Using Stress Management In Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT)

thBy Terence T. Gorski, Author

This blog is an excerpt from the book:

Starting Recovery With Relapse Prevention
by Terence T. Gorski. 

November 10 -14, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six

2301 SE 17th Street Causeway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 3331
Iinformation: Tresa Watson: 352-596-8000,
Course Description:

Stress management is a critical key to staying away from alcohol and other drugs[i] [ii]during the critical first two weeks of recovery.[iii] It is important for people in recovery to learn how to recognize their stress levels and use immediate relaxation techniques to lower their stress. [iv] [v]

Recovering people are especially vulnerable to stress.[vi] There is a growing body of evidence that many addicted people have brain chemistry imbalances that make it difficult for them to manage stress in early recovery. The regular and heavy use of alcohol and other drugs can cause toxic effects on the brain that create symptoms that cause additional stress and interfere with effective stress management.

Stress Self-Monitoring and Relapse ,
The CENAPS Model and Mindfulness in Relapse Prevention,  and
Mindfulness Made Simple.

Many people who are in recovery from addiction have serious problems with Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW). PAW is a bio-psychosocial syndrome that results from the combination of brain dysfunction caused by addictive alcohol or drug use, and the stress of coping with life without drugs or alcohol. PAW is caused by brain chemistry imbalances that are related to addiction. PAW disrupts the ability to think clearly, manage feelings and emotions, manage stress, and self-regulate behavior.

PAW is stress sensitive. Getting into recovery causes a great deal of stress. Many recovering people never learn to manage stress without using alcohol or other drugs. Stress makes the brain dysfunction in early recovery get worse. As the level of stress goes up, the severity of PAW symptoms increase. As PAW symptoms get worse, recovering people start losing their ability to effectively manage their stress. As a result, they are locked into constant states of high stress that cause them to go between emotional numbness and emotional overreaction. Since high stress is linked to getting relief by self-medicating stress with alcohol or other drugs, high stress gets linked with the craving for alcohol or other drugs. So one of the first steps in managing craving is to learn how to relax and lower stress without using alcohol or other drugs.

The severity of PAW depends upon two things: the severity of brain dysfunction caused by addiction and the amount of stress experienced in recovery. The first two weeks of recovery is the period of highest stress in recovery. This high stress occurs before you have a chance to learn how to manage it in a sober and responsible way. Since you cannot remove yourself from all stressful situations, you need to prepare yourself to handle them when they occur. It is not the situation that causes stress; it is your reaction to the situation.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, exposure to stress is one of the most powerful triggers for relapse to substance abuse in addicted persons, even after long periods of abstinence. Stress can cause a problem drinker to drink more, a person using prescription medication to use more than prescribed, and an illicit drug user to get more deeply involved in the drug culture than they could ever imagine. The high stress of the first two weeks of recovery can activate powerful cravings that make people want to start self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs in spite of their commitment to stop and stay stopped.

There is a simple tool called The Stress Thermometer that can help you to learn how monitor your stress. There is a simple immediate relaxation technique called Relaxed Breathing that can help you noticeably lower you stress in two to three minutes. First, let’s talk about the Stress Thermometer.

The Stress Thermometer

The Stress Thermometer is a self-monitoring tool that teaches people to become aware of their current stress levels, notice increases and decreases in stress at different times, and encourages the use of immediate relaxation techniques to lower stress as soon stress levels begin to rise. The Stress Thermometer makes it possible to manage stress before craving for alcohol or other drugs is activated. Lowering stress can also lower cravings. Lowering cravings can help you to turn off denial and addictive thinking. (More about this later).

The concept of using a stress thermometer came from thinking about how we use a temperature thermometer to measure our body temperature. When we take our body temperature we use a thermometer to tell us accurately and objectively what our body temperature is. When we use a stress thermometer, we use a system for self-monitoring our stress levels that can tell us accurately and objectively how high our stress levels are.

The stress thermometer is divided into four color-coded regions: blue – relaxation, green – functional, yellow – acute stress reaction, and red – trauma reaction.

