The recovery process does not stop once treatment is completed. Continued care through aftercare services ensures those who have completed treatment are still working on maintaining their sobriety. While a person can be at risk for relapse at any time, the time immediately following treatment tends to be the most vulnerable. With newfound independence and the reintroduction of life’s daily demands, a person is more susceptible to relapse. In order to help a person adjust to life after treatment and ensure the progress in recovery is not lost, aftercare services, including sober living, can help protect a person’s sobriety while further strengthening the skills learned in treatment. With the assistance of aftercare services, rates of relapse are dramatically reduced and the sober community is able to continue supporting people through recovery.
What is Aftercare?
Aftercare is a form of continued treatment following completion of a rehab program. Typically, it is less intensive than the treatment previously received, but it is designed to continuously reinforce the lessons learned in recovery. The period of time immediately following completion of treatment can be tumultuous and it is not uncommon for relapse to occur. Aftercare services minimizes these risks by continuing to develop the coping mechanisms and life skills learned in recovery.
The length of time aftercare services are provided varies depending on individual needs. Much like in rehab, a treatment plan is developed in aftercare to support a person’s sobriety. This plan may shift over time to adapt to a person’s changing needs. Typically, aftercare programs have less frequent contact with clients to provide support, but this is because they promote more self-sufficiency. This allows clients to receive support during the transition from rehab to real life, but also emboldens clients to take responsibility for their sobriety. While aftercare services can work to prevent a relapse from occurring, it is ultimately the person’s responsibility to maintain it.
When Should You Start Aftercare?
Aftercare is critical to the recovery process. Upon completion of a treatment program, aftercare services can begin. Although treatment prepares a person for aftercare by helping them develop life skills and coping mechanisms to support sobriety, aftercare is specifically designed to help those transitioning back into normal routines.
Aftercare can last as long as a person needs. Because recovery is a lifelong commitment that requires regular maintenance, aftercare services can be utilized in perpetuity. Aftercare helps keep people connected to the sober community, with individuals who share similar goals and desires for the future. Surrounding yourself with individuals who prioritize sobriety can be motivating and encouraging, especially when facing times of challenge. Connectedness through aftercare services can help many realize their potential and begin building towards their dreams for the future.
Goals of Aftercare
The ultimate goal of aftercare is to keep those in recovery engaged with their sobriety. Following completion of a treatment program, being reintroduced to the real world can be overwhelming. It is easy to fall back into old behaviors, hang out with the same crowds, and put yourself in situations that may threaten your sobriety. Challenges will inevitably surface over the course of a person’s lifetime, but aftercare services are designed to help keep them on track. Rather than simply helping people not use drugs or alcohol, aftercare services are designed to help reinforce behaviors that support sobriety and empower clients to stay away from pitfalls.
Aftercare works by focusing on the following:
- Reinforcing coping mechanisms and life skills learned in recovery
- Improving self-awareness and the ability to recognize triggers that may encourage relapse
- Encouraging people to make healthy choices regarding eating habits, recreational activities, exercise, and relationships
- Increasing accessibility of support groups and individuals who can help through recovery
- Identifying ways to minimize negative repercussions should a person slip back into dangerous behaviors
Types of Aftercare Services
Aftercare services can vary depending on individual needs. In most cases, aftercare services may be comprised of the following:
- Outpatient treatment: Clients are able to live at home, go to school, manage a job, and take care of everyday responsibilities; however, they also must attend treatment several times throughout the week. Outpatient treatment may be comprised of multiples forms of therapy
- Group therapy: A group environment encourages participants to both share with others and offer support. Group conversations may explore different themes related to addiction. This setup also helps participants develop their social skills and coping mechanisms in a controlled environment.
- Individual therapy: One-on-one meetings are scheduled with therapists to work through new and existing issues. Over time, the frequency of these meetings may change as the client’s needs evolve.
- 12-step programs: Support groups are critical to success in aftercare services. In addition to outpatient treatment, joining a group, such as a 12-step program, can be valuable to recovery. These groups meet regularly to discuss challenges, celebrate success, and give back to the community. It is an excellent way to stay involved with the sober community and receive support throughout recovery.
- Family education and support: Family plays a vital role to a person’s continued sobriety following treatment. Aftercare programs often provide counseling to family members in order to rebuild trust and educate them on the nature of addiction. Although these topics are often broached in treatment, they are usually continued afterwards to promote further healing.
It is not uncommon for those in recovery to experience relapse, especially if aftercare services are not engaged in. Relapse risk is especially high in those who have dual-diagnosis disorders because the temptation to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate is high. While relapse is not 100% preventable, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk. Continuing to engage in therapy, counseling, and hold oneself accountable is vital to preventing backtracking.
