Three-Step Exit Plan to Avoid Relapse


The best time to make a reliable plan to exit from any potential relapse situation is when you’re clean and sober. Don’t wait to make a plan during a crisis. Definitely don’t make a plan when you’re high on drugs and alcohol. That’s the worst time to be rational and reasonable. Plan to stay sober while you’re already sober.

Hopefully by the time you’re reading this article you’ve already detoxed and you are starting to see the virtues of sobriety. You may have people around you (counselors, psychologists, peers) who can help with your planning and support your recovery. Using all these internal and external resources, your exit plan can be thoughtful and well-formed.

What’s an Exit Plan?

An exit plan is generally a three-step plan for getting away from a potential relapse, which could be triggered by an environment, a person, or a situation. Basically anyone or anything that makes you feel like you want to use again.

You can create a quick and decisive action plan (or plans) for removing yourself from a scenario that compromises your sobriety. You’re not the first person to make an exit plan. If you can’t form your own, find someone who has a plan that’s worked and use theirs. Here’s a basic, effective format for a three-step exit plan.

1. Get Away Now!

Change your proximity to a threatening situation. Remove yourself immediately. It doesn’t have to be loud or dramatic. Just leave quietly. You’ve probably heard of driving yourself to events where alcohol might be served. That way you can leave right away if needed. Should you be in a group, you may want to confide in a trusted friend about your plan. They can cover for you once you’re gone.

2. Ask for Help

12-Step sponsors will often ask you to call other group members for support. This practice comes into play during an exit plan. Get on the phone with another sober person and have them stay on the phone until you’re out of harm’s way. It’s like a 9-1-1 call where the operator makes you stay on the line until help arrives. This is the same thing.

3. Go Somewhere Safe

Many people go to recovery support meetings when they leave a risky situation. It’s a great place to talk about what just happened. Most of the time other group members will offer genuine support and safety. They know what it’s like. Definitely get yourself to a sober environment.

Don’t Attach Emotions to Your Plan

You can use your rational mind to form your exit plan. You don’t need emotions clouding your decisions during an emergency. This is an action plan that only requires you to follow specific steps. If your plan is good, then it has your recovery in mind. Don’t second-guess yourself. Just do what you’ve already deemed necessary to stay clean.

What Can I Control?

When you’re sober, you can control your proximity to people, places, and things. You can also control how you choose to react to your feelings. Following a rational plan doesn’t require that you be happy about it. This is an emergency exit plan designed to keep you from relapsing. You can process your emotions once you’re in a safe place.

Basic Plan
  1. Get away from the situation, person, or place IMMEDIATELY! This will generally resolve a large part of your stress.
  2. While you’re leaving, call someone else in recovery. Go hands-fee in your vehicle and talk while you’re driving away.
  3. Get to somewhere safe to process what’s going on in your head. Have meeting list pages on your smartphone. Go to the nearest meeting.

Follow your own three-step exit plan. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow when you wake up sober.

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