What the Stress Levels Mean

Low Stress/Relaxation: Stress levels 1, 2, and 3. These stress levels are coded blue because they are cool and relaxing.

  • Stress Level 1: Deeply Relaxed/Nearly Asleep: At Stress Level 1 you are in a state of deep relaxation and nearly asleep. Your mind is not focused on anything in particular and you feel like you are waking up in the morning to a day off and can just let your mind drift in the deeply relaxed state.
  • Stress Level 2: Deeply Relaxed/Not Focused: As you come back from a state of deep relaxation you enter Level 2, during which you stay very relaxed, but begin to notice where you’re at, what is going on around you. You can stay in that state and just be aware and deeply relaxed. Eventually we will either go back down to Level 1 and then perhaps falls asleep or else you will move up to Stress Level 3.
  • Stress Level 3: Deeply Relaxed/Focused:At stress level 3 you get focused and start to think about getting yourself back into gear and getting going. In other words, you are getting ready to “kick-start your brain” so you can move into a functional stress level to begin getting things done.

By practicing the Relaxed Breathing Technique (this will be explained on page 19) most people can learn to put themselves in a relaxed state (Stress Level 1, 2, or 3), stay there for a few minutes, and then come back feeling refreshed and relaxed. It is important to remember that this will take time and practice. In our culture people are taught to work hard and burn themselves out. People don’t get much training on how to relax. People who get a euphoric effect from using alcohol or other drugs don’t need to. When they get the “right amount” in their system they shut down their stress chemistry, turn on the pleasure chemistry, and feel relaxed.

It is important to practice relaxation four times per day. I recommend linking it to meals: Take five minutes in the morning before breakfast, five minutes at lunch, five minutes at dinner, and five minutes to relax before going to sleep. Taking these stress breaks will make it easier for you to stay at a functional stress level and bounce back quickly from high stress situations.

With that in mind, let’s look at the “Functional Stress levels.”

Functional Stress: Stress levels 4, 5 & 6 designate the zone of functional stress. They are coded green because green is a color that represents “go”.  At stress levels 4, 5, and 6 we are experiencing stress levels that are high enough to give us the energy to get started, keep going, and get things done. The stress, however, is not so high that in interferes with what we are doing.

  • Stress Level 4: With effort we get Focused and Active.
  • Stress Level 5: We operate at high performance, a state of free flow with little or no effort.
  • Stress level 6: We can keep on going but it takes effort and we notice we are getting tired. It’s called free flow with effort. This is a good time to take a short break if you can to get your stress level back down to a level five.

Acute Stress Reaction: Stress levels 7, 8, and 9 are coded yellow. The color yellow represents caution. At stress levels 7, 8, and 9 we are experiencing an acute stress reaction. The word “acute” means immediate and severe. The good thing about acute stress is that if we notice it early and know how to relax, by taking a short break and using a relaxed breathing technique for example, we can lower our stress and get back into the functional zone. When we enter stress level 7 it means that our immediate levels of stress have gotten so high that we can’t consistently function normally. We’re in danger.

  • Stress level 7: Space Out: at a stress level 7 we space out. Our mind goes somewhere else and we don’t even know we were gone until our mind comes back on task.
  • Stress level 8: Driven and Defensive: at stress level eight we are driven and defensive. Our stress chemical has been activated and we are running on an adrenaline rush that is keeping us compulsively on task. The problem is that if someone or something interrupts us we become defensive and can easily move into stress level 9.
  • Stress level 9: Overreaction/Survival Behavior: at stress level 9 our automatic survival behavior takes over. The three basic survival behaviors that everyone has are: fight (irritated, angry, agitated); flight (anxious, fearful, panicked); and freeze (we feel an agitated sense of depression and indecision. We freeze up and can’t make a decision or move.) On top of these three core survival behaviors we learn more sophisticated survival behaviors from our family of origin, life experiences, education or special training in stress management, emergency management, martial arts, or combat. For that training to automatically come into play, we must have practiced it over-and-over again until it became habitual. In sports, emergency services, police work, and military operations these are called trained response. When our stress hits level ten our brain won’t allow us to rise to the situation. The emergency brain response will always lower us to the level of our training. In an emergency, all we can rely on are our automatic responses that we learned to perform on cue without having to think about it.

