What Is Aftercare and Why Is It Important When It Comes to Addiction Recovery?

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What Happens in Aftercare Upon Completing a Rehab Program?

Once discharged from rehabilitation, there is a certain amount of care that needs to take place to ensure success. Aftercare provides you with the tools you need to continue sobriety during the stressful transition to the “real world.” Many aftercare programs are 12 step programs, but like rehab programs – no one is the same. There are many options for you depending on your situation and if you have a co-occurring disorder.

What Does Aftercare for the Average Person Look Like?

Soon after rehabilitation ends, your coordinator or your main therapist will work with you to create a post-discharge aftercare plan. The goal is to keep you happy, healthy and sober. The point of aftercare isn’t just to keep you from drinking or doing drugs. The intent is to keep you actively involved in recovery as you make the transition into the real world from inpatient or outpatient rehab. For many, it’s important to avoid “trigger” situations that may tempt you to begin using it again. So, it’s important to follow through with aftercare, and here’s what it can do for you:

  • Help you make the right choices, from choosing not to use drugs or alcohol to eating right
  • Teach you to cope with stress and strong emotions like anxiety and depression
  • Helping you identify your triggers and avoid them
  • Teach you to minimize relapses (which can occur) and avoid slipping back into destructive habits
  • Give you the resources to prevent relapse and make the right kind of friends

Effective treatment is important. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, here are some things you should look for in aftercare and any drug or alcohol treatment. Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse.  To be effective, treatment must address the individual’s drug abuse and any associated medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems. It is also important that treatment be appropriate to the individual’s age, gender, ethnicity, and culture. Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.  For example, methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone (including a new long-acting formulation) are effective in helping individuals addicted to heroin or other opioids stabilize their lives and reduce their illicit drug use. Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are medications approved for treating alcohol dependence. For persons addicted to nicotine, a nicotine replacement product (available as patches, gum, lozenges, or nasal spray) or an oral medication (such as bupropion or varenicline) can be an effective component of treatment when part of a comprehensive behavioral treatment program. Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.  Sanctions or enticements from family, employment settings, and/or the criminal justice system can significantly increase treatment entry, retention rates, and the ultimate success of drug treatment interventions. Drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously, as lapses during treatment do occur.  Knowing their drug use is being monitored can be a powerful incentive for patients and can help them withstand urges to use drugs. Monitoring also provides an early indication of a return to drug use, signaling a possible need to adjust an individual’s treatment plan to better meet his or her needs.” For families, in particular, it’s crucial that aftercare includes everyone. If you are an addict and a parent, one of your triggers may be in your home. By working as a family unit, everyone assists in the recovery process. Also, because you may have done some things you regret with your family present, it’s important that they see you working toward sobriety in order to resolve the tension. Aftercare services for families should include:

  • Group and individual therapies for families, spouses, and children
  • Educational classes that teach family members about the nature of addiction and/or mental illness
  • 12-step programs such as NARCONON and Al-Anon

It’s important to look for aftercare programs that address all of these issues. If you’re unsure what may be the right course of action for you, talk to your rehab coordinator to call a local rehab center for details.

How Long Should Aftercare Last?

It depends on you. Some people need to follow up for years before they settle into a healthy lifestyle where they don’t require regular check-ins. For some more people, their aftercare lasts their lifetime. It’s not unusual for aftercare activities such as AA, group therapy or individual therapy to become a part of your daily routine. You may enjoy and depend on it so much that you prefer to continue attending. What is certain? Relapse usually happens within the first three months of completion of a rehabilitation program, so it’s important to remember that the longer you go without relapsing, the better your chances of lifelong success. Aftercare is shown to increase the likelihood of success because it gives you coping resources.

Do You Need Aftercare Once You Finish Rehab?

If you’re asking yourself if you need aftercare, then you probably do. Anyone who enters a rehabilitation program should absolutely begin aftercare. Consider it one aspect of the entire rehab timeline. Recovery doesn’t end when you leave a treatment facility. You are not somehow “cured” of your addiction. If you suffer from any of the following, aftercare is especially vital. Physical Medical Issues: Many addicts suffer from medical issues that can include hypertension, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, autoimmune diseases, and arthritis. Managing these disorders by doctors unfamiliar with your addiction could lead to a relapse. Thankfully, aftercare specialists know how to deal with these co-occurring medical disorders. Mental Health Issues: The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that “About a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse. These statistics are mirrored in the substance abuse community, where about a third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of all drug abusers report experiencing a mental illness. Men are more likely to develop the co-occurring disorders than women. Other people who have a particularly high risk of dual diagnosis include individuals of lower socioeconomic status, military veterans and people with more general medical illnesses.” No Support at Home: For many addicts, they may have lost family during their time using. They may have lost friends or have friends that would not be helpful for their sobriety. In aftercare, it’s important that you be surrounded by people that understand you and want you to continue to stay healthy. Through group therapies, 12-step programs, and individual therapies, you’ll have the support you need to sustain your recovery. For those who have no safe home to go to post-rehab, sober living communities may be a good fit for long-term aftercare. These are environments free from drugs, have affordable housing, and provide emotional support to residents.

Aftercare Helps You Build a Support Network for Years to Come

Aftercare will introduce you to a wide network of individuals who have gone through a similar program or are medical or health professionals. When you participate in aftercare, you’ll have access to these amazing people. Alumni Groups – The best rehab programs keep in touch with their program graduates and invite them to help new members. This gives you a chance to stay in touch with your new friends. It’s also common for alumni organizations to host fun, drug, and alcohol-free events for members and their families. It can be a sociable way to spend your weekends! Sponsors – Most 12-step aftercare programs will assign you a sponsor. This person will guide you along with your re-introduction into the world. A sponsor has already gone through the program and is still involved in the recovery process. According to Alcoholics Anonymous, “[Sponsorship] assures the newcomer that there is at least one person who understands the situation fully and cares — one person to turn to without embarrassment when doubts, questions, or problems linked to alcoholism arise. Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed most. Sponsorship also provides the bridge enabling the new person to meet other alcoholics — in a homegroup and in other groups visited.” Support Groups – There are a number of specialized support groups depending on your addiction. Support groups aren’t limited to drug and alcohol users, either. If you binge eats, use more than one drug, or suffer from other mental health issues, there is likely a group just for you. Talk to your rehab coordinator or search the internet for local groups in your area. Life Coaches – We all need a little motivation sometimes. When mustering the willpower and energy to choose to do healthy things to your body, it can be difficult to do it alone. Life coaches are often trained therapists or counselors that work with you to achieve your personal goals. Then check in on you while helping you create and meet these goals. They can provide a variety of recovery strategies that may have not been addressed in rehabilitation. Finding the right rehabilitation and aftercare program is the first step in making a big, healthy change in your life. Contact us to learn more.