable recovery and have done well begin to relapse, they simply reverse this process. In other words, they:

  • Have a mistaken belief that causes irrational thoughts
  • Begin to return to addictive thinking patterns that cause painful feelings
  • Engage in compulsive, self-defeating behaviors as a way to avoid the feelings
  • Seek out situations involving people who use alcohol and drugs
  • Find themselves in more pain, thinking less rationally, and behaving less responsibly
  • Find themselves in a situation in which drug or alcohol use seems like a logical escape from their pain, and they use alcohol or drugs.