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Staying Sober: The Relapse Prevention Model of Addiction Recovery

Relapse Prevention is an extremely important aspect of addictions recovery.

This model (known as RP for short) was originally proposed by Marlett and Gordon and suggests the identification of high risk situations and the implementation of effective coping skills are key to maintaining sobriety.

  • High Risk Situations

A central concept of the RP model suggests that high-risk situations frequently serve as the immediate precipitators of initial alcohol or drug use after abstinence.

According to the model, once a behaviour change such as abstinence from drugs or alcohol has been made, a person should begin experiencing increased feelings of self-efficacy in terms of managing their behaviour.

Certain situations or events, however, can pose a threat to the person’s sense of control and, consequently, lead to a relapse.

These situations often include one or more of the following: negative emotions (such as anger, anxiety, depression or boredom), interpersonal conflict, direct or indirect social pressure to use drugs or alcohol, positive emotional states such as celebrations or exposure to alcohol or drug related cues such as seeing an advert for alcohol or hanging around in a place that is connected with drug use.

  • Effective Coping Skills 

Although the RP model considers the high-risk situation the immediate relapse trigger, it is actually the person’s response to the situation that determines whether he or she will experience a lapse. A person’s coping behaviour in a high-risk situation is a particularly critical determinant of the likely outcome. Thus, a person who can execute effective coping strategies (e.g., a behavioural strategy, such as leaving the situation, or a cognitive strategy, such as positive self-talk) is less likely to relapse compared with a person lacking those skills. Moreover, people who have coped successfully with high-risk situations are assumed to experience a heightened sense of self-efficacy, therefore making continued maintenance of sobriety significantly more likely.

In conclusion, Marlett and Gordon suggest that the more aware a person can become of their individual high-risk situations and the more effective strategies they master to cope with these risks the likelihood of relapse is significantly reduced.

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