Traumatic Stress Reaction: Stress levels 10, 15, and 20 are coded red. Red is for stop. At this point our stress levels are so high that our brains and minds are at risk of shutting down. There are three levels of stress that can occur in the red zone of traumatic stress.

  • Stress level 10: Loss of Control: We automatically start using our survival behavior and we can’t control it. We are on automatic pilot and we will go through our learned survival responses one-by-one. This means we will cycle through stages of extreme anger (fight), extreme fear (flight, and extreme inner conflict or ambivalence (freeze). It is important to remember that all people with serious alcohol and drug problems have conditioned themselves with a survival behavior called “seek and use drugs to handle this.” So it is not unusual for a person at a stress level ten to get into drug seeking behavior and start using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Stress level 15: Traumatic Stress: At level 15 our high stress overloads the brain and we mentally disconnect from what is happening to us. Our stress is so high that we can’t stay consciously connected with out bodies. We may go into a state of daze, shock, and dissociation. Our mind can start to play tricks on us and things around us may seem bigger, or closer or farther away than they really are. We may start feeling confused and disoriented. It may seem like we are moving in slow motion. Some people feel like they have floated out of their bodies and it seems like they are watching themselves go through the experience.
  • Stress level 20: Collapse/Psychosis: When our stress levels hit a level 20 our brains can’t take the high level of stress and fatigue. We may collapse, enter an exhausted state of stupor or restless sleep, move into a vivid fantasy world or a world of memories or dreams, or become unconscious.

Any time people experience a “level 10 plus” state of stress; it will take a while after the stress stops for our brain to start functioning normally. When this is a short-term period of adjustment it is called an “acute trauma reaction.” When in it is a longer-term reaction it is called post traumatic stress disorder.

If you have ever experienced a “level 10 plus” stress experience – which can happen when you are the victim of crime, accidents, caught in a burning house, participating in combat, having been assaulted, etc. – it is important to discuss these experiences with your doctor or therapist. This is especially important if the high stress experience you had causes problems that you did not have before it occurred.

The Stress Thermometer

Developed By Terence T. Gorski (© Terence T. Gorski, 2011);;

Level 20: Dissociation/Unconsciousness: I get dissociated and feel like I am floating out of my body. Things seem unreal, and I eventual pass out.
Level 15: Traumatic Stress: Stress overloads the brain and we go into a state of daze, shock or dissociation. We may feel like we are floating out of our bodies and watching ourselves go through the experience.
Level 10: Lose Control: Fight = Anger-based, Flee = Fear-based, Freeze = Depression-based.
——————————–The Brain Shift Gears ——————————–
Level 9: Overreact: Anger, fear, or compulsion get out control & starts running our intellect.
Level 8: Get Defensive: Automatic defenses are used; we start acting out compulsively. The ability to think becomes a servant to hidden fear, anger, & depression. Strong craving and urges to fight, run, hide, find a rescuer, blame others, or lose motivation & hope.
Level 7: Space Out: My brain can’t handle the stress, turns off for a second, and I gone blank and don’t even realize it until my brain turns back on a few seconds later.
——————————– The Brain Shift Gears ——————————–
Level 6: Free Flow Activity With Effort I’m getting tired and have to push myself to keep going.
Level 5: Free Flow Activity With No Effort: I’m totally into what I’m doing and get lost in the process. I’m on automatic pilot.
Level 4: Become Focused and Active With Effort: I make a decision to dig in and get to work. It takes an effort to get started.
——————————– The Brain Shift Gears ——————————–
Level 3: Relaxed – Aware But Not Focused: I’m relaxed and aware of what’s going on around me. I’m beginning to realize that I need to get going.
Level 2: Very Relaxed – Not Aware & Not Focused: I’m so relaxed that I’m not aware of what’s going on around me. I’m disconnected and don’t want to notice anything.
Level 1: Deeply Relaxed – Nearly Asleep: I’m so deeply relaxed that I’m drifting in and out of a dreamy type of sleep state filled with active fantasy or daydreaming.
The Most Important Stress Management Tool is
The Conscious Awareness of the Rise and Fall of Your Stress Levels.
This is Achieved Through Self-monitoring.


