Relapse Prevention Strategies For Addicts In Early Recovery

The Recovered On Purpose Relapse Prevention Plan | Adam Vibe Gunton

The author of Relapse Prevention Strategies For Addicts In Early Recovery at his desk writing in his journal

Substance abuse and overdose has become one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Adolescents curious about drugs or alcohol are in high risk situations at levels we have never seen; causing the adolescent overdose rate to double for the first time in history from 2020 to 2021.

Of those who seek treatment through addiction medicine and inpatient programs, 85% relapse within the first year. This blog post was written by me, a recovered addict, outlining a few relapse prevention techniques that have allowed me to remain in a position of neutrality to drugs and alcohol since the obsession left in December 2017.

I hope to become a part of your support system in your recovery, help improve treatment outcomes, and prevent relapse together.


Click Here For The Free Relapse Prevention Worksheet


Common Misconceptions About Substance Abuse Relapse

The “Chronic Relapser”

I was called a “chronic relasper” for most my active addiction. I was in and out of different fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous, group therapy sessions and professional treatment applications, but I could never get together 30 days without drugs or alcohol. Well, I did pick up my 60 day chip once, but that was before I learned you couldn’t drink or smoke weed on the weekends and holidays.

It wasn’t until I found a recovery process through Christ and working a 12 step program that I found out a relapse is only a relapse if someone has abstained for over 30 days. I have never actually relapsed. Part of my own relapse prevention is holding on to this message with a strong purpose.


Fighting Relapse Triggers The Rest Of Your Life

Many mental health professionals on substance use disorders will do entire therapy sessions based on finding your relapse triggers for you to know, acknowledge, and avoid for the rest of your life. I can tell you as a recovered addict who had drug abuse and alcohol addiction, my eyes being opened in the morning was a relapse trigger!

I have been placed in a position of neutrality to drugs and alcohol. I can see it without wanting it. I can go through hard times without considering drug or alcohol use. And I can be in so called high risk situations without risk of relapse as long as I have a purpose to be there.

I was speaking at a mastermind in Medellin, Colombia about my story, my book, and Recovered On Purpose. We had rented a mansion on a mountain and there were about 50 attendees and 5 of us speakers. Afterwards, there was a big party – Colombian style. Let’s just say it was one of those relapse prevention professionals’ “high risk situations”.

With hundreds of party goers now around, drugs and alcohol everywhere, and not feeling a clear purpose for my being there, I began to step over to say goodbye. Just then, one of the attendees from the mastermind pulled me aside privately and told me he can’t eat breakfast without drinking a pint of whiskey first, he doesn’t know what to do, and he doesn’t have anyone to go to.

What would happen to this young man if I weren’t practicing my own relapse prevention techniques of being out there promoting recovery? My support system includes people who are not in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and sometimes this puts me in the perfect place to be for someone who needs to be.


Relapse prevention is vital part of addiction recovery needed for long term success

Relapse Is Part Of Recovery

Addiction medicine and the American Addiction Centers outlines the “stages of addiction” as follows:
  1. Initial Use
  2. Abuse
  3. Tolerance
  4. Dependence
  5. Addiction
  6. Relapse
The stages of recovery from addiction treatment professionals and psychiatric clinics are outlined as follows:
  1. Precontemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance

I don’t know who originally began watering down messages from different fellowships, treatment modalities and centers, or why so many people allow it to continue to be passed around support groups like alcoholics anonymous, but relapse is part of addiction not recovery. Continued work on self improvement, helping others, and connecting with The Divine is how you permanently maintain recovery.

Click Here For The Free Relapse Prevention Worksheet


Early Warning Signs You Or Family Members Are Headed For Relapse


The Three Stages Of Relapse

  1. Emotional Relapse
  2. Mental Relapse
  3. Physical Relapse


Warning Signs Of Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse occurs when someone in recovery begins to have negative feelings and negative emotions but has not yet begun thinking about relapse. They may be isolating by avoiding their normal self help groups like alcoholics anonymous and not reaching out to their support network. They may also stop following their healthy diet and exercise routine.

If you notice these signs in a loved one, offer emotional support by sitting with them and asking what is really going on in their life. You don’t need to bring relapse prevention techniques to the conversation, because your sitting and being with them will help prevent relapse.


Warning Signs Of Mental Relapse

Mental relapse occurs when an individual in recovery from substance abuse is battling thoughts in their mind of whether or not they want to begin drug or alcohol use again. They have already passed the emotional relapse stage and are beginning to make plans and fantasize about using. This stage is the most dangerous of substance use disorders not in active addiction. Without immediate intervention on these negative thoughts from support groups, loved ones, or a sponsor, there is little hope they will avoid relapse.