Aftercare services can help prevent relapse by equipping clients with knowledge and support. Ways a person can protect themselves from relapse include:
- Understanding your triggers: Having the ability to understand what physical, emotional, environmental, or psychological events can trigger substance abuse is critical to protecting sobriety.
- Developing coping mechanisms: Many stressors you face in life after treatment may not have been considered while in rehab. If you find yourself in an emotionally tense situation, seek the help of counselors and support groups to get through it.
- Thinking about what relapse means: While the thought of relapse is always in the back of someone’s mind, really considering the repercussions of relapse can help you make the right decision. Thinking about how an overdose, arrest, or loss of relationships can impact your life moving forward can make you stop to reconsider your actions.
- Minimizing the impact of a lapse: If you do have a lapse, it does not need to escalate into a major relapse. Seek help immediately if you do end up using drugs or alcohol again. Taking steps to cope with it as soon as possible can minimize the damage and allow you to take control again.
Building a Support Network
A strong support network is vital to success after completing treatment. Many treatment programs provide numerous ways to stay in touch with the facility as well as the sober community. It is not uncommon to see family weekends, recreational activities, reunions, and other events hosted by alumni from the program. Alumni organizations also allow those who have completed treatment the opportunity to give back to someone else in need. They often have the opportunity to speak with those in treatment and provide guidance and insight into the recovery journey.
Many in addiction recovery also have a sponsor they work with throughout their journey. A sponsor provides mentorship to a person in recovery and is able to guide them through troubling times. Sponsors are usually people who have overcome addiction through the program and are looking to strengthen their sobriety by helping others find theirs. Sponsors may attend meetings, respond to crisis situations, and provide emotional support to their partner. Their role functions similarly to those of support groups whose job it is to guide people through the steps and help them become more independent.
In addition to a sponsor, a life coach can help provide support following treatment. Life coaches are often affiliated with 12-step programs and are usually working as a therapist or counselor. They often provide education, support, and motivation to those in aftercare services. By working with a life coach, those in recovery are able to explore methods of coping with stressors and triggers to find the most effective options. They can also play a vital role in helping a person get back on their feet. From helping someone find a new job, to encouraging them to explore their creative interests, life coaches are able to help renew a sense of confidence and excitement for sobriety.
Support networks and self-help groups are often the foundation of successful sobriety. Many communities have self-help groups that provide a safe place for those who are sober to gather together, share their experiences, and support one another. These meetings are free and confidential, allowing anyone to seek help should they need it.
Help for the Family
Aftercare services also provide support to family members. Although progress is often made in treatment, there can still be unresolved feelings, tension, and other issues left to explore related to a person’s substance abuse. Additionally, the stress of transitioning back into life following treatment can also create tension.
Counseling is an effective tool that can be used to help families through difficult conversations and situations. Addiction can create relationship problems, financial burdens, and instability. Working through these issues can help heal relationships and move them forward. There are numerous counseling options available, including:
- One-on-one counseling
- Group therapy
- Educational programs
- 12-step programs
Building a healthy home environment can help strengthen the family and support a person’s sobriety. Aftercare services can also assist with things like transportation, job searches, and nutritional care to help the family get back on its feet.
Sober Living: Transitional Communities
Completing a treatment program does not necessarily mean a person must return home. If someone is not fully ready to transition back into the real world, sober living homes provide a safe place to begin immersing oneself back into daily life. These structured communities provide a safe place to live with other people in similar situations, free from temptation and stressors that may threaten sobriety. Generally, sober living homes do not put a time limit on how long a person can stay. As long as they are sober, working, or in school, they are welcome to live there.
Sober living homes provide an affordable living option for those transitioning out of a rehab facility. By living at one of these locations, they are able to stay close to the sober community and continue to engage in therapy. These homes have supervision, curfews, and rules in place to keep residents safe. In addition, all residents are expected to contribute to either cost of living or help with chores as long as they live there. This helps residents develop independence and prepares them for living on their own, should they choose to do so.
Integrated, Dual-Diagnosis Recovery Services
Above all else, it is important to remember that addiction treatment goes beyond treating just the addiction itself. Many in recovery struggle with co-occurring mental health disorders and other conditions that may be pre-existing or developed as a result of substance abuse. Taking a holistic approach to recovery and treating these conditions simultaneously improves recovery outcomes and reduces the risk of relapse.
Addiction recovery requires lifelong care and managing symptoms of mental health conditions is part of that process. In many cases, mental health disorders can act as triggers for relapse, making it especially critical for those in recovery to receive care for that as well. While it is impossible to be fully “cured” of addiction, there are preventative steps that can be taken to minimize risks. Connecting with as many resources as possible early in recovery is important to managing sobriety. The more support networks you are connected with, the more likely you can make it through the most challenging phases of recovery.
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