Once substance abuse treatment is complete, it can be difficult to determine what to do next. While the treatment facility team may help to establish specific goals for a client after treatment, a person who is leaving rehab may feel adrift, unsure of how to get back into daily life.

Having a plan for recovery can help overcome this uncertainty and give the individual daily activities and goals that, together, can support and reinforce the major goals of treatment: long-term recovery from substance abuse and relapse prevention. The following steps, based on ideas provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), can help in the process of establishing a personalized addiction recovery plan.

Steps to Creating a Recovery Plan

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Step 1: Gather planning materials.

When developing an addiction recovery plan, it can help to have all the materials in one place that can easily be referenced when needed. Especially when first embarking on the plan, this easy reference tool can be very important.

A three-ring binder or other type of folder or blank book can help in creating the plan. A blank book has the added benefit of extra pages to write notes about situations that come up during implementation of the plan. This can also be accomplished by adding extra pages to a binder as needed.

The plan can be set up in the way recommended by SAMHSA; however, it’s important that the plan reflects a design that is most likely to help

Step 2: Determine and record wellness markers.

The beginning phase of a recovery plan is to recognize what feelings of wellness and recovery include, to use these as markers to measure daily changes. Writing out a description of what it feels like to experience wellness, self-confidence, and motivation can help the individual to recognize the desired way to feel.

As recommended on Psych Central, the next part of this part of the action plan is to note the things that the individual does that can help create those feelings of wellness. These activities may include:

  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Eating meals at regular times
  • Getting exercise
  • Spending time with family

Knowing how it feels to be in a positive recovery space and listing the activities that put a person in that kind of mood – as well as reviewing these items every day – can serve as a powerful reminder of the positive goals that the individual wishes to achieve in recovery.

Step 3: Note recognized triggers.

The next step is to work through and list known triggers that tend to lead to cravings or the desire to use drugs or alcohol. As described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some of the most common triggers include stress, exposure to people or places that serve as reminders of the drug use experience, and being around others who are using drugs or alcohol. However, there are others, including:

  • Relationship struggles
  • Memories of stress or trauma
  • Emotions, such as feelings of depression
  • Certain activities, such as drinking a cup of coffee triggering a desire to smoke

Recognizing and listing one’s individual triggers can help the individual stay aware when those triggers are encountered, so elements of the action plan can be put in motion as needed.

Step 4: Determine and record warning signs.

When a person encounters a trigger, there are behavioral warning signs that can be recognized. If the individual realizes when these warning signs are occurring, the behaviors that follow them can be interrupted.

To achieve this, the person can list recognized warning signs that trouble is brewing and drug use might be triggered. SAMHSA describes these as feelings and behaviors as:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness
  • Negativity
  • Isolating from others

Also in this section, listing some of the wellness activities from Step 2 that might counteract these warning signs can serve as a reminder. The individual can turn to this section when feeling triggered and implement those actions or activities, even if not in the mood, in an attempt to feel better.

In addition, setting up a plan for getting in touch with a counselor, journaling, or taking other therapeutic actions can be included in this section. Plans should also be included for worsening symptoms or higher levels of fragility. This can be part of an additional section of the action plan. This secondary plan could have slightly higher levels of response, including calling a doctor or arranging for a friend to be present until the feelings subside.

Step 5: Set up a plan for managing crisis situations.

The last section of the plan should include a crisis plan in case the individual reaches a point when self-care is no longer an option and others need to take over care. This section involves more thoughtful planning, covering a variety of topics. It is important to be thorough in this section because it will be used by others, so directions must be clear.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines what a crisis situation is: a state in which the person cannot handle the situation alone based on the tools available, when others have to step in and assist. In many cases, this can mean that the individual is at risk of self-harm or of harming others. Having a plan in this case can help to prevent a worst-case scenario from happening.

The elements of this plan include directing others about how to recognize:

  • What feeling well looks like for the individual
  • When the person is experiencing symptoms that require intervention
  • Who the designated supporters are
  • Which healthcare providers to contact and specifics on any required medications
  • What treatments are necessary
  • How to plan for the individual’s care
  • What treatment facilities to contact or refer to
  • What the individual needs from others during the crisis
  • How to recognize when the person has made it back to recovery

When people who are involved in the individual’s care read this plan, they will know how to help in a way that can bring the person back to a point of recovery, so the individual can continue to work through the condition and redefine treatment to meet the challenges that arise.

Step 6: Implement the plan.

People who are considered to be supportive friends and family of the person in recovery should be made aware of the plan so they can help support its implementation. In addition, the individual should refer to the plan daily to manage recovery and keep it in the forefront of consciousness. This will make it easier to meet the daily challenges that arise, keeping those who are most able to help in the loop.

In the meantime, the plan can help establish a sense of self-reliance and daily motivation. This in turn provides the individual with self-confidence to keep working on recovery every day after treatment is complete. This confidence is needed to enable the person to continue in abstinence and maintain long-term recovery.

Developing an addiction recovery plan is a great way for an individual to prepare for unexpected challenges during recovery and reply to them in an organized and self-sufficient manner. With a recovery plan, a person can establish goals and enact processes that can counter triggers and “bad days,” making it easier to stick to goals and maintain recovery.

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