Using Yoga As A Relapse Prevention Strategy

Yoga Balances Mind And Body

Researchers have found that yoga might help break the cycle of addiction. Yoga treats the mind and body together, releasing stress and creating balance. Incorporating yoga in long-term treatment helps those in recovery avoid relapse and achieve a lifetime of better health

The Danger Of Relapse

Turning away from substance abuse is hard. Staying sober after detox is harder, even when people in recovery know the potentially devastating effects of relapse.

The most recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 21.5 million Americans 12 and over struggle with substance abuse. While experts consider addiction a highly treatable disease, less than 11 percent of individuals who need treatment actually receive it.

Relapse is common, with rates in some studies between 40 and 60 percent and in others as high as 85 percent. Relapse may occur weeks, months or years after addiction treatment.

Relapse rates for substance abuse are similar to those of other chronic diseases affected by lifestyle choices and psychological factors. Relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed, but it does indicate a need for adjustment.

Relapse prevention programs teach techniques for recognizing the danger signs and developing skills that help individuals resist. Holistic addiction treatment involves overall mind and body health. Without a long-term prevention plan, people in recovery are more likely to fail, but the right plan can create lasting success.

How Relapse Prevention Strategies Help

Knowing relapse triggers and coping skills helps you see danger while it is still in the distance and make plans for taking an alternative route. Relapse prevention coping skills also give you tools for fighting intense cravings that come on suddenly. Prevention strategies help you manage the emotional, mental and physical factors that make you more likely to choose substance abuse over continuing health.

Relapse Triggers

Every person is different, with unique factors that set them off. One person might feel a sudden urge to drink when they associate with old friends. Another may be thrown off balance when they see drug paraphernalia or smell alcohol. Some triggers are common to almost everyone.

Individuals are more likely to relapse when they feel withdrawal symptoms like nervousness, upset stomach or shakiness. Even after withdrawal, they may feel anxiety, depression or irritability that acts as a trigger.

How you take care of your body and stress management affects mental health. A poor diet, inconsistent sleep schedule or stressful environment can increase your relapse risk. You may be tempted to return to substance abuse when you feel strong negative emotions like loneliness, exhaustion or anger.

When relationships go wrong, or you have too much time for thoughts to run unchecked, it upsets your mental balance. Countless individuals have relapsed because they decided the struggle was behind them, that they no longer had a problem.

Relapse Stages

While relapse might feel like a force that jumps on you out of nowhere, it’s actually a process that starts well in advance of an individual’s return to substance abuse. It often happens in three stages.

The first stage, emotional relapse, starts with unhealthy feelings and behaviors. Factors outside your control may lead to work stress, financial pressure or days of poor eating and sleeping. You’re not thinking about drugs or alcohol, but you may stop going to meetings and feel moody, anxious or isolated. When you recognize the process at this stage, it’s easiest to make adjustments.

The next stage is a mental relapse, when your mind begins to suggest substance abuse as a way to feel better. You might start to fantasize about using drugs or alcohol and plan how you might accomplish it without those close to you noticing. You reach out to old friends or drive past old hangouts, tempted to go inside. You come up with ways to have just a little and this time show self-control. The temptation becomes harder to resist.

At this stage, you can still prevent relapse by reaching out for help. Contact your support individuals and tell them you’re struggling to release the internal pressure. Then occupy your time with other hobbies and interests. Yoga helps because it takes that tension and channels it into something that is healthy and right.

The final stage is the physical relapse. If your mind continues to entertain the idea of using drugs or alcohol, eventually you give in.

Benefits Of Yoga

Relapse has both physical and mental components, and yoga strengthens both. When many people enter recovery, they have spent years engaging in unhealthy behaviors that weaken muscles, create nutrition imbalances and reduce stamina. They also may have co-existing mental health disorders that affect healthy thought processing. Recovery itself is stressful, and yoga helps channel that stress into an activity that improves mind and body strength.

One of the biggest benefits of yoga therapy is that it’s accessible to individuals at every fitness level. It helps people become physically strong and develop greater muscle control. Even if you can’t touch your toes at your first session, over time you’ll see improved flexibility. As joints and muscles become strong and limber and tight connective tissue begins to stretch, chronic aches and pains will decrease, encouraging even more physical activity.

Substance abuse and unhealthy eating impact cartilage and joints. Yoga improves circulation to flood these areas with nutrients, so they begin to rebuild. When you lift your body weight in postures like downward and upward facing dog, you strengthen bones and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

Some describe yoga as meditation in motion. It helps you focus on being present, on the sensations in your body. You feel healthy breath fill your lungs and strong muscles move you fluidly through your space. Your self-awareness improves and your mood lifts. Whether you think of yourself as spiritual or not, you feel a connection between body and mind. While yoga is commonly thought of as a fitness activity for women, men can and should make it a part of their exercise regimen as well.

Additional Resources

Reflections Recovery Center helps individuals find sobriety and stay healthy for life. Find more resources for preventing relapse and living sober on our relapse prevention page.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

4 Responses to Using Yoga As A Relapse Prevention Strategy

  1. I love the physical, mental, and overall lifestyle benefits that yoga provides! Anyone at any type of experience level can start to build more discipline with controlling their thought process. That skill is important to staying focused throughout the day and maintaining a positive mindset that leads to success!

  2. I haven’t done yoga before, but in working in the addiction treatment field, I know that almost every treatment center offers it to clients. This article is a pretty thorough run-down on relapse triggers and the benefits of yoga. Well done!

    I think it’s important for the practice of yoga to be customized to each person in treatment. It’s got to be something they enjoy and want to carry with them as they transition out of rehab and back into everyday life. If they continue to do yoga after graduating a rehab program, success in recovery should follow.

  3. Cherry McCarthy says:

    I definitely think that yoga is an essential element in addiction recovery. Any practice that brings together a balance of the mind>body>spirit should be utilized during this time of healing. Literally, that’s what it is. Addiction tears apart your body in every way. You are left malnourished, spiritually broken and mentally unstable. It’s a lot to deal with! Brining back balance to your entire being can only be helpful for recovery.

  4. Hung Tran says:

    Personally, I have always valued and respected the benefits that come with physical exercises. I always believed that physical exercises, such as yoga, can heal and make a person become better through the natural release of dopamine. A main focus with drug abuse is that drugs releases and excess amount of dopamine – which is unnatural for the body. Yoga is a great alternative to release dopamine and prevent a relapse.

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