Important Differences Between Standard CBT and DBT
August 17, 2021
The Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law: Overdose Prevention
September 2, 2021
Show all

9 Tips for Building a Good Relapse Prevention Plan

Black african man on orange background hugging himself love self care concept

While the effectiveness of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment has made leaps and bounds over the decades, relapse prevention remains a blind spot in many recovery plans. A lot of this has to do with the complexity of SUD as a disease and the length of most SUD rehab programs.

Ideally, rehab programs should last around at least 3 months, given that this National Institute on Drug Abuse says is the minimum time needed for any positive outcome.1

In practice, however, programs do not typically meet this duration. Even in cases where a patient is able to participate in programs significantly longer than 3 months, chances are they will need several more months or even years to fully recover from their SUD.

In practical terms, this means that much of the responsibility for a patient’s recovery lies with them. For this reason, building an effective relapse plan will become essential for helping retain any gains made during rehab.

Below we’ll explore the principles that predict successful relapse prevention strategies. If you need help with SUD, call our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers to discuss your options.

The Five Rules of Recovery

People can and have achieved full recovery from SUD through radically different paths. In 2015, a paper on the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine titled Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery outlined what these strategies had in common that allowed them to succeed.

These “Five Rules of Recovery”, as laid out in the paper, are as follows:2

  1. Change your life (recovery involves creating a new life where it is easier to not use).
  2. Be completely honest.
  3. Ask for help.
  4. Practice self-care.
  5. Don’t bend the rules.

Regardless of the ideological approach of a strategy, individuals that kept to these rules tended to have better success at achieving a successful recovery, according to the paper’s author.

9 Ideas for Building an Effective Personalized Relapse Prevention Plan

The paper further outlined some ideas that maximized the success of relapse prevention plans. Some of the ideas you could include in your own plan include the following:

1.) Learn As Much As You Can About SUD

SUD can have a variety of psychological, physical, and even social causes. Learning as much as you can about how this disease manifests and affects you or a loved one can be key to finding personalized strategies that will help recovery.

2.) Understand That Relapse Does Not Mean Failure

Contrary to popular belief, a relapse does not necessarily signal the end of the recovery process. In severe cases, some relapses may even be expected. This does not mean that you should stop trying to get better.

3.) Redefine “Fun”

People who have been misusing substances for a long time will tend to associate these with a good time. This often means that recovering individuals need to find other things that they consider to be fun. Wholesome hobbies and other activities that don’t involve substance misuse can help give you something to look forward to after rehab.

4.) Practice Self-care

Self-care routines can bring a helpful structure into your life that may have been missing when you were misusing substances. The idea of self-care goes well beyond practicing basic hygiene and also goes into regular activities that promote physical and mental health. Keeping yourself in good shape will help improve resiliency, which can ultimately help relapse prevention.

5.) Develop Cravings Coping Skills

Everyone who finishes rehab will eventually run into cravings. These can affect each person differently, and it’s good to have a few techniques and tricks to fall back on when they strike. Like any skill, mastering cravings coping techniques usually takes time and effort. Be sure to talk to your therapist to learn about coping techniques that might work for you.

6.) Avoid Friends Who Are Bad Influences

Old friends who are still misusing substances should be avoided or let go if they’re not interested in recovering themselves. Of course, if they’re interested in recovery, you may consider revisiting your relationship.

7.) Attend Support Groups Regularly

Regularly attending support groups can help stave off feelings of isolation that often lead to a relapse. Helping others in these groups can also help you regain any confidence you may have lost during the recovery process.

8.) Repair Relationships When Possible

Renewing relationships that were destroyed because of SUD can help you reaffirm your commitment to recovery. Though reconciliation is not always possible or practical, many people may even find that the relationships they do mend tend to become stronger than they were before.

9.) Use Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy is highly effective at reducing relapse risks and improving long-term recovery outcomes. If you did not receive cognitive therapy during your time in rehab, it’s important to get in touch with a qualified therapist to help with your continued recovery.


Find Better Recovery Options Today

Boston Drug Treatment Centers gives you access to programs that look beyond immediate treatment and emphasize long-term recovery success. Get in touch with our team now to learn more.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 3). How long does drug addiction treatment usually last?.


  1. Melemis, S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of RecoveryThe Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine88(3), 325.

How It Works

For those seeking addiction treatment for themselves or a loved one, our calls are confidential and are available for 24/7 help.

Calls from your area will be answered by Legacy Healing Center, and network of treatment centers who can be found here

We are available 24/7 to discuss your treatment options. Our representatives work for a treatment center and will discuss whether their facility may be an option for you.

These calls are offered at no cost to you and with no obligation to enter into treatment. Neither this site nor anyone who answers the call receives a commission or fee dependent upon which treatment provider a visitor may ultimately choose.

If you wish to explore additional treatment options or connect with a specific rehab center, you can: browse top-rated listings, visit our homepage, or visit SAMHSA, at, or by calling 800-662-HELP. You may also contact The Florida Department of Children and Family Services at