6 Relapse Prevention Techniques That Work

A man meditating in the forest.

6 Relapse Prevention Techniques That Work

Whether you are new to recovery or have been in recovery for a long time, cravings can hit, and hit hard. When you are caught off guard by an intense craving or one that lasts longer than usual, you need to have relapse prevention techniques to help you cope. Once a craving hits, it is too late to research and try to find something in the moment. You should be prepared by learning as many strategies and techniques as possible and practicing them so you are prepared when you need them. 

To help build a framework for relapse prevention, here are six techniques that work.

#1. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

This relapse prevention technique is based completely on prevention. It specifically prevents four of the main relapse triggers: hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. Learning to eat three meals per day, including snacks, and always having snacks on hand that will sustain you will help prevent hunger. Learning to manage your emotions and avoid being in situations that may trigger you can prevent you from becoming angry.

Finding sober friends, building and maintaining a sober network, and keeping a full schedule of activities will help prevent you from becoming lonely. Another way to prevent loneliness is to focus on gratitude or to look outside of yourself by giving service or volunteering. You can take steps to avoid becoming tired by practicing good sleep hygiene, especially by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on the weekend.

#2. Urge Surfing

Urge surfing stems from the idea that every craving or urge has a rise, a crest, and a fall, much like a wave. Knowing that every craving will eventually pass, the concept of urge surfing is to ride out the urge, much like a surfer would ride a wave. This can be a visualization of the craving, noticing the similarities between the urge and a wave as you simply wait it out, knowing that it will have a relatively short duration and that you have gotten through urges before, so you can ride this one out, too.

#3. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is useful in many ways, but as a coping strategy in relapse prevention, it can help you harness your mind’s powers to overcome a craving. During mindfulness meditation, you focus on something, typically your breathing, and then simply notice what is going on around you with acceptance, not judgment. In this case, you would notice the craving, without reacting or considering it to be positive or negative, simply noticing how it feels. In this way, you take away the emotional reaction and impulsive desire to act out and relapse, thus helping you to successfully overcome the craving.

#4. 5 Senses Grounding

The use of grounding techniques is helpful during cravings, as they allow you to get out of your head and back into your body. For the five senses grounding technique, you simply notice:

      1. Five things you can see
      2. Four things you can touch
      3. Three things you can hear
      4. Two things you can smell
      5. One thing you can taste

Using your senses will not only help ground you into your body but will also help to distract you from the craving at hand.

#5. Breathing Techniques

Focusing on your breathing can help take your focus away from a craving. There are various techniques, from simply taking deep breaths to specific breathing patterns, such as the 4-4-4 or 4-7-8 breathing techniques. For these techniques, you inhale through your nose for the first number of counts, hold your breath for the second number, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for the third count. These patterns have specific purposes but above all, will help you endure a craving successfully.

#6. Sensory Distraction

Sensory distraction techniques are exactly what they sound like: using your senses to distract from a craving. This can be using cold water, like a cold compress on your face, using aromatherapy and your sense of smell, or even using your sense of hearing by listening to loud music. Your senses will help you stay grounded in your body and not allow you to react emotionally to your cravings.

All of these techniques are about finding various techniques and practicing what works best for you. The more you practice which styles resonate best, the more prepared you will be when an actual craving hits. The more prepared you are, the less likely you will be to relapse. Practicing these strategies can help prevent a relapse when you need it most.