Addiction is a chronic mental disorder, meaning that it never really goes away. It can be managed but never cured. And management in itself is a life-long endeavor—it requires consistent effort, commitment, and a strong support system to overcome the urge to relapse.

Relapse is a common and sometimes expected—but not inevitable—part of recovery. This article discusses everything you need to know about relapse prevention treatment in New Jersey, including the treatment programs available.


What Is Relapse?

In addiction treatment, relapse is defined as resuming substance abuse after a period of abstinence.

It’s different from a slip-up or a lapse, which is often accidental and short-lived.

For example, a person recovering from alcohol addiction may end up having a glass of wine at a celebration but return to their alcohol goals the following day.

A relapse is the opposite. Though it can happen accidentally, it often involves a significant setback in the recovery process. It happens when a person stops maintaining their recovery goals and returns to their previous level of use.

How Often Do People Relapse?

Relapse is prevalent in addiction recovery. According to studies, 65 to 75% of people relapse within one year of treatment and 40% within two.

Relapse is most common in the first 90 days of treatment and among addicted youths.

Teenagers and young adults are particularly prone to relapse because they spend their formative years engaging in substance use rather than learning basic life skills, developing a strong social network, or gaining academic achievements.

When substances are removed from the equation, they may lack healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, boredom, or peer pressure.

Some people believe that relapse goes hand-in-hand with recovery, but that isn’t always the case.

While it’s common, it’s not an inevitable part of the process.

Many people achieve long-term recovery without experiencing a relapse by proactively maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a strong support network, and effective coping strategies.

What Causes Relapse?

Relapse doesn’t occur overnight or in a strictly linear manner. It frequently occurs in response to a trigger, which could be environmental, psychological, or behavioral.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers refer to external factors that can lead to a mental relapse.

These triggers don’t only include places but also people and events.

Spending time with people who actively use substances, being in specific locations, and encountering situations that were previously associated with heavy substance use (like attending a party where drug use is prevalent) can all be triggers for relapse.

Other examples of environmental triggers include:

  • Financial troubles
  • Stressful or uncomfortable work situations, like deadlines, demanding tasks, or conflicts with colleagues or friends
  • Relationship issues with partners and family members
  • Seeing substance-related marketing on social media, TV shows, or movies

Emotional Triggers

Emotional triggers can range from anger or sadness to boredom or stress. These emotions can create a strong urge to use substances as a coping mechanism.

Even positive emotions can trigger an emotional relapse. Someone might think they “deserve” a reward for achieving a milestone, believing that using a substance once or twice isn’t enough to make them fall back into their old habits.

Others might associate positive experiences with substance use. Revisiting old hangouts or reconnecting with friends who still use substances can evoke a longing for the “good old times,” leading to a temporary lapse in judgment.

Here are some common examples of emotional triggers:

  • Reliving past mistakes or regrets
  • Facing rejection or criticism from others
  • Hearing songs with themes of alcohol abuse or drug addiction
  • Intense fear, worry, and uncertainty about sobriety
  • Frustration with their progress in recovery
  • Feeling powerless in certain situations

Behavioral Triggers

Behavioral triggers are habits and routines that can unconsciously lead to a physical relapse in recovery.

For example, if a person used to smoke a cigarette with their morning coffee, having coffee without it might trigger cravings.

Having easy access to substances can also be a trigger. Knowing that they’re within reach can make it harder to resist urges, especially during moments of stress or weakness.

Other examples of behavioral triggers include:

  • Skipping meetings or therapy sessions, believing that they’re “strong enough” to go without them
  • Poor eating and self-care habits
  • Lack of sleep routine
  • Having too much unstructured free time
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms when dealing with cravings, like hurting someone or oneself

Warning Signs of an Impending Relapse

If you or a loved one is in recovery, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of an impending relapse so you can act accordingly before it’s too late.


When someone feels overconfident in their ability to resist temptation, they become less vigilant about avoiding triggers or high-risk situations.