Substance abuse disorder is a mental illness addicts and alcoholics struggle with when they do not have the drugs or alcohol in their body. We must develop and practice healthy coping strategies involving everything from the list in the next section to avoid getting to this stage of relapse prevention.


Warning Signs Of Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is when an individual begins to physically use drugs or alcohol again. Some addiction professionals and researchers divide first use into what’s called a “lapse” and “relapse” as being the threshold crossed when they have lost complete control of their drinking or drugging.

Personally, I look at them the same in this context. If someone has gone through the relapse process and has put substances in their body, they need immediate help from treatment professionals or their support network.

If you suspect your loved one has begun a physical drug or alcohol relapse, sit them down and ask them point blank. If they say they haven’t, don’t be afraid to whip out a urinalysis test. Someone who hasn’t relapsed gets excited for the cup. Someone who has, will fight it.

If they have physically relapsed, be supportive in your role and ask if this is the route they want to go down or if they want help stopping it immediately. You can offer things like family therapy, professional treatment, and emotional support. Silence will only make the situation worse and you may be their mirror into the situation.


High Risk Situations To Avoid For Relapse Prevention

I am one who believes we can go anywhere in our recovery from substance use as long as we have a real purpose to be there. I have many members in my support system who happen to still drink alcohol and even recreationally use drugs. I can’t recreationally use anything. I tried recreationally smoking crack once. That run lasted a few months and took everything I had.

With that in mind, here is a list to avoid unless you have a real reason to be there:

  • Anywhere where there is active substance use happening
  • Bars with the excuse you are playing pool
  • “Out with friends” who are planning to drink and not taking your exit plan of a car
  • Behavioral health concerns like gambling can easily trigger substance use


Healthy Coping Skills For Life In Addiction Recovery

Hobbies You Enjoy

Hobbies are an excellent way to manage stress, build a healthy lifestyle, and enhance outcomes in a relapse prevention plan. Hobbies are also a great way to build your support network and avoid high risk situations you used to spend your time at.

Some great hobby ideas include:

  • Recreational sports (if you don’t play pickleball yet, what are you even doing with your life?!)
  • Book clubs
  • Artists in recovery groups
  • Hiking
  • Writing/Blogging


Self Help Groups & Your Support Network

12-step fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are not only a great place to learn a recovery program and relapse prevention tools, but is also a great place to build your support network of other people in recovery with the same relative recovery time as you, as well as support groups of men and women in recovery with much more time than you.

Other places to build your support network include:

  • Churches
  • Group exercise classes
  • Book clubs
  • Networking events (recovery and non-recovery related)
  • Family


Therapy Sessions

Therapy is one of the most widely used terms for relapse prevention strategies, but the word has so many negative connotations on it, I want to help redefine it for you now. Relapse prevention therapy does not need to be in a professional treatment environment to give you effective coping strategies or mental and emotional support.

Like NF’s song Therapy Session, your therapy sessions can be whatever helps you in managing stress, avoid your common triggers, and prevent relapse.

Some non-traditional therapy sessions I have on an ongoing basis include:

  • Time playing with and loving on my dog or going to the dog park
  • Spending time with family members
  • Going to the gym and hitting the weights like they owe me money
  • Mastermind calls every Thursday with some of my support system
  • Meeting one-on-one with my sponsor, mentors, and pastor



In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science On Exercise and The Brain Dr. John Ratey beautifully describes the mental health benefits of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise. Getting up to 70-80% of your max heartrate 4-5 times per week has been proven to be one of the best coping strategies for a relapse prevention plan.

Relapse prevention is about creating the life you love away from the substance abuse. Relapse triggers are everywhere if you are looking for them, but if you are focused on improving your mental health by developing coping strategies like an aerobic exercise routine, those common triggers will be in your blind spots as you continue your recovery process.

Some great aerobic exercises include:

  • Boxing classes
  • Group CrossFit classes
  • Incline treadmill walking (with or without Netflix on your phone 😉
  • Pickleball (I feel like I already mentioned this. Do pickleball… PICKLEBALL)
  • Swimming or water group classes
Exercise groups become part of your support system in recovery

There is a great recovery nonprofit called Phoenix MultiSport you should look into for classes in your area or even online classes through their app. It is free to you as long as you just have 48 hours of recovery.


