Congratulations! You’ve made it through recovery.
The first steps can seem like the hardest but now you are on the path to living a sober life.
There will be stressors in the everyday world that weren’t there during treatment. There will be old friends and temptations that you will have to learn to avoid or accept.
This is why it is so important to have an individualized aftercare plan in place for when you hit those pitfalls of living in the “real world” again.
What Is An Aftercare Plan?
You always hear that “the first step is admitting that you have a problem.”
People assume that you go off to recovery and come back and all your problems are solved.
Unfortunately, that is not the way things work.
Some people can admit they have a problem and just walk away from their addiction, however, many people need that continued support. Recovery and an individualized aftercare plan can help prevent relapses.
An aftercare plan is as simple as it sounds.
It is a plan that you have in place, either made on your own or with the help of a counselor, for how you plan on dealing with the “real world” after recovery.
Every person with a substance abuse problem has different issues and things they are dealing with.
This is why it is so important that a plan is individualized.
Just like every program doesn’t work for every person, every aftercare plan won’t work for every person.
All the same, there are some basics that you need to adhere to, like the four major dimensions that support recovery:
- Health—overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being. This can include seeing a therapist for underlying mental health issues or going to a physical therapist to manage pain from a sports or work injury.
- Home—having a stable and safe place to live.
- Purpose—conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
- Community—having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
All of these should be covered and addressed in the recovery plan.
Do you have a comorbid mental illness that needs to be addressed? Is your home life safe or do you need to seek out another residence or a sober living community? Do you have a job or career to return to? Do you have the safety net of support from family, friends, or groups?
There are many different plans and programs out there that exist as an answer to those questions.
Your counselor or treatment center should be able to point you in the right path.
But where do you start?
What Types Of Aftercare Programs Are There?
There are many different types and components of aftercare programs, the ones that you choose are based solely on your individualized needs.
Often you’ll need more than one program or component for a successful aftercare plan.
Ongoing Counseling – Many people with addictions also face some sort of behavioral issue. This could be depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD or more serious issues like schizophrenia. Regardless of the issue involved, ongoing counseling will help manage the symptoms of those diseases and help prevent relapse.
It also helps to continue to reinforce the good habits that were learned during treatment and to develop coping skills for the stressors of everyday life. It also helps to promote personal growth.
Sober Living Communities – Sober living communities or half-way houses are especially helpful if the person does not have a safe place to return to. Maybe they don’t have a home or maybe they lived with abusers or other addicts that would not lead to successful treatment.
These places are transitional and offer a little bit of structure and a lot of support. They often have strict rules regarding abstinence and regular testing for drugs and alcohol. The people who live there are expected to go to meetings, help with the cooking and the cleaning. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, people who commit to living in a sober living facility for a sufficient amount of time, dependant on the individual, had high rates of abstinence not only while living in the house but also upon leaving. They also showed improvements with rates of employment, arrests and psychiatric symptoms.
Family Therapy – Addiction and substance abuse disorders are complex diseases that affect the whole family. In addition to affecting relationships and family dynamics, it can break down relationships and destroy bonds between family members. Family members often don’t understand the complexities of addiction and can also unwittingly contribute to the disease.
Attending family therapy, in conjunction with other treatment elements, can help to repair the familial ties and bring back that network of support that the person in recovery might have not had otherwise. When the family also is aware of the triggers and stressors of the person in recovery, they can help the person to seek help before a relapse occurs.
Support Groups – Whether it is a traditional 12-step program or an alternative, a support group is a good way to connect to a community and to hold yourself accountable. They offer a high level of support and foster healthy relationships in a sober-peer atmosphere.
A study cited by the Psychiatry Journal found that participating in this type of program after treatment makes a big difference in terms of successful recovery. In the study, 73 percent of those who attended one or more 12-step meetings each week remained abstinent after six months, compared to less than a third of those who didn’t participate in such a program.
Vocational Rehab – Having a sense of purpose in life and a reason to get up every morning can go a long way toward preventing relapse. Becoming successfully employed can increase self-confidence and your sense of identity. It can make you self reliant and can offer routine and structure to your day.
Vocational services offered through the aftercare plan address issues surrounding employment. Vocational counseling and job placement assistance help individuals:
- Identify occupational strengths and determine what career paths they might find interesting.
- Identify appropriate employment opportunities through aptitude and skills tests, personality evaluations and career counseling sessions.
- Create a resume, find potential employment opportunities and prepare for an interview.
- Address barriers to employment, such as the need for transportation or childcare.
Studies have shown that unemployment increases the risk of relapse after alcohol and drug addiction treatment. It also shows higher rates for substance abuse, smoking, and other risky behavior. It is important to find your purpose and develop goals after completing recovery, so vocational rehab can go a long way toward preventing relapse.
How Long Does Aftercare Treatment Last?
How long your aftercare treatment lasts is purely dependant on the individual, the substances that they abused and how long they used them.
Your aftercare plan may last several months to several years.
While it is always good to have a plan in place, you should expect changes in your plan as you encounter them.
If you implement a step-down plan, then as you get better with coping and gain new skills, some components of your aftercare plan will be dropped.
For example, successfully completing a vocational rehab or educational program, or finding suitable employment and housing and leaving your sober living community.
It is important to remember that setbacks can and do happen and not everyone gets “well” at the same place. The importance of individualized treatment is that it is tailored to you so it can change and evolve with you. Don’t get discouraged and give up if your original plan has to be tweaked.
Does Aftercare Really Work?
While aftercare is often optional, it can be extremely important for ensuring your continued success with recovery.
It offers a period of readjustment and learning before forging ahead alone.
It allows you to form healthy relationships, not only with the people in your life but also with yourself.
The more individualized the aftercare plan is the more you are likely to participate and achieve lasting sobriety.
For instance, if you don’t believe in a higher power, an AA program might not be your best choice.
Is There Life Beyond Aftercare?
What does life beyond aftercare look like? Can addiction really be cured?
In short, the answer is, yes.
We, as a society, need to quit looking at addiction like a common cold where you complete treatment and your miraculously better.
Addiction and substance use disorder are often characterized by relapses or setbacks
By treating addiction like any other, similar illnesses we are more likely to monitor and follow up with treatment.
Just because one relapses does not mean that you failed. It means that the treatment needs adjustment.
With an individualized aftercare program in place, you become more aware of your triggers and stressors that could lead to a relapse.
This could prompt you to seek out care before the relapse occurs, or at least more quickly than you might have otherwise.
Just like a diabetic will go to the doctor for more testing if their sugar is running high, someone in recovery might make an appointment with their counselor or attend a group meeting if they know they are experiencing negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.