The Five Rules of Recovery and Relapse Prevention

Addiction recovery is a deeply personal journey. 

It takes many life changes and a lot of support in order to stay on track with your sobriety. Although recovery will look different for everyone, there are some rules that are recommended across the board to ensure that you don’t relapse at any stage during your recovery. 

Recovery is also more than just avoiding your drug of choice. There are many different aspects of your life that need tending to if you want to ensure that you stay sober and prevent relapse. 

These five rules of recovery will help ensure that you are taking care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally in your recovery. 

Keep reading to learn about the stages of relapse and the five rules of recovery.

Stages of Relapse

Before we go into detail about the five rules of recovery, it is important to note that there are three different forms of relapse. Understanding each will help you analyze what led to your relapse and how it can be prevented moving forward.

Emotional Relapse

An emotional relapse happens, negative emotions come to the surface and you dismiss your new coping strategies. 

In this stage, the craving hasn’t yet occurred, but the process of relapse has already begun. If you are feeling angry, anxious, or overwhelmed and you aren’t using recovery strategies to deal with them, you’re at risk of relapse. 

Here are some signs that you are having an emotional relapse: 

  • Ditching your routine
  • Erratic sleep schedule 
  • Binge eating 
  • Neglecting meeting 
  • Isolating 

These might seem like small or insignificant details. However, in recovery, these are tell-tale signs that you are on the way to physical relapse.

Mental Relapse

In this type of relapse, you start to consider using again because of your emotional stress. Not only do you want to relieve your negative emotions, but you also begin to romanticize your drug use and forget about the negative effects.

These are some thoughts that might run through your mind during a mental relapse: 

  • “I won’t tell anyone that I’ve used, no one will have to know”
  • “It will just be this one time, I will stop after”
  • “I’m allowed to rest and unwind” 

Of course, some thoughts about previous drug use are normal during recovery. But with the right action plan, you can manage these thoughts. It is important to accept these as a normal part of recovery, and let the thoughts pass.

Physical Relapse

This is the final stage of relapse where you either use the drug, or you take action to get the drug. 

Physical relapse can be calling a dealer or going to the liquor shop. It can also be a slip-up or it can turn into full relapse where you are back in your old lifestyle. 

Although it is difficult to talk yourself through a physical relapse, it is not impossible.

The Five Rules of Recovery

There are five rules to follow if you want to stay sober and avoid relapse. These are helpful ways that you can take care of yourself, make healthy life changes, and stay on track with your recovery.


1. Change Your Life

Relapse prevention requires some major life changes. You can’t expect to get healthy in the same environment in which you got sick. 

Creating a new and healthy lifestyle is crucial in maintaining your sobriety. This is a life where it won’t be easy to use.

Many people in recovery struggle to give up their current lives. They want their current life, except without drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, recovering addicts are overwhelmed and scared of the prospect of a new life. 

It is important to change that perspective. Rather than seeing this change as something negative, see this change as something positive and exciting. What you should be fearful of, is going back to your old life. 

Changing your life is an opportunity for a fresh start. It is an opportunity to create new habits, new connections, and new goals. 

Here are some ways that you can change your life in order to stay sober and prevent relapse:

  • Stay away from people and places that are associated with your using 
  • Create new and positive thought patterns 
  • Use the five rules of recovery 

Life changes will look different for everyone but these are great ways to incorporate long-lasting change. Without significant changes, the aspects that lead to their addiction will have the same effect.

2. Be Completely Honest

If you are recovering from addiction, it is vital that you are completely honest with yourself and others about the extent of your addiction. 

Users often lie, cheat, and steal, in order to get the high that they want. Addicts can lie about their use, dismiss the consequences of their addiction, and even plan for their next relapse. 

However, recovery takes honesty and vulnerability. 

When people lie to themselves, it is considered an emotional relapse. As you learned earlier, this is the first step towards a physical relapse. It is common in the recovery process to learn the importance of telling the truth in many different areas of life. 

The recovery process requires honesty in what’s called the recovery circle. This includes family, doctors, sponsors, group members, and therapists. It is up to your discretion if you want to divulge information about your recovery in your relationship or at your place of work. 

The most important person that you have to be honest with is yourself. Be honest about where you are in your recovery, and when you need to ask for help.

3. Ask For Help

In order to prevent drug addiction relapse, you must ask for help. 

Although you may try, no one can go through the recovery process alone. This is an attempt to prove that you have control over your addiction, and one of the steps in your recovery requires you to admit that you don’t.

Asking for help can mean joining a self-help group, getting therapy, or joining a recovery program. You can also do a combination of therapies to ensure that you are getting different types of support.

Here are some of the benefits of participating in support groups: 

  • You don’t feel like you are alone in your recovery journey 
  • You understand addiction by listening to others’ experiences
  • You learn different coping strategies from those further along in their recovery 
  • You have a safe space to share without judgment 

These are some of the ways that asking for help can benefit you. Knowing when you need to ask for help is an important part of staying sober.

4. Practice Self-Care

Self-care is a crucial part of recovery and relapse prevention. It is also one aspect that is often overlooked in the recovery process.

If you are an addict, chances are that your drug of choice is the way you would relax, escape, and unwind. It is possible that you don’t know self-care techniques to help you take care of yourself and your needs. 

Many addicts have all-or-nothing thinking, meaning that if they are abstaining from drug use, they might also feel that they can’t relax or treat themselves at all. 

Without self-care, you are still at risk of relapse even if you attend counseling sessions and group meetings. When you aren’t taking the time to take care of yourself, there is a deep, unconscious sense that you don’t deserve to be taken care of. This is emotional relapse territory. 

In drug addiction treatment, you can learn about healthy alternatives to reward yourself. There are many ways to practice self-care but it is also personal to you. It can mean going to the hair salon, going to the movies, or even sleeping in. 

Knowing that you need to take the time for self-care practices will be very helpful in your recovery.

5. Don’t Bend the Rules

Part of preventing addiction relapse is sticking to the rules. Often, those in recovery begin to bargain and think that they have a different or better solution. 

This can lead to sabotage in the recovery process. 

If you are looking for loopholes in your recovery, chances are that you are tempted to break the rules. This is a red flag that you could be on your way to a relapse.

There are two different types of addicts in recovery, they are “non-users” and “denied users.” The non-users accept that drugs and alcohol are no longer a part of their life and they accept the extent of their addiction. Denied users don’t acknowledge their problem and don’t imagine full cessation of their use. 

Denied users are prone to chronic relapse and use a sobriety milestone as an excuse to use. These are users that bend the rules of recovery and can never fully stay sober. 

In recovery, you are encouraged to identify what type of user you are. It is also the goal of recovery to help guide people from denied users to non-users.

Recovery Success With Dream Recovery In Orange County

Recovery is a complicated road that isn’t always linear. There will be challenges and setbacks in many stages, but you can equip yourself for success with the five rules of recovery. Remember to be completely honest, change your life, ask for help, don’t bend the rules, and practice self-care. 

If you are looking for addiction recovery treatment in the California area, check out our website for a full list of recovery services.


Alcohol’s Effects on the Adolescent Brain—What Can Be Learned From Animal Models. (2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved from

Physical Activity May Prevent Substance Abuse. (2011, March 1). NIDA Archives.

Li, M. P. S. (2021, August 30). Strict Parents – What’s Wrong With Them. Parenting For Brain.

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