Click Here For The Free Relapse Prevention Worksheet


Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention Practices


Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation can play a valuable role in relapse prevention, helping maintain focus on the present moment and avoid those scary external triggers. This is one of the relapse prevention skills that should be talked about and worked on more than it is in our community.

Mindfulness based relapse prevention practices foster heightened awareness of feelings, thoughts, and sensations, enabling you to listen to internal or external cues your body is giving you of its needs. Meditation is one of the best coping skills to turn into practice for your relapse prevention plan.

Substance use disorder is a disease centering in the mind that, if not managed with mindfulness based stress reduction in early recovery, can dramatically increase the risk factors of relapse or (just as bad or worse) steadily decrease your mental health in recovery until you can’t find joy an happiness.

I made a Guided Meditation For Relapse Prevention on YouTube I hope you will begin using if you are ever feeling the common negative affect in recovery we all need to take a break from.


Deep breathing for mindfulness health practices in addiction recovery

Deep Breathing

There are many forms of deep breathing exercises that are excellent for not only mindfulness based relapse prevention and substance abuse, but are great for anyone trying to develop coping skills, manage stress, and even connect with The Divine.

A great way to manage stress each day is having a deep breathing exercise first thing in the morning as part of your relapse prevention plan. Before leaving your bed, sit on the side of it with your feet planted and take 5-10 deep breaths, in through the nose as deep as you can, hold for 5 seconds, and out through your mouth with an exhale until your lungs are completely empty.

Doing this before checking social media, emails or text messages, will dramatically improve your mental health conditions for the entire day. This gives space for God to show up and speak with you in the morning before all the external cues start hitting you for all the things you need to think about today.

Some great deep breathing techniques or people to follow include:


Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are a great tool when practiced correctly within your relapse prevention plan. These statements are to rewire the brain’s thinking about yourself to improve your mental health conditions. As I wrote above, substance dependence and alcohol use disorders are a disease centering in the mind when we are sober.

Along with working a program to get out of self, you can do a practice of Positive Affirmations For Addicts In Recovery like this video I made for you to help avoid relapse.

There are also over 100 positive affirmations for addicts in recovery in the Free Relapse Prevention Worksheet I created with the Recovered On Purpose principles to prevent relapse in your recovery from substance abuse.


Journaling at my desk in my addiction recovery as a relapse prevention technique
Journaling all the thoughts to keep my mental health game strong


Journaling is one of the best coping skills I have personally created as a habit coupling as one of my own relapse prevention techniques. You know, I truly believe that I have recovered once and for all from this thing called addiction, and I fully believe everyone in recovery can drastically reduce their risk of relapse by focusing on a few key points in daily journaling.

  • What are you grateful for?
    Writing three things you are grateful for every morning in a journal has been scientifically proven to rewire the brain to look for things you are grateful for throughout your day instead of what you have to do to avoid relapse.
  • What are three amazing things that happened today?
    In the evening, I write three amazing things that happened that day and it has also been proven to rewire the brain to help you accomplish things and look for the wins in life.
  • Jotting down your thoughts
    I have a section in my journal in the morning and evening for just writing my thoughts from the day or from the night of sleep. Getting these out in the morning is great for stress reduction to prevent relapse and to clear your head for God to show up. Getting your thoughts out at night will help you recognize any early warning signs you may have of negative thoughts coming up and is one of my favorite relapse prevention techniques.

These prompts for journaling can be found in the Free Relapse Prevention Worksheet.



The most important of all the relapse prevention techniques we talk about is connection with God through prayer. I personally only went to addiction treatment on an outpatient basis and really relied on my support systems at church and certain self help groups. The problem was, those never gave me the needed Power to recover and without it, you risk of relapse is basically 100%.

When Jesus visited me Face-to-face at iHOP in November 2017, all the relapse prevention techniques I had learned from addiction medicine, my support system, and my relapse prevention classes all came together in a second when I saw His Face. The moment was quick, less than a second, but it felt like an eternity. In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it talks about not resting on our laurels for the spiritual experiences or work we put in in the past. That is something I have taken to heart.

Even though I had that intense spiritual awakening, I had to continue developing coping skills and relapse prevention techniques because I never wanted to use drugs or alcohol again.

Prayer is as simple as getting on your knees and saying, ‘Hey, God. I want to get to know You and just wanted to say thank You for my recovery.” When leaving bed or getting in bed, put your shoes under the bed so you need to get on your knees to retrieve them. That will help you remember to always pray morning and night.


