At the start of treatment, it’s common to experience all of your emotions as you approach the beginning stages of a new chapter in life. Although it may not initially cross your mind, and for good reason, it’s never too early to stop planning for life once treatment concludes. Residential treatmentprovides a safe place for those looking for shelter from the outside world in the midst of dealing with the crisis of addiction. Although going through detox and the start of treatment may seem like a lot of work, and it is, the recovery process only begins when treatment ends. Medical detox followed by therapy and counseling is just one step toward achieving a life free of drugs and alcohol, and it’s crucial that you understand what’s needed when you exit the safety of treatment and head home.

What Is a Discharge Plan?

The discharge process is a phase in a treatment program that assists clients and their families steer through the ups and downs they’ll likely experience during the early stages of sobriety. The discharge process must take place at the onset of treatment. When family or friends send someone to residential care, they must ask about the role the discharge process plays in their stay in a treatment center. A reputable facility knows that the discharge process is a focal point during the individual’s stay. 

During the time in treatment, the client will consent to family members being a part of the process, and the contacts will be a part of the discharge plan. It’s vital to understand that while they will play a role in planning, ultimately, they can’t decide the client’s fate. However, they can provide their input for aftercare requirements. Not only will family members play a vital role in the process, but clinicians and other medical and mental health professionals will be at the forefront of your recovery plan as well. 

Together, everyone can help create a discharge plan that provides the best chances at lasting recovery that extends beyond the walls of a treatment center, which can be the difference between life and death.

Once the plan has been created, the client must carefully review it and make any necessary changes. If it seems unrealistic or unattainable, the client is setting themselves up for failure. It’s OK to admit if it’s too much and make changes as you go. It’s important to understand the cognitive and functional abilities of the client and what assistance is necessary to accomplish their goals of living after they leave treatment. 

Discharge planning is a vital aspect of this process and must be tailored according to each specific need. The criteria will vary from one person to the next, but the more extensive a discharge plan and more levels of care that are completed, the better the chances are of making a full recovery from addiction.


Sober Living

Sober living, sometimes referred to as step-down housing or a transitional living program, is an arrangement that guides a person into a daily routine outside the walls of treatment. It helps a person ease back into school, work, and home life while still having the necessary structure they had in a residential treatment program. 

Having this 24/7 structure allows for additional support a person will lack living by themselves. In a sober living home, the client will be monitored, given emotional support, a curfew, get coached, be given random drug tests, and still have access to the full continuum of care. 

At this point, the client will start attending support groups and 12-step meetingsthat provide additional support during this transition into a new life. The client must be socially engaged in volunteering, employment, or education as a part of the agreement with the sober living home.

12-Steps and Support Groups

Support groups and 12-step meetings aren’t viewed as therapy per se but rather a way to meet new like-minded people during the recovery process. By meeting new friends, the individual can develop a new support system they can rely on during the challenging times they’ll likely face in the days ahead. 

There aren’t gray areas when it comes to sobriety. There will be days that challenge where a person needs more support. Having this support system will help you learn practices that improve recovery. These situations will provide the necessary motivation to get through the bumpy road ahead. The most popular 12-step programs include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).


A coach/sponsor is a person who’s also in recovery, just at a later stage in the process. Their objective is to help someone new to the recovery process transition into their newly founded sobriety. Although their primary role is to help influence a person’s choices and answer their questions, they’re also a friend you can call to talk you off a cliff. A coach will hold a person accountable and help them make better choices that force them to stick to the recovery plan. It’s common for the sponsor to attend support meetings by your side. 


Although a person may not be religious, recovery requires you to change your goals and values in life. Those who are more spiritual often find more success in recovery. If you do practice religion, it’s easy to find a church to confide in. For some, this is a crucial step. Meditation can serve as extra support that can help keep you grounded and on a positive track if the person isn’t religious.

Relapse Prevention Plan

You must remember that relapse is not a spur-of-the-moment bad decision. It’s a three-part process that includes emotional, mental, and physical relapse. When someone creates a relapse prevention plan, it’s important to understand the stages of relapse to avoid physically relapsing. In the plan, the individual must identify their motivations for change and personal goals in recovery. 

The program must manage triggers and cravings by naming specific challenges and methods to overcome them. The individual must find ways to improve their self-care and maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition, they must develop and prepare communication tools for their support system. Lastly, a strategy must be in place to hold themselves accountable to the plan. Without accountability, everything else goes out the window.

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