The completion of a drug or alcohol treatment program is a huge accomplishment. However, for most individuals, graduating from an intensive rehab program is only the first step on the road to recovery. To maintain long-term sobriety, many people participate in what is referred to as aftercare.
In aftercare, individuals continue to learn healthy coping skills and repair relationships as they transition back to their homes and communities. Aftercare also tends to provide a level of accountability for those who are no longer attending treatment programming at a rehab facility on a regular basis. The type of aftercare treatment a person needs will vary for each individual. However, the goal for everyone is to maintain a sense of support that encourages newly-sober people to continue to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Aftercare and Relapse Prevention
In the early stages of recovery, individuals are learning new and different ways of interacting with the world and those around them. What’s more, when individuals leave a treatment program, they may be faced with stressors and challenges such as finding a job, working toward financial stability, and building a new friend group. For a newly-sober individual who is working to face these challenges without drugs or alcohol, this can feel overwhelming. This is why, without proper support, many people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction are prone to relapse after leaving treatment. These individuals are particularly vulnerable within the first year of treatment completion.
This is where aftercare comes in. A crucial part of relapse prevention, a quality aftercare program will provide continued tools and support for people as they begin to navigate their new lives without drugs or alcohol.
As mentioned previously, a successful aftercare program will vary for each individual. Luckily, there are several options when it comes to aftercare treatment. If your loved one will be completing a formal treatment program in the near future and is in need of aftercare, make sure they work with a case manager to determine which services would best serve them. You can also work with their case manager to ensure aftercare services are put in place before your loved one leaves treatment. Some common aftercare services to consider include:
Sober Living Homes
For many people being discharged from treatment, sober living homes provide a necessary bridge between the treatment facility and the individual’s original living situation. These houses offer a less structured environment than a formal treatment facility, but still maintain rules, curfews, and a sense of community that keep residents safe and accountable to their sobriety. Many sober living programs provide:
- 24-hour supervision and support
- 12-Step meetings
- Case management
- On-site educational groups
- Group outings
- Life skills training such as budgeting, cooking, and job searching
- Mentorship and community building
12-Step and non-12-Step programs exist all over the world and are commonly used as part of aftercare programs. These groups work by individuals attending regularly scheduled meetings (daily, weekly, or monthly) and are meant to foster continued support, accountability, and community for those in the recovery process.
12-Step programs have a spiritual emphasis that focus on surrendering to a higher power to maintain sobriety. As the name implies, these programs operate by individuals working through a series of steps that allow them to face their addiction, surrender it to a higher power, gain self-awareness, and create new patterns with which to live. 12-Step programs also believe community is paramount to battling substance abuse and groups are designed to be a safe space for people to share their stories with one another. Although there are several 12-Step programs, some common ones include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
- Heroin Anonymous (HA)
- Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
For those who prefer a secular (non-spiritual or non-religious) approach, non-12-Step groups are a great alternative. Each of these groups have their own philosophy when it comes to maintaining sobriety. Some common non-12-Step group include:
- SMART Recovery
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
- Women in Sobriety
For individuals who are new to the recovery process or are prone to relapses, having a sober mentor is a great way to maintain support and accountability outside of a traditional treatment program. Sober mentors are professionals who, more often than not, have personal experience with addiction and recovery and know the challenges that can arise in these early stages. Keep in mind that sober mentors are different than sponsors (commonly found in 12-step or non-12-step programs) in that this is their profession. Because this is their career, they can provide more personalized attention and have access to resources that many sponsors do not. Examples of sober mentor duties include:
- Looking for signs of relapse
- Confirming attendance at 12-Step meetings, work, or school
- Serving as a companion for trips and events
- Monitoring communication with family members or significant others
- Overseeing diet and personal hygiene
- Assessing mood and behavior
- Being an ear and providing support when struggles or challenges arise
For many individuals, one of the main perks of completing treatment at a rehab facility is the sense of community that exists. The downside is, for some people, leaving treatment can feel like they no longer have that community to turn to for support. Fortunately, more and more drug and alcohol treatment centers are establishing alumni programs for those who have completed treatment with them. Alumni may be invited back to participate in 12-step groups, meetings, community events, holidays, or to speak with current patients at the facility. If you are in the process of researching treatment options for your loved one, ask each facility if they have an active alumni program.
Important elements of aftercare
When it comes to finding aftercare treatment, know that not all programs are created equal. While there are many aftercare options out there, certain key components will help set your loved one up for success in terms of long-term sobriety. If you’re researching aftercare treatment options for your loved one, make sure that these components are incorporated into the program:
Just like with any drug and alcohol treatment, when it comes to aftercare, one size does not fit all. Every person beginning the aftercare process is coming in under different circumstances. Consequently, when considering aftercare programs, look for ones that offer individualized treatment and tailor their program based on a person’s unique needs. This ensures that your loved one will receive the care, attention, and support needed for their specific situation.
In the early stages of recovering from addiction, accountability is key. Individuals should be supported but also held accountable to their sobriety. This may include participating in drug screenings, showing up to required meetings or medical appointments, and honoring any commitments they’ve made to their aftercare community.
Focus on real life skills
Individuals recovering from substance abuse have to learn how to stay sober while engaging with and participating in the outside world. This may include going to school, having a job, managing money, and taking care of a home. When looking for aftercare programs, seek out ones that focus on practical life skills as part of their curriculum. This can be done through education and by providing referrals to aftercare services such as child care, housing, job placement, financial planning, and more.
Inclusion of family
Often times, families and significant others experience feelings of uncertainty and anxiety when their loved one leaves treatment. They want to reconnect with their loved one, but may be afraid of relapse or still feel hurt by what occurred while the individual was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consequently, aftercare programs that provide support and education for family not only help family members learn how to support their newly sober loved one but also allow them to get emotional support and help for themselves. This can be done through:
During the early stages of recovery, family members may be searching for ways to reconnect with their loved one. Group therapy that’s facilitated by a trained family practitioner is a wonderful way to work through this potentially emotionally challenging time and open the doors for healthy communication. If more personalized attention is needed, one-on-one counseling sessions for spouses, significant others, or children is another valuable option.
Families who engage in psychoeducation are able to better understand and learn more about the nature of addiction. This, in turn, can open the door to expanding healthy communication while in therapy. Families learn to identify how addiction hijacks the mind and body and discover helpful ways to support the affected individual.
12-Step programs aren’t just for individuals suffering from substance abuse. There are also 12-Step programs designed to support people who have been affected by a friend or family member’s addiction. Some common groups include:
- Al-Anon: for friends and families of alcoholics
- Nar-Anon: for friends and families of drug addicts
- SMART Recovery Friends & Family: a non-secular support group for friends and family
For many people, maintaining long-term sobriety requires lifelong support. It’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic brain disease which can be successfully treated and managed but not always cured. Consequently, for some, having consist support and accountability through lifelong aftercare treatment is crucial to maintaining their sobriety. This may be accomplished by attending 12-Step groups or other non-12-Step alternatives, going to regularly scheduled group meetings facilitated by a substance abuse counselor, or continuing to participate in any of the aftercare services listed above.
Ongoing aftercare treatment should never be a source of shame. Remember, every person’s addiction story is unique and each individual will require a different level of care. Although maintaining lifelong sobriety can be a challenging process, proper aftercare treatment and support can help set your loved one up for long-term success.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.