Click Here For The Free Relapse Prevention Worksheet


Healthy Diet Tips To Keep You From Craving Drugs Or Alcohol


Food That Speaks To Your Body

Did you know living a healthy lifestyle is as simple as listening to your food? There are so many interesting things food tell us by the way God created them.

For example, when you think of walnuts, what do you think they are good for? I’ll give you a hint, God tells us what they are good for by the way they look:

Walnuts are good for the brain and mental health
Walnuts look like a skull popped open revealing the brains that they are good for to improve mental health

That’s right, walnuts and other nuts have the most benefit for your brain! When you look at it like that, I guess the photo above could be graphic. Sorry.

When you think of a beet, what do you think it is good for?

Beets are good for the heart health and vein function
Beets look like a heart and arteries they are good for the healthy relapse prevention diet and blood health

Yep, the beet is great for your heart and arteries! Isn’t that crazy? Also, I hope you know that hearts actually look closer to the beets in that photo than they do to this <3 lol

How about celery? What would you guess celery is good for?

Celery is good for a healthy diet in addiction recovery for bone health
Celery is good for bone health and to keep focus on a healthy lifestyle

Not only is celery called a “rib” of celery, look like bones when stacked like this, but it has 23% sodium just like bones!

There are many ways to build a healthy diet into your relapse prevention plan that turns your relationship to food into one of your relapse prevention techniques taking your mind away from substance use and onto personal growth.

Alcohol dependent patients can also use fruits at high quantity to help with withdrawal from the natural sugars

Processed foods are loaded with sugar and not good for your healthy diet for relapse prevention

Cutting Out Processed Foods

What is processed food and why should you cut back or cut it out completely? Processed food is any food that is altered during the preparation process in order to make it last longer in storage, taste better, or become more convenient for us to prepare. Anything going in your microwave is likely processed.

There is a lot of data and science showing processed, easy to make foods in the US have been the cause of the steady increase in obesity, mental health issues, and chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Why does this matter for substance use and relapse prevention?

Our minds were trained in our addictions for the quick fix of 1, 2, 3, HIGH. We stopped caring about what the high risk situations and high risk substances we were putting in our bodies. A healthy diet was probably the last thing on our mind. I did shoot up chocolate once though. Well, twice. But only because I didn’t think the drug dealer really sold me chocolate. He did.

Healthy diet! Oh yea. A focus on a healthy diet is one of the relapse prevention techniques that is subtle in nature to its connection with drug abuse, but the whole point of this is taking our minds off our “substance use disorders” and focusing them on personal development in every area!

Fast food is not recommended at all in a healthy diet for relapse prevention
Some examples of fast food to stay away from in recovery

No Fast Food

I literally cannot remember the last time I went through a drive through fast food restaurant. Once I learned the business model from documentaries and studies, and learned their entire motive is speed and profit, with absolutely no thought of our health, I refused to support their wallets by taking time away from my life.

We need to go from a convenient mindset, to a growth mindset to prevent relapse. Anything that is not growing, is fading. Relapse prevention in our recovery is all about becoming the best versions of ourselves we can be to build a life we want to live!

Fast Food Restaurants Who Trade Profit For Your Life Expectancy

  • McDonald’s
  • Burger King
  • Taco Bell
  • Wendy’s

No More Energy Drinks & Fewer Sodas

Staying away from sugary energy drinks that lead us to relapse
These are not recommended in your healthy diet for your relapse prevention plan

Forget about the conspiracies about Monster having 666 in Hebrew as their logo…

Are they marketing to US with these Rehab Recover drinks?!

You ever been to a meeting at one of your support systems and seen the guy that always has the Monster Energy in his hand? Or the Red Bull? Red Bull… Red BULL… ReDDD Da BULL! I always think of Jim Carrey when I say Red Bull.

The science is in, everyone knows it, including yourself… Energy drinks are horrible for us and soda ain’t doin’ much either! December 31st, 2019, I drank multiple energy drinks and sodas because I had decided I am done with them on January 1st. You know how we addicts do. I did not consider the risk factors of doing this, and wouldn’t ya know it? I had to get home, in writhing stomach pain, and things happened I will not write publicly about. I haven’t had a sip of either since.

Can you think of a time you drank so much water you thought there was a possibility your heart would explode and your stomach would collapse through your seat? Look, if you love soda and love energy drinks, I understand. I think it is important you know they are literally taking time off of your life and causing, instead of managing stress.


Studies On The Risk Factor Of Drinking High Sugar Energy Drinks:


Click Here For The Free Relapse Prevention Worksheet


As seen on

Relapse Prevention Worksheet