Maintaining Abstinence and Preventing Relapse

The Third Stage of Rehab is Maintaining Abstinence

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Developing a Drug-Free Lifestyle. © Getty Images

If you sought professional treatment for your drug or alcohol problem and managed to achieve abstinence for about three months, you have probably entered the third stage of rehab or recovery, known as maintaining abstinence.

If you have been clean and sober for 90 days, you now need to put the tools that you learned in early abstinence to work toward maintaining your sobriety and avoiding relapse. Maintaining abstinence is the third of four stages of recovery or rehab defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  1. Treatment initiation
  2. Early abstinence
  3. Maintenance of abstinence
  4. Advanced recovery

Continuing the Lifestyle

After 90 days, you are probably no longer in the residential rehab facility, if you received inpatient treatment, and you have entered the follow-up or continuing phase of your rehab. Although you still have regular contact with your counselor and attend support group meetings, maintaining your recovery is basically up to you.

In order to maintain abstinence, it is important that you:

  • Avoid environmental triggers.
  • Recognize your own psychosocial and emotional triggers.
  • Develop healthy behaviors to handle life's stresses.

Vigilance Against Relapse

People get in trouble when they let their guard down after their early-abstinence success. It is important that you not take your sobriety for granted and that you recognize the power of your addiction. Maintaining a recovery-oriented attitude is critical.

It is also important that you continue your counseling sessions, your participation in support groups, and that you remain honest with yourself and others about your feelings and thoughts.

Changes in attitudes, feelings, and behaviors can quickly lead you to a relapse.

Recognizing the Relapse Process

A relapse does not begin when you pick up a drink or a drug. It's a gradual process marked by negative changes in your attitude, feelings, and behaviors. Your follow-up counselor will work with you to help you recognize these warning signs and develop a plan to change directions when you start heading down the path toward relapse.

Research has shown that an alcohol or drug relapse is preceded by a recognizable set of warning signs or steps that you can learn to recognize and therefore avoid. Your counselor will help you recognize in your own life the distinct steps or phases that occur prior to a full-blown relapse.​

Developing a Healthy Plan

If you remain in professional follow-up rehab counseling, your counselor will try to help you identify situations in your life where you may be starting to deviate from your healthy recovery plan. But more importantly, they will help you set up concrete, behavioral changes that will pull you out of the relapse process.

Some of the areas your continuing care counseling will address include the following. Each of these articles outlines why these steps are important to your recovery and how you can achieve these goals:

If you find yourself in the downward relapse spiral, do something different! Go to more support group meetings, spend time with others who support your recovery, maintain a healthy structure in your life, make sure you are in a drug-free environment, and avoid external triggers. Take positive action to resolve any relationship, personal or work-related problems that are causing you stress.

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By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.