Measuring Levels of Stress

Notice that you are measuring your personal perception of stress, which is a combination of three things: (1) the intensity of the stressor (the situation activating stress); (2) your ability to cope with or handle the stressor; and (3) your level of awareness while you are experiencing the stress.

It is possible for you to score yourself very low on the stress thermometer even when your stress is very high. This can happen because: (1) you are distracted and involved in something else (like managing the crisis causing your stress); (2) your stress is so high that you are emotionally numb and don’t know what you are feeling; (3) if you have lived with such high stress for such a long time that you consider it normal; and (4) you have trained yourself to ignore your stress.

The first step in learning how to manage your stress is to learn how to recognize and evaluate your level of stress and by learning how to quickly get back into a low stress level by using a Relaxed Breathing Technique. Let’s start by looking at how you can improve your stress awareness.


Improving Stress Awareness

The best way to learn to be aware of your stress level is to get in the habit of consciously monitoring your stress level. You can do this by using a mental tool called The Stress Thermometer, (page 17). The first step is to imagine that you have an internal stress thermometer that starts in the pit of your stomach and ends in your throat. The lowest reading on the stress thermometer is zero and represents a deep sense of relaxation that is so complete that you want to fall asleep. At a stress level seven or eight, your stress becomes so intense that you start shutting down, getting defensive, or avoiding the issue that is causing the stress. If you can’t manage or get away from the stressful situation, at a level ten you lose control and start believing that you can’t handle the situation and that you or someone you love may be hurt or killed. These extreme feelings of stress are called trauma.

When most people hit a stress level of seven or higher they are not able to respond to constructive criticism or to make sense out of their emotional experiences. At stress levels between seven and nine most people start acting compulsively, overreact to things going on around them, and start using automatic habitual survival behaviors that may or may not solve the problem and lower stress.

This is why it is so important for you to learn to recognize your stress levels when they start hitting a level seven and learn how to quickly lower them. You can do this by using an immediate relaxation response technique called Relaxed Breathing any time you notice your stress hitting a level seven or above. So you have four goals in this exercise:

(1)        To learn how to get into the habit of noticing when your stress is getting up to a level seven or eight;

(2)        To learn how to quickly lower your stress by using the Relaxed Breathing Technique;

(3)        To figure out what is happening and how you are thinking and feeling about what is happening that is causing your stress to go up; and

(4)        Manage the stressful situation by responsibly getting out of the situation or learning how to manage your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that will allow you to stay cool and relaxed even tough you are in a tough situation.

Monitoring Your Stress – Body Awareness

Body awareness is a technique that allows you to recognize how your body physically reacts to stress. It can be a powerful skill to use in stress management because as you notice the stress in different parts of your body, you will start to relax the part of the body you are noticing. With enough practice your body will automatically start identifying and releasing stress before you become consciously aware of it. Muscle tension is the primary way your body let’s you know that you are experiencing stress. Consciously using a systematic body awareness technique whenever you think about it and at least four times per day will start you on the road to teaching your body to automatically recognize and release stress. Here’s how the technique works:

Begin by closing your eyes. You will concentrate on one muscle group at a time, tensing and releasing and being aware of how tight the muscle is as you focus on it. If the muscle feels tight as you begin, this may indicate you store stress in this muscle. Begin with focusing on your toes and slowly move up your body. Tighten your toes and release, flex your calves and release, tighten your thighs and release, tighten your stomach muscles and release, fist your hands and release, tense your shoulders and release, clench you jaw and release, squint your eyes and scrunch your face and release. Any time you encounter tension in a muscle, record that muscle tension and be aware that you are holding stress there. This will help you in developing a personal stress reduction plan and using exercises and techniques to release pent-up tension.