They may even skip certain parts of their aftercare plan because they believe they don’t need to do them anymore.

This can leave them more susceptible to relapse if they encounter a trigger.

Behavioral Changes

Behavioral changes are an expected part of recovery. Depression, irritability, mood swings, and fatigue are common symptoms of withdrawal and don’t necessarily mean that relapse is imminent.

However, there’s a difference between temporary dips in mood and sustained shifts in behavior. Increased irritability, violent mood swings, and restlessness can indicate a risk of relapse or that they’ve already relapsed and feel guilty about it.

Beyond emotional changes, a person at risk for relapse may also display behavioral changes in their daily routine and recovery efforts. Examples include:

  • Forgetting to go to work or school
  • Missing appointments
  • Neglecting chores or personal hygiene
  • Significant changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Engaging in risky behaviors like gambling, unprotected sex, or reckless driving
  • Acting out for seemingly no reason


When a person in recovery starts lying about where they’re going, who they’re hanging out with, or whether or not they’re going to therapy, it’s a tell-tale sign that they’re about to relapse or have already relapsed but are hiding it.

Relapse Prevention Treatment Options in New Jersey

New Jersey has a robust relapse prevention plan that helps people in recovery reintegrate back into society and live fulfilling lives. The prevention plan is a mix of evidence-based treatment and holistic approaches that address the mind, body, and spirit. Here’s what to expect:

Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT)

Relapse prevention therapy is a behavioral self-control program that teaches individuals how to cope with the triggers associated with relapse.

The treatment program was developed by clinical psychologist Gordon Marlatt in the 1980s, and combines the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). Techniques used in relapse prevention include:

  • Identifying high-risk situations that might lead to relapse
  • Developing problem-solving and communication skills
  • Understanding the consequences of substance use disorder
  • Learning coping and relaxation techniques to manage stress and cravings
  • Recognizing unhealthy behaviors or patterns that could lead to relapse

Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy involves non-medicinal treatment methods that aim to bring balance to a person’s body, mind, and spirit. In New Jersey, holistic therapy services can include:

  • Mind-body therapy: Yoga, meditation, mindfulness training, qigong (gentle exercise), and tai-chi (Chinese martial art)
  • Relaxation techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises
  • Nutritional therapy: Dietary counseling, supplement recommendations
  • Body therapy: Acupuncture, massage
  • Recreational: Art therapy, music therapy, wilderness therapy (spending time outdoors to reconnect with nature)

The primary goal of holistic therapy is to introduce people to activities that can fill their free time.

Boredom is one of the most common triggers of relapse. When a person stops using, it often leaves an empty void in their lives.

To fill this empty void, they may engage in risky behavior to “feel something.” And when that risky behavior isn’t enough to satiate their boredom, they may turn back to substances to escape the monotony.

Alongside the practices above, holistic therapies often include evidence-based treatments like medically assisted detox, comprehensive medical care, and one-on-one mental health counseling.

Group Therapy

Developing strong social connections is extremely important in relapse prevention because it reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Sharing experiences with others who are or have been in the same shoes can provide a sense of validation and belonging.

Seeing other people successfully overcome similar challenges can also be incredibly inspiring, giving people in recovery hope and confidence in their own ability to stay sober. It puts them in the mindset of “If they can do it, I can do it too.”

Group therapies often come hand-in-hand with RPT, CBT, and other evidence-based treatment approaches. Some programs also encourage participants to join local support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

The Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ) likewise offers community support, self-help counseling, and phone services to help people in recovery stay sober.

Final Thoughts

Relapse can be debilitating and isolating. If you or a loved one is going through the stages of relapse, help is available. You don’t have to go through it alone.

New Jersey has a comprehensive relapse prevention program that teaches people in recovery how to deal with feelings associated with substance use.

This program gives individuals tools and strategies to identify triggers, manage cravings, and develop healthy coping skills.