Relapse Prevention Therapy: How it Works

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Relapse Prevention Therapy How it Works

Drug and alcohol addiction is a complex condition that affects every part of your life. Addiction doesn’t just affect your body–it also changes how you think, feel, and behave. Recovering from addiction requires comprehensive treatment for your body, mind, and relationships.

One of the most critical aspects of addiction recovery is learning how to prevent relapse. Relapse prevention therapy is a fundamental part of many addiction treatment programs. This form of therapy can help people identify the causes of relapse and learn effective coping skills to prevent them.

This article will detail what to expect in relapse prevention therapy. You will learn:

  • What relapse prevention therapy teaches
  • How to use relapse prevention therapy in addiction treatment
  • Where to find addiction treatment and support

If you are one of the millions of people in the United States living with substance abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Effective treatment is available. Contact the Archstone Behavioral Health specialists now to learn about relapse prevention strategies or to explore our treatment programs.

What is Relapse Prevention Therapy?

Relapse prevention therapy is a form of therapy that helps people develop coping skills to avoid relapse in recovery. It uses some cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies to help people improve functioning and reduce harmful behaviors.[1] Twelve-month relapse rates from alcohol and other substances can be up to 80–95%, so relapse prevention is a key component of any recovery program.[2]

During therapy sessions with a trained mental health practitioner, people create practical relapse prevention plans that support long-term sobriety.

Here is an overview of what people focus on in a relapse prevention therapy program.


Triggers are places, people, events, and other situations that may cause cravings that lead to relapse. During therapy sessions, people work with a therapist to identify potential triggers. Then, they work to develop effective coping strategies to manage high-risk situations without relapsing.[3]

The costs and benefits of addiction

People must understand the complex roots of their substance use disorder (SUD) so that they can change their behaviors and stay sober. During a relapse prevention therapy program, people examine their motivation for a healthy, sober lifestyle.

To understand why they use drugs or alcohol, people must understand the pros and cons of their substance use. They may identify ways their substance use seemed helpful, such as managing challenging emotions. Then, they learn new strategies to approach challenges while remaining sober.

Staying grounded

People living with addiction may hold onto certain myths about recovery. They may believe their problems will disappear once they get sober. They may think that recovery ends when detox is complete.

It is important to identify these myths and get rid of them. During relapse prevention therapy sessions, people will work to develop a more realistic picture of what sustained recovery will be like. Then, they can identify areas where they may need more skills or support.

New skills

Identifying triggers is important–but what happens when someone simply can’t avoid them? Relapse prevention therapy prepares people for real-life situations that can test them. People learn healthy strategies to cope with uncomfortable emotions, including:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness
  • Calling a sponsor
  • Finding a healthy distraction
  • Bringing a sober buddy or family member to events

These and other practical skills can help people maintain sobriety for life, even when faced with triggering situations.

Learning about relapse

Relapses typically happen in stages. People may first experience an emotional relapse, which can include isolation, missing meetings, and other destructive behaviors.

Then, people may have a mental relapse. A mental relapse includes rationalizing or fantasizing about substance use. Finally, people may have a physical relapse where they use substances again.

During relapse prevention therapy, people learn to recognize the signs of a relapse and find the support they need to stop it in its tracks.

Even with support and treatment, relapses are common. Research shows that most people with addiction experience at least one relapse during recovery.

Relapse prevention therapy helps people understand that a relapse is not the end of the road. It provides insights and strategies to help people get back on track after a relapse.

Creating healthy routines

Recovering from addiction often means developing new routines. During relapse prevention therapy sessions, people create routines and habits that allow for work, rest, socialization, and recovery-related activities like behavioral health treatment and support groups.

Relapse Prevention Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Relapse prevention therapy can be beneficial in an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting. Alongside other evidence-based treatments, this form of therapy can help people develop critical coping skills that support lifelong recovery from addiction.

People may participate in relapse prevention therapy sessions during a treatment program and continue as part of an aftercare plan. People may also attend treatment sessions on an individual basis at any stage of their recovery journey.

Find Support Now

If you or someone you love struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Contact the Archstone Behavioral Health specialists now to explore our holistic treatment programs or to schedule an intake evaluation.


  1. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Addiction Relapse Prevention
  2. BMC Springer Nature: Relapse prevention for addictive behaviors
  3. NIH: Relapse Prevention