Relapse Prevention (RP) Is An Evidence-Based Intervention

RP_CENAPSBy Terence T. Gorski

Prevention (RP) is an evidence-based intervention. There is compelling evidence in the literature documenting its effectiveness.

First, let’s look at the results of a meta-analysis of 26 published and unpublished studies with 70 hypothesis tests representing a sample of 9,504 participants. (Irvin et al, 1999)

  • Relapse Prevention (RP) was found to be a widely adopted cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) for alcohol, smoking, and other substance use.
  • RP was generally effective, particularly for alcohol problems.
  • RP was most effective with alcohol or polysubstance use disorders combined with the adjunctive use of medication

Validation of Gorski’s Relapse Warning Signs

Though it has enjoyed widespread popularity, Gorski’s post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) model of relapse has been subjected to little scientific scrutiny. A scale to operationalize Gorski’s 37 warning signs was developed and tested in a larger prospective study of predictors of relapse. Of central interest were: (1) whether the warning signs hypothesized by Gorski are interrelated in a meaningful single factor and (2) whether the hypothesized syndrome would accurately predict subsequent relapses.

A sample of 122 individuals (84 men) entering treatment for alcohol problems was followed at 2-month intervals for 1 year. The Assessment of Warning-signs of Relapse (AWARE) scale was administered at each assessment point, and the occurrence of both slips (any drinking) and relapses (heavy drinking) was monitored during each subsequent 2-month interval. Principal factor analysis was used to study the factor structure of the warning signs.

The results showed that: (1) Of the 37 warning signs, 28 clustered as a robust single factor with excellent internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.92-0.93); (2) A conservative evaluation of test-retest stability across 2-month intervals estimated reliability at r = 0.80. (3) After covarying for prior drinking status, clients’ AWARE scores significantly predicted subsequent slips and relapses. Relapse rates for clients with highest AWARE scores, as projected by regression equations, were 33 to 46 percentage points higher than those for clients with lowest AWARE scores, after taking into account prior drinking status.

The conclusion is that this scale of Gorski’s warning signs appears to be a reliable and valid predictor of alcohol relapses. (J. Stud. Alcohol 61: 759-765, 2000)

Relapse Prevention (RP): Controlled Clinical Trials (Carroll 1996)

(1)       More than 24 randomized controlled trials have evaluated the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention treatment on substance use outcomes among adult smokers, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and other types of substance abusers. Review of this body of literature suggests that, across substances of abuse but most strongly for smoking cessation,

(2)      There is evidence for the effectiveness of relapse prevention compared with no-treatment controls across all drug categories.

(3)       Outcomes in which relapse prevention may hold particular promise include reducing:

  • Severity of relapse episodes when they occur;
  • Maintaining the positive effects of improvements made during treatment (enhanced durability of effects)

(4)       The positive effects of RP are enhanced by patient-treatment matching.

(5)       Patient-treatment matches improves outcomes for patients at higher levels of impairment along dimensions such as psychopathology or dependence severity.


The CENAPS Model of Relapse Prevention was originally developed by Terence T. Gorski and continually updated to integrate new research findings. (Gorski 1990, )

Carroll, Kathleen M., Relapse prevention as a psychosocial treatment: A review of controlled clinical trials. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, Vol 4(1), Feb 1996, 46-54.

Gorski, Terence T., The CENAPS Model of Relapse Prevention: Basic Principles and Procedures, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Vol. 22, Issue 2, 1990, pages 125- 133, ON THE INTERNET:

Irvin, Jennifer E.; Bowers, Clint A.; Dunn, Michael E.; Wang, Efficacy of relapse prevention: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 67(4), Aug 1999, 563-570.

Miller, William R. and Harris, Richard J.  A Simple Scale of Gorski’s Warning Signs for Relapse, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Volume 61, 2000, Issue 5: September 2000 ON THE INTERNET:


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