Reducing Your Stress – Relaxed Breathing

There are a number of different relaxation methods. For the purpose of this workbook I am going to teach the easiest and most effective. It is called Relaxed Breathing. It is so effective that military, police and firefighters are taught to use it to lower their stress when responding to emergencies. Here’s how it works:

Relaxed Breathing, often called combat breathing in the military or tactical breath by police and emergency responders, is designed for both before and during stressful times to calm you down and help you relax. In terms of the stress thermometer, relaxed breathing is used before a stressful situation to calm you down and get you ready to be at your best. It is used during a stressful situation to keep your stress from going above that critical Level 7, where your brain turns off and automatic defensive behavior and cravings kick in.

Early in recovery, thinking about and talking about your use of alcohol or other drugs will cause some of your highest stress. The catch 22 is this – if you don’t talk about it, the thoughts will keep coming back like a ghost in the night that haunts moments that should be quiet and restful. Each time you expel the ghost by refusing to think and talk about the “real problems” the ghost goes away for a little while and comes back stronger. Your denial and resistance is strengthened, the intensity of your craving goes up, and your ability to think rationality about what you need to do goes down. As a result the voice of this “stress ghost” grows into a full-blown “stress monster” that can literally take your brain hostage and make you believe that self-medication with alcohol or other drugs is the best or only way to get back in control of yourself and your life.

Step 1: The first thing you need to do is to convince yourself that you can manage and reduce stress without having to self-medicate. There is another way. That way involves learning how to control your breathing.

Step 2: Practice relaxed breathing in a safe environment when you are not stressed. Just go through the steps and get used to them.

Step 3: Get used to rating your stress level. Initially you may need to use the stress thermometer, but with a few times of practice (four times per day for three or more days) the use of the scale will be an automatic tool that you will use whenever you check out you stress level.

Step 4: Take control of the process by stressing yourself out and then relaxing yourself using the relaxed breathing technique.

Sit in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for ten or fifteen minutes. Take a deep breath and do a quick body checks. Then on a sheet of paper write the word START and underneath or next to it rate your stress level.

For example, I would do a body check and write: START = 6. I am still relaxed and able to think and respond, but I am tired and on the edge of spacing out.

Step 5: Stress yourself out! Your heard what I said. Think about the things you usually think about that raise your stress. Be sure to beat yourself up about your drinking and drugging, how stupid you were, the problems it has caused and how you will never-ever be able to repair the damage you have done to your life. Stop the process before your stress hits a level 9 or 10 and you go running out of the room. Then write the words: AFTER STRESS and rate your stress level. Most people find it easy to raise their stress.

For example, after beating myself up for about 60 seconds I would write: AFTER STRESS = 8. I feel myself driving myself and notice the thoughts start to take on a life of their own. If someone interrupts me at this moment I could easily over-react.

Step 6: Relax yourself! You heard me. Do what you need to do to relax. This is the problem for many people, especially people who use alcohol, prescribed medication, or other drugs regularly and heavily. They can stress themselves out easily enough, but other than self-medication they have no way to calm themselves down. So try this:

Take a deep breath and hold it for a moment until your lungs feel just a little uncomfortable, hold your breath for a moment, and then exhale all the way out. Hold your breath for a moment with your lungs empty and then slowly inhale again. Start to breath a slow rhythmic count of four: “INHALE– two- three – four; HOLD – two – three – four; EXHALE – two – three – four; HOLD – two – three – four. Then start the cycle over by inhaling to the count of four. Repeat the cycle five times. Imagine the stress gathering in your lungs as you inhale and hold. Imagine the stress releasing from your mouth as you exhale and hold. That’s it.

Now rate your stress again. Look at the stress thermometer and see what happened. Then write the words: AFTER followed by your stress rating.

For example I would write: AFTER RELAXING = 4 (remember I’ve been practicing a long time). So the record of my session looks like this:


Don’t force yourself to relax, just do the relaxed breathing, and focus on counting and imaging the stress leaving your body ever time you exhale.

Practice four times per day, at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before bed. Keep track of your progress. Use relaxed breathing if you notice your stress going up during any of the following exercises.


