Overcoming the desire to use addictive substances to live sober every day is significant. It is a milestone so many people work hard to achieve and maintain. For many, the road to recovery from substance addiction is long and filled with dark moments, emotional ups and downs, doubts, and fears.
While it is understandable to think all these feelings will disappear once treatment is over, the reality is that they won’t. Many of these feelings will follow someone right out of treatment and into the life they are trying to rebuild.
The good news is that aftercare programs are designed to help recovering substance users stay the course and provide them with the skills, resources, and support they need to manage their lives effectively. Sobriety is just on the other side of uncertain times, and aftercare programs help people reach it.
Aftercare is an umbrella term for services that help people who have exited an addiction treatment program and are transitioning to living in society again full time. The transition from treatment to daily living can be overwhelming for various reasons, so aftercare services aim to make that big change as smooth as possible. It is important to give people new to recovery a place to land as they settle into their new lives.
People reintegrating into society after treatment are encouraged to use these follow-up services, which are usually offered through the facility where the treatment program took place. These programs are road maps for people who plan to go forward with their plans to leave substance abuse behind. Having a network of resources to help with finding employment, transitional housing, mental and emotional support, and more can make post-rehab life easier to navigate.
Aftercare also includes follow-up appointments with a medical professional, therapist, or treatment facility. In short, anyone who can help people in recovery avoid relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse is an expected part of recovery. Relapse rates, which are between 40 to 60 percent, are on par with other chronic illnesses, the agency reports.
Note that relapse does not mean the progress an individual made in treatment was a waste of time or a failure. Frequent or long-term use of some addictive substances changes how the brain works. Addiction rewires the organ’s reward center, making a person want to repeat a feel-good action again and again.
Over time, chronic substance use reorders a person’s brain chemistry, making them want to overwhelmingly use a substance to satisfy their insatiable cravings for it. For this reason, a treatment program may need to be adjusted or changed altogether to help a person overcome these invasive cravings so that they can avoid picking up their drug of choice again, which can lead to a potentially fatal relapse.
The possibility of relapse is always there, so this is one reason why aftercare services are vital to one’s health and safety. It also can motivate individuals to stay focused on why they sought to end their substance use.
Just as the road to recovery is full of emotional highs and lows, the same can happen when people are out of treatment and adjusting to life on the outside. Some refer to this phase as “the recovery bubble.” The unfamiliar path back to “the real world” evokes many feelings as it becomes clearer by the day that recovering individuals must learn how to put their lives back together on their own.
For many people, the idea of being unmonitored, unsupervised, or not having a schedule to follow, as they did at a rehabilitation facility, will be challenging. It will also be a challenge to figure out how to live without revisiting past people, past habits, and past thoughts and behaviors, which all contributed to a decision to use and abuse substances in the first place.
With life’s tensions, pressures, and temptations still lingering around, people will have to figure out how to stay in the bubble as long as possible until they find their balance. They also will have to know what to do when that period ends. While the recovery bubble won’t last forever, aftercare services can take some of the pressure off as one charts a new beginning.
Planning an aftercare strategy can be done at any time during treatment. It can even be put together when starting a program. The key thing is it should focus on an individual’s specific and unique needs, just as substance treatment programs do. Your needs have changed, but they are still your needs, so your aftercare program should address where you are in your life right now.
Depending on where you are in your recovery, your aftercare plan can include educational courses that teach you how to properly address cravings and triggers that lead to substance use. It can provide therapy sessions in which you can express how you feel as you look for a job or a new place to live. You can also connect to a recovery community of supportive people who understand where you are on your path and why. Starting with your goals and what you want to achieve or continue to achieve can help you figure out what an effective aftercare program will look like for you.
Staying in touch with people who can inspire you to stay true to your recovery is important. These are people who can help you through tough times and push past the challenges that come with maintaining sobriety. An inspirational word or a check-in call can make someone think twice about taking that drink in a moment of weakness and decide not to do it. That is the power that support can have on a person.
If you attended a formal treatment program, you might be able to join an alumni program there that can put you in touch with other graduates of the program. Usually, these alumni groups hold meetings and plan fun activities that they can do together without the social pressures and expectations that can accompany some events designed for a general audience.
If you wish to connect to a 12-step program, you can do that, too, along with an outpatient program you might choose to attend. There are several groups to join, some faith-based and some not. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous provide free and safe places to meet up with like-minded people who can talk about topics, issues, and concerns that are common in recovery. Having a place to go, and people to talk to helps you combat isolation, an enemy of recovery. It also helps you avoid situations that threaten to derail your goals.
You can also find support groups online and self-guided programs, such as SMART Recovery®. The “SMART” in the organization’s name stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. It invites people to “discover the power of choice” to work through and move past substance use disorders and addictive behaviors. Unlike some 12-step programs, SMART Recovery® bases its lessons on evidence-based practices, not faith, and says it teaches people that they can overcome addiction and other behaviors that are not becoming to them.
Aftercare programs can include various therapies and counseling sessions to keep you mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and accountable for what you choose to do with them. Many options are available. Individual and group therapy, family therapy, dual diagnosis care, and more can be incorporated into an aftercare program. Aftercare participants can also receive help with medications and medical treatments.
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Not everyone who leaves a rehab facility will be able to go home when it ends. Some people will have a supportive home environment to return to, while others will need to find a new place to live. For people at this point in their recovery, transitional housing, known as sober living homes in the recovery community, will be a bridge between a treatment program and one completely living on their own.
This living arrangement offers a residential environment that promotes full-time sobriety and having a daily routine that might include working or going to school. Some outpatient clients live in transitional housing as they commute to the facility for their sessions during the week.
Sober living residents have rules to follow, such as refraining from using substances and consenting to random drug tests to make sure they are not using substances inside or outside the home. Residents also receive help with employment services and finding permanent housing.
Drug addiction (substance use disorder). (2017, October 26). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What is drug addiction treatment? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/what-drug-addiction-treatment
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 01). 12-Step Facilitation Therapy (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opiates). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies/12-step
Housing and Shelter. (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/housing-shelter