Relapse prevention training is a multidimensional approach to abstinence and further reduces the likelihood of drug relapse. These methods can include pharmacotherapy, cognitive behavioral techniques, contingency planning and education. The main goals of preventing relapse are to identify the needs that were previously met by use of the substance and to develop skills to meet those needs in an alternate way.

Various medications are used to stabilize an addicted person, reduce the initial drug use, and prevent further abuse of the drug. Although many patients may initially reject medications as contradictory to substance abuse recovery, they have proven to be useful in reducing the paranoia, anxiety, and cravings associated with withdrawal, as well as to minimize the risk of relapse or even fatality in some instances. Medications can normalize the long-term changes that occur in the brain and nervous system as a result of substance abuse. The various behavioral approaches to treating relapse focus on the precursors and consequences of drug taking behavior.

Cognitive behavioral techniques incorporate conditioning by use of positive and negative reinforcement, in order to alter the thoughts and emotions associated with drug taking behavior. A main component of this approach is cue exposure, during which the abstinent user is repeatedly exposed to triggers without exposure to the substance in hopes that the substance will gradually lose the ability to induce drug-seeking behavior.

Relapse prevention teaches addicts to anticipate relapse by recognizing and coping with various immediate determinants and covert antecedents. Immediate determinants are the environmental and emotional situations that are associated with relapse, including high-risk situations that threaten an individual’s sense of control, along with coping strategies and outcome expectancies. Covert antecedents, which are less obvious factors influencing relapse, include lifestyle factors such as stress levels, urges and cravings. Studies have concluded that relapse prevention training is successful for reducing the chance of relapse into past substance use behavior and improving psychosocial adjustment.