[i] Stress and increased Relapse Risk: Stress is an important factor known to increase alcohol and drug relapse risk. This paper examines the stress-related processes that influence addiction relapse. First, individual patient vignettes of stress- and cue-related situations that increase drug seeking and relapse susceptibility are presented. Next, empirical findings from human laboratory and brain-imaging studies that are consistent with clinical observations and support the specific role of stress processes in the drug-craving state are reviewed. Recent findings on differences in stress responsivity in addicted versus matched community social drinkers are reviewed to demonstrate alterations in stress pathways that could explain the significant contribution of stress-related mechanisms on craving and relapse susceptibility. Finally, significant implications of these findings for clinical practice are discussed, with a specific focus on the development of novel interventions that target stress processes and drug craving to improve addiction relapse outcomes.

  • Reference: The role of stress in addiction relapse. Curr Psychiatry Rep.  2007; 9(5):388-95 (ISSN: 1523-3812) Sinha R. Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 34 Park Street, Room S110, New Haven, CT 06519, USA
  • Stress Identification and Management: Stress as verified by clinical observations, patient self-reports, and subjective and behavioral measures have been correlated depressive symptoms, stress, and drug craving during withdrawal. All of theses factors predict future relapse risk. Among neural measures, brain atrophy in the medial frontal regions and hyperreactivity of the anterior cingulate during withdrawal were identified as important in drug withdrawal and relapse risk. This study suggests that stress management would be helpful in preventing relapse especially during the period of withdrawal

[ii] Stress Identification and Management: Stress as verified by clinical observations, patient self-reports, and subjective and behavioral measures have been correlated depressive symptoms, stress, and drug craving during withdrawal. All of these factors predict future relapse risk. Among neural measures, brain atrophy in the medial frontal regions and hyperreactivity of the anterior cingulate during withdrawal were identified as important in drug withdrawal and relapse risk. This study suggests that stress management would be helpful in preventing relapse especially during the period of withdrawal.

[iii] The Role of Stress In Addiction: Both animal and human studies demonstrate that stress plays a major role in the process of alcohol and drug addiction and that a variety of stressors can increase both self-reported stress and measures of biological stress. Among neural measures, brain atrophy in the medial frontal regions and hyperreactivity of the anterior cingulate during withdrawal were identified as important in drug withdrawal and relapse risk. This study suggests that stress management would be helpful in preventing relapse especially during the period of withdrawal.

Reference: New findings on biological factors predicting addiction relapse vulnerability. Curr Psychiatry Rep.  2011; 13(5):398-405 (ISSN: 1535-1645) INTERNET:

[iv] Stress and Addiction: Stress plays a major role in the process of drug addiction and various stressors are known to increase measures of craving in drug dependent human laboratory subjects. Animal models of stress-induced reinstatement of drug-seeking have also been developed in order to determine the neuropharmacological and neurobiological features of stress-induced relapse.

  • Reference: Pharmacologically-induced stress: a cross-species probe for translational research in drug addiction and relapse. Am J Transl Res.  2010; 3(1):81-9 (ISSN: 1991) See RE; Waters RP. Department of Neurosciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston SC USA.

[v] Stress-Induced Craving and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The Division of Clinical Neuroscience, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina 29425, USA. ( has found that stress-induced craving and stress reactivity may influence risk for substance use or relapse to use. Interventions designed to manage stress-induced craving and stress reactivity may serve as excellent adjuncts to more comprehensive treatment programs. The purpose of this study was to (1) tailor an existing, manualized, cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM) intervention for use in individuals with substance use disorders and (2) preliminarily evaluate the effects of the intervention using an experimental stress-induction paradigm. Twenty individuals were interviewed and then completed a psychological stress task, the Mental Arithmetic Task (MAT). After this, participants were assigned to either the CBSM intervention group or a non-treatment comparison group. Approximately 3 weeks later, participants completed a second MAT. In contrast to the comparison group, the CBSM group demonstrated significantly less stress-induced craving (p<.04) and stress (p<.02), and reported greater ability to resist urges to use (p<.02) after the second MAT. These findings are among the first to report on the use of an intervention to attenuate craving and stress reactivity among individuals with substance use disorders. Although preliminary, the findings suggest that systematic investigation of interventions specifically targeting stress management in individuals with substance use disorders should be undertaken.

