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Relapse prevention, or RP for short, is a cognitive-behavioral approach with the goal of identifying and preventing relapse in a wide range of conditions:

Underlying Assumptions

Relapse is seen as both an outcome and as a transgression in the process of behavior change. An initial setback, or lapse, may either translate into a return to the previous problematic behavior, known as relapse, or into the individual turning again towards positive change, called prolapse.

Relapse is thought to be multi-determined, especially by self-efficacy, outcome expectancies, craving, motivation, coping, emotional states, and interpersonal factors. In particular, high self-efficacy, negative outcome expectancies, potent availability of coping skills following treatment, positive affect, and functional social support are expected to predict positive outcome. Craving has not historically been shown to serve as a strong predictor.

Main principles

Relapse education

Efficacy and Effectiveness

Carroll et al. conducted a review of 24 other trials and concluded that RP was more effective than no treatment and was equally effective as other active treatments such as supportive therapy and interpersonal therapy in improving substance use outcomes. Irvin and colleagues also conducted a meta-analysis of RP techniques in the treatment of alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, and polysubstance use, and on the basis of 26 studies reviewed, concluded RP was successful for reducing substance use and improving psychosocial adjustment. RP seemed to be most effective for individuals with alcohol problems, suggesting that certain characteristics of alcohol use are amenable to the RP model.

RP and Systems Theory

Some theorists, including Katie Witkiewitz and G. Alan Marlatt, borrowing ideas from systems theory, conceptualize relapse as a multidimensional, complex system. Such a nonlinear dynamical system is believed to be able to best predict the data witnessed, which commonly includes cases where small changes introduced into the equation seem to have large effects. The model also introduces concepts of self-organization, feedback loops, timing/context effects, and interplay between tonic and phasic processes.

See also



Key texts – Books

Additional material – Books

  • Sorensen, J Relapse prevention in schizophrenia and other psychoses: A treatment manual and workbook for therapist and client.ISBN 1-902806-60-3
    • Manual shrinkwrapped with 5 workbooks ISBN 1-902806-61-1
    • Extra pack of 10 workbooks available

Key texts – Papers

Additional material - Papers

External links