Wellness Recovery Action Planning and Addiction Recovery: Laying a Foundation for Empowerment

Senior Program Manager Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.

Niki A. Miller, MS, CPS, 
Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.Senior Program Manager

This article is the second in a four-part series that discusses some of the benefits a Wellness Recovery Action Plan can offer people with addictions, summarizes the components of my plan, and shares examples of ways I have applied them to my recovery. These examples are by no means intended to represent all the ways WRAP can be used by people in addiction recovery. Read Part 1 here.

The best way to develop a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is by participating in a formal series of WRAP groups led by two trained peer co-facilitators who use WRAP for their own recovery. (Find a WRAP Facilitator in your area.) Many people have worked hard to make this process a replicable experience driven by a set of values, based on self-determination and rooted in equality, that honor participants and support the concept that each person is the expert on him or herself. Experience has shown me that many in the addiction recovery community have not always been treated—or treated one another—in ways that reflect the spirit of these values. Therefore, the potential benefits WRAP groups offer people in addiction recovery cannot be overstated.

WRAP is an evidence-based practice that has shown positive outcomes in the categories of mental health, quality of life, social functioning, and treatment/recovery. The research was based on subjects who participated in a formal series of facilitated WRAP groups. However, using or incorporating elements of WRAP for Addictions can be a valuable supplement to other peer-driven addiction recovery management efforts for those who do not attend formal WRAP groups. The good news is that many recovery community organizations and centers, addiction treatment facilities, veterans’ recovery support groups, and even a few prison-based addiction treatment programs now offer WRAP.

Daily Maintenance Plan
The first element of this section is a brief profile of what I’m like when I’m doing well in recovery. This description serves to acquaint others and to remind me of who I am when I’m on the beam with my recovery program. The next element is a simple list of minimum daily actions I need to take to maintain my recovery. This list of essentials is intended to be simple and achievable. The primary item on the list is obviously not drinking or using, but the daily steps required to ensure that have changed since the early days of my recovery.

The final component is a more extensive list of recovery management strategies I can turn to when I need to work through some challenges I commonly face. This list is informed by everything I’ve learned from every crisis endured, each potential relapse averted, and the course corrections I’ve made. Naturally, it has expanded over time, as the years of abstinence from drugs and alcohol accumulated.

Triggers
The first component of this section is a list of things that can lead to cravings and urges to use. For me, this not only includes high-risk people, places, and situations but also triggers that activate other unpleasant emotional states that I used to medicate with drugs or alcohol, such as reminders of traumatic experiences or periods of depression. I’ve identified certain triggers that I make it a rule to avoid, such as watching people get high, but there are also many unavoidable triggers. For example, health issues and medical and dental procedures are high on this list for me.

The second part is a list of action steps that work to minimize the impact of these triggers. They are both pre-emptive measures I can take in anticipation of high-risk situations and action steps I can take in response to feeling triggered. It’s crucial for me to have this tool in my hands before I’m in dire need of it. I know from experience that when the wolf is at my door, I may not be willing or able to compile or even recall the countless options that are part of my foundation for relapse prevention.

Early Warning Signs
The first part of this section is a list of things that signal it’s time to take action. This list also makes it easy to take a quick inventory of early warning signs. The cumulative impact of five or six signs is qualitatively different than one or two. The second part is a list of action steps I can take to respond to early warning signs. I have the option of sharing these lists with others. When I “tell on myself” and disclose things that could be harbingers of a downward spiral, their potency is diminished and it’s easier to commit to the action steps I intend to take.

I have a pretty good idea of the kind of warning signs I need to take seriously. For example, if I’m visiting family during the holidays, there will be a lot of drinking and alcohol will be everywhere. If I start chatting with the drinking crowd about the types of liquor available or making drinks for people, it’s time to get to a meeting, talk with someone in recovery, or go for a walk and get away from the center of the drinking activity.

When Things Are Breaking Down
The first component is a snapshot of what relapse looks like for me when the only thing missing is the drink or drug. I have been there a thousand times and still not picked up. For example, when I was using, I never passed up an opportunity to ransack a medicine cabinet. If I were to open someone’s medicine cabinet to see if they had anything interesting, that would be a red flag, even if I didn’t actually ingest any drugs.

The second part is a list of strategies to halt the movement toward a drink or drug and shift it in the opposite direction. It can include eliminating the exposure to drinking, spending a few days at the home of a friend in recovery, doubling up on meetings, or seeing an addiction counselor. This list is a roadmap I use when I’m not thinking clearly before the panic takes over. For me, it’s the point that I need to be willing to go to any lengths to avert a relapse.

Together, these four sections are the foundation of my Wellness Toolbox and a plan to put it to use when I need it most. The next article in this series will address crisis planning, which draws on the information contained in the first four sections. Developing a Crisis Plan and Post-Crisis Plan can mitigate the potential harm associated with a relapse. It’s a plan that I hope I rarely have to use, but it’s well worth the time.

Do you use WRAP to support your recovery from addiction? Have you used it in tandem with other recovery models or programs? How does your WRAP support your recovery goals? Comment on Facebook or email us at newsletter@wrapandrecoverybooks.com.

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