  • Reference: Source: Back SE, Gentilin S, Brady KT. Cognitive-behavioral stress management for individuals with substance use disorders: a pilot study J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007 Aug;195(8):662-8

[vi] Research Society On Alcoholism: This report of the proceedings of a symposium presented at the 2004 Research Society on Alcoholism Meeting provides evidence linking stress during sobriety to craving that increases the risk for relapse. The initial presentation by Rajita Sinha summarized clinical evidence for the hypothesis that there is an increased sensitivity to stress-induced craving in alcoholics. During early abstinence, alcoholics who were confronted with stressful circumstances showed increased susceptibility for relapse. George Breese presented data demonstrating that stress could substitute for repeated withdrawals from chronic ethanol to induce anxiety-like behavior. This persistent adaptive change induced by multiple withdrawals allowed stress to induce an anxiety-like response that was absent in animals that were not previously exposed to chronic ethanol. Subsequently, Amanda Roberts reviewed evidence that increased drinking induced by stress was dependent on corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). In addition, rats that were stressed during protracted abstinence exhibited anxiety-like behavior that was also dependent on CRF. Christopher Dayas indicated that stress increases the reinstatement of an alcohol-related cue. Moreover, this effect was enhanced by previous alcohol dependence. These interactive effects between stress and alcohol-related environmental stimuli depended on concurrent activation of endogenous opioid and CRF systems. A.D. Lê covered information that indicated that stress facilitated reinstatement to alcohol responding and summarized the influence of multiple deprivations on this interaction. David Overstreet provided evidence that restraint stress during repeated alcohol deprivations increases voluntary drinking in alcohol-preferring (P) rats that result in withdrawal-induced anxiety that is not observed in the absence of stress. Testing of drugs on the stress-induced voluntary drinking implicated serotonin and CRF involvement in the sensitized response. Collectively, the presentations provided convincing support for an involvement of stress in the cause of relapse and continuing alcohol abuse and suggested novel pharmacological approaches for treating relapse induced by stress.

  • Reference: George R. Breese, Kathleen Chu, Christopher V. Dayas, Douglas Funk, Darin J. Knapp, George F. Koob, Dzung Anh Lê, Laura E. O’Dell, David H. Overstreet, Amanda J. Roberts, Rajita Sinha, Glenn R. Valdez, and Friedbert Weiss. Stress Enhancement of Craving During Sobriety: A Risk for Relapse, Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005 February; 29(2): 185–195.

See the related blog: Stress Self-Monitoring and Relapse

Stress Management Is Used In The Gorski Relapse Prevention Certification School (RPCS)

Relaxation Training and Mindfulness Meditation are a big part of Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT). When patients are under high levels of stress, their ability to understand, integrate, and use new skills is diminished. Gorski RPT teaches therapists how to use a form of immediate relaxation training to keep clien’s stress low during the session. It also teaches them to use relaxation methods in the moment so they are more likely to use them in real-life events. For an overview of how relaxation training and a simple tool called the stress thermometer can be used with RPT check out Terry Gorski’s Blog:

November 10 -14, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six

2301 SE 17th Street Causeway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
For further information: Tresa Watson: 352-596-8000, 

Stress Self-Monitoring and Relapse ,
The CENAPS Model and Mindfulness in Relapse Prevention,  and
Mindfulness Made Simple.

4 Responses to Using Stress Management In Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT)

  1. Jeffery says:

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  2. Dong says:

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  3. Stacey Richards says:

    This is absolutely invaluable information. I’m getting this book to add to my growing collection….

  4. […] help in managing stress if you are a recovering addict or alcoholic is a blog by Terence Gorski: “Using Stress Management in Relapse Prevention.”  “Managing Stress in Recovery” will describe my musings on Gorski’s model of stress […]

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