Previous aspects in this module have focused on prevention. Nevertheless part of the relapse prevention work also needs to incorporate preparedness. Being prepared for lapse means ensuring plans are in place to help avert a more complicated, possible relapse.
Developing a plan to help recover from a lapse is not an indicator that it will inevitably occur, however, it acknowledges it is possible and provides a clear plan of action that can prevent it from becoming a relapse. Much like having a life jacket on the boat, we can be hopeful it won’t be needed, but if it is, we need to know how to put it on and how to inflate it.
Plans for recovering from a lapse usually involve engaging support people for the young person. It also involves encouraging the young person to reach out for help quickly. Lapse can leave a young person feeling ashamed or like a failure. It may also leave them wanting to hide what has happened. Finally, it may trigger the abstinence violation effect (or “what the hell” thinking) that can quickly lead to a relapse. Young people need to be assured that lapse is not a failure, and reaching out for help is a sign of strength. Is there a person they can call at any time of day or night that would be willing to assist them? Is there a place they can go to be safe? Harnessing the young person’s existing support systems is a valuable part of planning.
The practitioner can encourage the young person to make a commitment to asking for assistance if a lapse should occur. For some young people, a contract with their worker will assist them in carrying out their intentions. This can be in a variety of forms. For example, a written statement signed and dated by both the young person and worker, or a statement/promise and a handshake.
A lapse, or series of lapses can indicate that a relapse is likely to occur which is clearly something to be avoided. Plans need to be based in the young person’s social world and they need to have immediate access to their supports. This can then be followed up with support from their worker in a timely manner.