Explaining the Relapse Prevention Model for Alcoholism

relapse prevention method

Day 342. John hadn’t touched a drop in almost a year. Then his cousin came to visit. In the past, John always drank and frequented local bars with his cousin. And that trigger was too much. Before he knew it, John had a beer in his hand.

John’s story isn’t unique. Between 40 and 60 percent of people with an alcohol use disorder relapse within a year of treatment. In fact, it’s so common that it’s generally accepted as a part of the recovery process — if you have a substance use disorder, it’s likely you’ll return to use. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost or that your journey toward recovery has ended.

On the contrary, it simply means you need some new strategies to avoid future relapses. And this is where the Relapse Prevention Model comes in.

What Is the Relapse Prevention Model?

relapse counselingThis model is based on a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach. Now, that may sound complex and intimidating, but it’s really straightforward. Let’s break it down. Cognitive refers to thinking. And behavioral refers to what you do. So, this therapy focuses on changing the way you think and the way you act and react. The goal is for your thoughts and actions to lead you away from substance use rather than towards it.

Some common CBT treatment strategies include:

  • Learning to recognize any distorted or negative thinking patterns
  • Developing greater confidence in your abilities
  • Learning how to use problem-solving skills to cope with challenges
  • Facing fears instead of avoiding them
  • Learning how to calm and relax your body
  • Using role-play to prepare for difficult personal interactions or triggering situations.

CBT usually starts by identifying situations that are likely to lead to relapse. These could be external circumstances (John’s cousin comes for a visit) or internal (John feels lonely and tells himself that drinking will help fill that void). Then, you work with the therapist to develop strategies that target those high-risk situations.

Part of this strategy development might involve “homework” or “practice.” You may be asked to journal your thoughts or put into practice strategies you’ve discuss (like turning down a drink at a social gathering).

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The Importance of Motivation in Relapse Prevention Model

Another aspect of this model is motivation. Relapse prevention treatment is founded on the assumption that the patient is motivated to reduce their drinking. So, therapists often use motivational interviewing (MI) or motivational enhancement therapy (MET) as part of the treatment.

Motivational interviewing is a conversational approach that helps you discover and strengthen your interest in making change in your life. It helps you express your desire for change, look at any uncertainties you have about change, and make a plan to begin the process of change.

Through these conversations, you work to strengthen your commitment to change and enhance your confidence in taking action to make changes.

Motivational enhancement therapy is a counseling approach that uses motivational interviewing and helps you resolve uncertainties about treatment and stopping alcohol use. It combines MI, personal assessments, and goal setting. The goal is to inspire internal motivation for change.

What the Method Isn’t

Unlike some therapy methods, the Relapse Prevention Model doesn’t focus on the past. The emphasis is on what’s happening now and moving forward. This may require some acknowledgement of what has happened in the past and an awareness of patterns, but this isn’t the main focus. Rather than dwell on yesterday, the Relapse Prevention Model focuses on developing effective ways to cope with today and tomorrow.

Why the Method Works

relapseUsing these strategies helps you solve problems and face challenges without alcohol use. And as you have more and more successes with these methods, your confidence increases, which makes you more likely to succeed again. The result: your thinking, emotions, and behavior begin to change. You effectively learn how to cope with situations that could lead to relapse, and you’re able to prevent it.

The Relapse Prevention Model is considered one of the most important techniques in substance use disorder treatment. First introduced in the 1980s by Alan Marlatt, it remains one of the most widely practiced methods in the field of recovery.

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