Find a Meeting Near You Phone icon 800-643-9618
Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers

Anatomy of a Relapse Prevention Plan for Alcohol Addiction

Not affiliated with AAWS, Inc visit

Get Help With Alcohol Addiction

Talk To Someone Now
Call toll free to:
  • Find meetings near you
  • Discover online or in person meetings
  • Get 24 hour information on addiction
All calls are 100% confidential
Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers

The recovery process for alcohol addiction treatment is a lifelong journey with many ups and downs. You may feel like a relapse is a failure in recovery, but it is a normal part of the process. However, having a relapse prevention plan can help reduce the risk of relapse but also guide you in the event that you return to drinking alcohol.
In this article:

What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

When you decide to stop drinking alcohol, your cravings for it do not disappear. Various things, places, and people can become triggers that lead to cravings and potentially a relapse in drinking alcohol again. A relapse prevention plan is a written document that you create with your treatment team to prepare for how you respond when those triggers arise.

Why is a Plan Important?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition much like asthma or hypertension. In fact, the relapse rate for substance use is around 40-60%, which is similar to the relapse rates of both asthma and hypertension.1

Relapse can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly. After you have been sober for a period, your body becomes less tolerant of alcohol. If you return to drinking and have as much as you did before detox, you could drink too much and experience negative effects.1

Relapse is not something that happens in one moment or even one day; it’s a gradual process that can take place over time. The three stages of relapse include:2

  • Emotional relapse, which includes bottling your feelings and not taking care of yourself or expressing needs to others
  • Mental relapse where you begin craving alcohol, think about drinking again, and minimize the consequences of drinking
  • Physical relapse, when you actually start drinking again

Having a relapse prevention plan helps you understand the early signs of relapse and seek treatment sooner in the process.

When and How is a Plan Created?

A relapse prevention plan is created as a joint effort between you and your treatment team while you are still in recovery. This plan is created early in your recovery process and will be part of the ongoing discussions as you sort through what led you to drink and how to change your behaviors moving forward.

Each recovery center will have its own process for creating a plan. Usually, you will follow some sort of relapse prevention plan template and share it with others in your recovery group sessions.

There are various approaches to creating a relapse prevention plan, but one approach outlines nine basic principles that guide the process:3

  • Self-regulation: establishing physical, psychological, and social stabilization
  • Integration: using the technique of self-assessment
  • Understanding: gaining more knowledge about relapse
  • Self-knowledge: identifying your relapse warning signs
  • Coping skills: establishing a system of warning-sign management
  • Change: identifying recovery activities
  • Awareness: learning inventory training
  • Support: involving others in your recovery process
  • Maintenance: establishing a comprehensive follow-up plan

Call 800-839-1686 Toll Free. Privacy Guaranteed. No Commitment.

Help is standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers

What Does a Relapse Prevention Plan Template Look Like?

Each of the aforementioned nine principles has action steps that help you develop your relapse prevention plan in greater depth. These action steps are a template that you can follow in creating a plan that is tailored to your recovery journey.


This part of your plan focuses on the things you need to do to reach or maintain stabilization. Your treatment team will help you identify ways to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings and establish daily routines that include proper nutrition, exercise, engagement in ongoing treatment, and stress management.3


Your treatment team will also encourage you to take an assessment of your alcohol use history and the issues that led to your alcohol addiction. This is a key starting point in developing a plan to prevent you from repeating the past and engaging in alcohol use again.

Relapse Education

For you to be an active participant in preventing your own relapse, you need accurate information about what relapse is and how to spot it when it arises. Your treatment team should provide education on relapse that includes:3

  • A clear understanding of the chronic nature of alcohol addiction
  • Discussion around common “stuck points” in recovery
  • Factors that can complicate relapse
  • How to identify warning signs of relapse
  • Strategies for managing warning signs
  • Planning for recovery actions

Relapse Warning Signs

Once you identify some of your warning signs that a relapse is occurring, your treatment team will analyze this with you to create a final list that you can reference at other steps in your plan. Warning signs can be different for each person but may include:3,4

  • Mood changes
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Isolation or withdrawal from friends and family
  • Skipping treatment sessions or meetings
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits
  • Remembering times you drank alcohol fondly
  • Thinking about drinking alcohol

Warning Signs Management

Managing your warning signs can be broken up into three levels:3

  • Learning to change your situation or behavior that triggers warning signs
  • Learning to challenge your irrational thoughts and cope with unmanageable feelings that happen when a warning sign is present
  • Learning to identify the core issues that create the warning signs

Recovery Activities

This part of your relapse prevention plan is where you identify recovery activities that help you cope with warning signs of a relapse. Most treatment teams will recommend that you identify a recovery activity for each warning sign on your list.

Inventory Training

Taking inventory of your days helps you to monitor your recovery process and quickly identify the emergence of warning signs. One way to take inventory is to create a plan for each day in the morning and then review that plan in the evening to see how you adhered to it and where relapse warning signs showed up.


The recovery process is difficult, and going through it alone can make you more susceptible to relapse. That’s why part of a relapse prevention plan will include identifying family members, friends, 12-step programs, and mental health professionals that can support you through the process.


It is recommended you update your relapse prevention plan every month for the first three months of recovery, every quarter in the first year, twice a year for the next two years, and then yearly as an ongoing practice.3

How Do You Reduce the Risk of Relapse?

Besides creating a relapse prevention plan, you can take other steps to reduce the risk of a relapse. Some beneficial actions include:4

  • Learning how to maintain a positive outlook on your ability to remain sober
  • Separating yourself from people who you used to drink with
  • Avoiding places that might trigger an alcohol craving
  • Maintaining social connections and not isolating from others
  • Attending recovery support groups
  • Living in an area that does not have easy access to alcohol
  • Learning healthy coping mechanisms for stress

What Do You Do If You Have a Relapse?

If you have identified some early warning signs of a relapse or you have returned to drinking alcohol, it is not too late to get help. The first step is to stop drinking alcohol, though doing this could cause some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as:5

  • Anxiety, depression, or irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness, shakiness, or tremors
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Some of these symptoms could be life-threatening, so it is always safest to stop drinking while in the care of a medical professional. Medications can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and keep you safe while detoxing.

Relapse does not mean you have failed in your recovery. It is a sign that your treatment plan and relapse recovery plan need to be reviewed and adjusted to help you at your stage of recovery.

If you or someone you know has an alcohol addiction or is experiencing a relapse, call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers 24/7 to speak to a specialist about treatment options that are right for you.


Find A Meeting Today Phone icon 800-681-2956 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers