So you or a loved one has just graduated from a drug and alcohol treatment program. Congratulations! This is a wonderful step on the road to lifelong sobriety. During this time, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions as you begin to integrate your new sober lifestyle into your home, work, school, and community as a whole. But as motivated as you may be to maintain sobriety after leaving treatment, it’s important to remember that a chronic problem cannot be solved with a short-term solution. To stay sober and prevent relapse outside of an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, many addicts need ongoing support for weeks, months, or even years. That’s where aftercare programs comes in.
What is an Aftercare Program?
An aftercare program is a less-intensive form of treatment that allows people to transition back into their communities while continuing to learn healthy coping skills, repair relationships, and maintain a sense of support.
Aftercare Programs and Relapse Prevention
Without the proper support, many individuals battling substance abuse are prone to relapse after leaving treatment. This is especially true within the first year of completing a treatment program. This isn’t surprising. After all, people in this stage of recovery are just beginning to learn new and different ways of interacting with the world and environment in which they exist. This alone is a challenging process. When individuals leave a treatment program, they may also be faced with challenges and stressors such as creating a new friend group, finding a job, and gaining financial stability. That’s why aftercare treatment is such a crucial part of relapse prevention. A quality aftercare program provides continued tools and support that help people navigate their new lives without drugs or alcohol.
Developing an Aftercare Plan
At some drug and alcohol treatment centers, creating an aftercare plan is required before an individual is discharged. This is typically done with the person’s case manager who can provide referrals to aftercare services such as sober living programs, ongoing medical care, employment centers, and more. Having a plan in place can help ease any fears that may arise as an individual prepares to leave treatment.
If you or a loved one are currently researching treatment programs for substance abuse, ask about a treatment centers aftercare services. If your loved one is already part of a treatment program, speak with his or her case manager about aftercare options and begin setting up an aftercare plan now. It’s never too early to create a continued support system to help ease the transition from full-time addiction treatment to “normal” life.
What Makes a Successful Aftercare Program
When it comes to choosing an aftercare program, there are lots of options available. However, not all aftercare programs are created equal. There are certain components that will help set you or your loved one up for success in terms of lifelong sobriety. When researching aftercare treatment options, make sure that these components are incorporated into the program:
With aftercare treatment, one size definitely does not fit all. Every individual is entering the aftercare process under different circumstances. Consequently, when considering aftercare programs, look for ones that offer individualized treatment and can tailor their program based on a person’s unique wants, needs, and goals. This ensures that each individual receives the care, attention, and support needed for his or her specific situation.
Inclusion of Family
Familial connection and support is especially important during the early phases of recovery. During this time, families are often looking for answers and a way to reconnect to their loved one. Aftercare programs that provide a space where families can spend time together through therapy and healthy sober activities can help facilitate that reconnection.
Focus on Real Life Skills
Lifelong sobriety cannot exist in a vacuum. Individuals recovering from substance abuse have to learn how to stay sober while engaging with and participating in the outside world. This may include having a job, going to school, managing money, and taking care of a home. When looking for aftercare programs, seek out ones that address practical recovery issues 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.
Accountability for Clients and Staff
In the early stages of recovering from substance abuse, 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. However, accountability should not just extend to clients. Ask prospective aftercare programs how their staff is held accountable and if client feedback is taken into consideration while creating or adjusting an individual’s aftercare plan. Accountability on both sides helps build a sense of trust and respect, therefore increasing the likelihood that an individual will remain in their respective aftercare program.
Types of Aftercare Services
As mentioned previously, there are several options when it comes to aftercare treatment. If you can, work with a case manager to determine which services would best serve you or your loved one. Some of the most common aftercare services include:
Sober Living Programs
Sober living programs are a great stepping stone for individuals who are being discharged from a treatment facility but aren’t quite ready to transition back into their homes. Sober living houses offer a less structured environment than a typical treatment facility, but still maintain curfews, rules, and a sense of community that keep residents safe and accountable to their sobriety.
Many sober living programs provide:
- 24-hour supervision and support
- On-site educational groups
- 12-Step meetings
- Case management
- Opportunities to learn or solidify life skills (cooking, budgeting, regular chores)
For those who are new to recovery or are prone to relapses, having a sober mentor is a great way to maintain accountability and support outside of a traditional treatment facility. Sober mentors are professionals who, for the most part, have gone through the recovery process and know the challenges that can arise during this time. They’re able to provide an increased level of support and understanding because they’ve been there. Sober mentors are different than sponsors in that this is what they do professionally. They can provide more personalized attention and have access to resources that many sponsors simply do not. Some sober mentor duties may include:
- Serving as a companion for trips and events
- Monitoring communication with family members or significant others
- Confirming attendance at 12-Step meetings, work, or school
- Assessing mood and behavior
- Overseeing diet and personal hygiene
- Looking for signs of relapse
One of the main perks of receiving care at a treatment facility is the sense of community that’s created. For some individuals, leaving rehab can feel like they no longer have that community to turn to for support. Luckily, many treatment centers offer an alumni program for those who have completed drug or alcohol treatment with them. Alumni may be invited back for community events, meetings, 12-Step groups, or to speak with current clients at the facility. When researching treatment options for you or a loved one, ask if there is an active alumni program.
Support Groups: 12-Step + Non-12-Step Programs
All over the world, people are engaged in 12-Step and non-12-Step programs as part of an aftercare program. These groups are centered around regularly scheduled meetings (daily, weekly, or monthly) and are meant to foster continued support, accountability, and community.
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)
- Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
- Heroin Anonymous (HA)
For those who prefer a secular (non-spiritual or non-religious) approach, non-12-Step groups are a wonderful option. Each of these groups have their own philosophy when it comes to maintaining sobriety. Some common non-12-Step group include:
- SMART Recovery
- Women in Sobriety
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
Connecting with a support group and regularly attending meetings can be an important part of aftercare treatment.
Aftercare Programs for Families
Addiction rarely only affects the individual struggling with substance abuse. Often times, families and significant others experience feelings of uncertainty and anxiety when their loved one leaves treatment. They may be afraid of their loved one relapsing, or may still feel hurt by what occurred while the individual was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consequently, families are encouraged to engage in an aftercare program to not only learn how to help support their newly sober loved one, but to also get emotional support and help for themselves. Some helpful aftercare resources for families include:
During the early stages of recovery, family members are still searching for ways to reconnect with their loved one. Group therapy that’s facilitated by an trained family practitioner is a wonderful way to work through this potentially emotionally challenging and uncertain time and open the doors to healthy communication. If more personalized attention is needed, one-on-one counseling sessions for spouses, children, or significant others is another viable option.
Families who engage in psychoeducation are able to better understand and learn more about the nature of addiction. This, in turn, can increase empathy which then opens the door to expanding healthy communication while in therapy. Families learn to identify how addiction hijacks the mind and body and 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
- Al Nar-Anon: for friends and families of drug addicts
Lifelong Commitment to Aftercare
For many people, continuing to abstain from drugs or alcohol is a lifelong process. 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 accountability and support through lifelong aftercare treatment is crucial to maintaining sobriety. This may be accomplished by attending regularly scheduled group meetings facilitated by a substance abuse counselor or continuing to attend 12-Step groups or other non-12-Step alternatives.
Ongoing aftercare treatment should never be a source of shame. Like any medical condition, every addiction story is different and every person will require a different level of care. Although recovery can be a challenging process, with proper treatment and support, there is always hope.