Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Substance abuse and addiction are serious challenges in Florida.  When you or a loved one are facing the challenge of substance abuse, the immediate priority is finding treatment resources and figuring out how to access them.  These days, however, substance abuse treatment often focuses only on assisting the client to make a commitment to stop using.  This is a crucial and necessary first step, but it is far from sufficient for recovery.  Indeed, making such a commitment only begins a process of recovery, and a commitment all by itself is insufficient to sustain sobriety. Unless efforts are made to explore the root causes of addictive patterns, and the problems that substance abuse was intended to mask or distract one from, clients will remain vulnerable to their neurobiology and behavioral conditioning.  There is therefore a perception in the popular imagination that relapse is inevitable.  

While relapse is often a part of the process of recovery, it is NOT inevitable, and every relapse is in fact entirely preventable.  What makes the difference between an endless cascade of relapse events and steady progress towards maintaining one’s sobriety?  How can one really recover from substance abuse and stop the cycles of destruction that addiction unleashes in an individual’s life?  Relapse prevention and wellness planning, informed by interpersonal neurobiology, is often the crucially neglected component.

Without doing the difficult and often painful work of identifying the problems that the addictive behavior was designed to self-medicate and developing a deeper personalized understanding of the automatic negative thoughts, motivations, attitudes, assumptions, core beliefs, patterns of behavior and emotional regulation deficits that maintained and sustained the addictive behavior, people will remain vulnerable to pulls and dynamics of relapse.  This kind of deeper work may be supported by individual or group counseling and psychotherapy, intensive outpatient programs, 12-step fellowships, SMART Recovery and Celebrate Recovery meetings. This kind of personal insight and accountability is a crucial and necessary component of the recovery process and mandatory if sobriety is the ultimate goal.

A Relapse Prevention and Wellness Plan should be engaged upon as part of a structured process designed to help the one in recovery collaborate with their support system to monitor the uncomfortable and distressing warning signs and symptoms of relapse. The planning process and the living document it produces serves to encourage empowerment and personal responsibility as well as open and honest communication between client and support system.

A thorough plan should cover the identification, personal mapping and management of high-risk situations, the development of an ongoing recovery plan that includes commitments to sobriety, lapse or relapse contingency plans, specifically identifiable problem behaviors and beliefs and intervention strategies for same, identification of key recovery support team members, selection and scheduling of recovery activities, ways to measure progress and regress, mechanisms for ongoing dialogue, feedback and accountability.

Most treatment programs and behavioral health units will discharge a patient with a document that is labeled as a relapse prevention plan.  Usually this pro-forma document amounts to a little more than a scheduled follow up appointment, a list of key treatment-team and support-team members with contact information, and perhaps a few self-selected motivational reminders.  This level of “planning” is insufficient.  Seek out addiction care from a trained professional mental health provider and make sure they have the skills and experience necessary to help you craft a personalized relapse prevention and wellness plan.  Contact Southwest Florida Counseling Center if you need this type of assistance. If we can’t meet your personalized recovery needs, we’ll help get you connected to someone who will.  Remember: failing to plan is planning to fail!