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Relapse Prevention - Not Just for Alcoholics

Relapse prevention is one of the most important aspects of addiction treatment. Most newly-recovering patients are so confident that they will never use again that they don't always take it seriously. It's often not until after they relapse that they see the signs in retrospect.

Terence T. Gorski is a leading addictions expert. On his Web site, he lists a comprehensive, 9-step relapse prevention program. One of the key elements is "warning sign management," which is a list a patient makes of his/her particular warning signs and a strategy to address them.

I don't believe we should limit relapse prevention to addiction. I work with all kinds of patients, especially this time of year, on how to manage their symptoms so they don't relapse. For instance, with a hectic schedule, some depressed patients forget to take their medication. Couples who are trying out new, healthier behaviors often "throw out the rule book" while focusing on their holiday plans. People who have problematic eating issues are often tempted to forgo their treatment plans when presented with so many unhealthy food options.

Earlier this month, I posted an old AA-based, relapse tool, HALT. It's a reminder not to get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired over the holidays. The following is kind of an addendum to HALT.

1. Identify your "triggers." Are yours crowds or unfamiliar social situations? Being in places with your credit cards where you will overspend? Watching your baby sister play out her princess role yet again?

2. Write down your triggers and how you will address them. Having a very specific plan for each of your triggers will re-direct you to the thinking/logical response instead of the emotional/reactive response.

3. If at all possible, Avoid. Try to avoid the triggers on your list if possible.

4. Use your support systems. Wrestling with your "demons" alone is tough. Make a list of people who you can call or visit when you feel "unsafe" and tempted to ignore your relapse prevention plan.

Now, go work on your own plan.

Nancy L

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