Preventing Relapse

Kicking a habit–whether smoking, overeating, alcohol, or drugs–is no easy matter. And maintaining the new lifestyle can be challenging, too. Sooner or later many people succumb to temptation and have a slip (e.g., an extra dessert or a cigarette) or a full-blown relapse. In fact, many people need to “quit” several times before they change for good. Often, the same change strategies that worked initially are effective at getting back on track the second time around.

An even better approach, however, is to be aware of “red flags” or warning signs, and to utilize strategies that can prevent relapse in the first place. The following are just a few strategies for preventing relapse:

  • Be realistic. Recognize that it won’t always be smooth sailing.
  • If you have pleasant recollections of the old behavior, remind yourself also of the consequences of the behavior and the reasons you had for changing.
  • Watch out for doubts (“Is this really worth it?”) and resentment (“Why do I have to deprive myself when others don’t?”). Remember what you’re gaining through your efforts.
  • Be aware of situations (including people, places, and things) that could “trigger” a relapse. Put some distance between yourself and temptation.
  • The cravings will pass eventually, but you’ll be able to cope more easily if you distract yourself in the meantime. Keep busy!
  • Talk with someone supportive (e.g., friend, support group member, or counselor) who can help you keep things in perspective.
  • Be alert for signs of hunger, fatigue, stress, and boredom, as they can make you more vulnerable to relapse. Find enjoyable activities to keep you occupied.
  • Anger and conflict can also set the stage for relapse. You may need to develop new communication and anger management skills.
  • Even celebrations and happy events can be risky if you’re not prepared. The key is to anticipate challenging situations and have strategies available for when they occur.
  • Remind yourself of past successes–habits you’ve changed or goals you’ve achieved.