Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation Aftercare

Addiction Rehabilitation Aftercare
Last Edited: March 6, 2020

Patricia Howard, LMFT, CADC

Clinically Reviewed

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Addiction is a chronic, lifelong condition and staying clean and sober after completing a detox and treatment program isn’t easy – that’s why drug and Alcohol rehabilitation aftercare is an essential part of the recovery process. Aftercare is follow-up treatment you participate in after you detox and successfully complete a drug and Alcohol treatment program.

Sometimes referred to as post-rehab care, drug and Alcohol rehab aftercare is designed to allow you to continue building on the work you’ve already done once you move back home, or transition into a sober living community.

During the weeks, months, and years following your graduation from a treatment program, you continue to be at risk of relapsing back into your old patterns of addictive behaviors and negative, self-destructive thought patterns. If you suffer from a mental health issue, also known as co-occurring disorders, you are at an even higher risk of relapsing, making participation in an aftercare program a critical part of your recovery.

While there is no specific structure, rules, or concrete guidelines that dictate exactly what aftercare should look like, the general goal of all addiction rehab aftercare programs is relapse prevention. Many aftercare programs include regular education sessions, group therapy, and participation in a 12-step community like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Your aftercare may also involve working one-to-one with a mental health professional who can help you manage any co-occurring disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.

Most treatment centers offer extensive drug and Alcohol rehabilitation aftercare services, and in some cases, participants in aftercare programs become mentors to addicts who are just starting out on their treatment program. Aftercare planning is a part of every treatment model; you’ll be given a clear aftercare plan before you are discharged from treatment.

Addiction Aftercare Family Involvement

It’s important to understand that another critical part of drug and Alcohol rehabilitation aftercare is support for your family since addiction affects them too. Transitioning back to your home after you’ve completed a treatment program can be a stressful time for everyone – your family may have questions about the changes you’ve made while in rehab; they may also feel cynical about your ability to stay sober, or angry at the impact your addiction has had on the family.

Your drug and Alcohol rehabilitation aftercare may include family therapy and counseling both for, and with, your spouse, children, and other members of your household. They could be encouraged to attend one of the 12-step fellowship groups designed specifically for family members of active addiction and those who are recovering, such as Nar-Anon, where they will find support from others who are in similar situations to their own.

While the actual length of your formal aftercare programming varies depending on the treatment center you attend, how far you’ve come during your stay in rehab, and your own personal needs, the fact is that maintaining your sobriety takes ongoing work – that’s why aftercare is a lifelong process.

The Importance of Aftercare Following Treatment

Whether you struggle with an addiction to prescription medications, Alcohol, street drugs, or a combination of substances, making it through a treatment program is a major milestone in your road toward recovery.

At this point, it’s now time to focus on what you can do to maintain your sobriety and continue to build on all the hard work you’ve done during your time in treatment – that’s why taking part in an aftercare program is so critical at this stage in your sobriety.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse addicted people face staggeringly high statistics when it comes to the risk of relapsing once they leave treatment. NIDA reports that on average, between 40 and 60 percent of all people who participate in a substance abuse treatment program relapse within the first year of graduation – these are truly frightening facts for anyone who is a part of the recovery community.

Fortunately, participating in an aftercare program can go a long way toward improving your odds of maintaining your sobriety once you complete your treatment program.

Aftercare is Essential for Successful Recovery

Studies published in the medical journal “Addiction” show that aftercare is an effective tool in the fight against remission, and that Alcoholics and addicted people who continued to participate in therapy sessions, group meetings, and fellowships following treatment were much more successful in their sobriety than those who failed to pursue any type of aftercare activities or support.

This was especially true for study participants who lacked the support of their family members, suffered from co-occurring disorders of mental illness and addiction. An aftercare program offers more than just education – it helps you to stay connected with a community of people who understand exactly what you are going through, and who will hold you accountable if you start to show signs of relapse.

Attending aftercare gives you the chance to transition back into day-to-day life while maintaining the support of addiction professionals and your recovery community. Remember that during treatment, you learn how to deal with stressful situations, people, and environments that triggered you to abuse drugs or Alcohol, and once you leave treatment, you’ll have to use your newly-developed coping skills in real life.

Having the ability to discuss the events of your day with a supportive peer group can give you the feedback you need to avoid falling back into your old, negative thought patterns and behaviors; your recovery community can also be an important source of positive encouragement as well.

There are many different forms of aftercare, and deciding what aftercare activities are right for you is a critical part of your recovery journey. Remember, treatment is just the first step on a lifelong road of recovery, and it requires continuous work on the skills learned in treatment. Participating in an aftercare program following treatment isn’t a sign that you failed at your treatment, it’s a demonstration that you fully understand the chronic nature of addiction, and that you are fully committed to doing everything you can to live a healthy, sober life.

Finding a Sober Living Home

While some people who are in recovery from substance abuse choose to return to their home once they’ve completed their treatment program, others opt to move into a sober living home. Also known as transitional homes or step-down centers, sober living homes serve as an in-between option for addicted people who have completed a residential treatment program, but do not yet feel prepared to return to their home. Sober living gives you a chance to practice the skills, habits, and healthy coping mechanisms you’ve learned while in a treatment program in a safe, supportive environment.

Generally speaking, a sober living home or facility is a place where people in recovery live together with others who are all committed to staying sober. In most areas, sober living houses are either completely unregulated or subject to far fewer regulations than treatment and detox centers are. As a result, there are often major differences between sober living homes; some are luxurious, high-end houses located in upscale neighborhoods, while others are basic, no-frills facilities in low-income areas.

Sober living homes usually have rules surrounding the behavior of their residents related to substance abuse. The most important rule is that residents completely abstain from drinking Alcohol or using drugs – compliance with this rule may be monitored using urine testing, self-reporting, or both. Residents are also required to maintain a structured schedule, which includes a sticking to a set curfew, specific meal times, and participation in house meetings.

You can also expect to take part in the maintenance of the home; this could include doing chores such as cleaning bathrooms, preparing meals, or helping with yard work. Most sober living homes operate like a co-operative – the residents are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the home, and unlike a treatment center, there are often few outside supports or external staff members involved. The staff who are a part of a sober living home are usually there to oversee the residents, manage new admissions, and ensure compliance with all local, state, and federal regulations.

Many sober living homes require residents to either hold down a job, go to school, participate in a training program, or volunteer in the community. This requirement is meant to help you learn how to manage day-to-day life while staying sober; you might also be required to participate in a 12-step program.

How long you stay in a sober living house varies based on your needs, the rules of the house, and your ability to pay the fees associated with the house. Some residents only spend a few weeks at a sober living house before moving on to their own home, while others choose to live for months, or even years, within a step-down facility.

To find a sober living home, speak with the counselors at your treatment center, members of your recovery community, and any other addiction professionals you have access to. Often sober living home referrals are made on a word-of-mouth basis, while others are processed through your insurance provider.

How Does Outpatient Rehab Work?

While experts agree that inpatient residential treatment programs tend to help addicted people achieve the best possible outcomes, outpatient rehab can be a good option for people who are either unable or unwilling, to commit to a residential drug and Alcohol abuse program.

Outpatient rehab provides people with substance abuse issues an alternative to residential treatment programs. There are many outpatient rehab treatment options to choose from depending on your level of addiction, where you live, and your specific needs. Some outpatient programs for people with addictions issues operate out of hospitals and medical clinics, while others are part of existing residential treatment programs and outpatient counseling centers.

An intensive outpatient program, or IOP, is very similar to what you would experience during an inpatient residential program, and the major focus of this program is relapse prevention and cognitive behavioral counseling.

You can expect to take part in group therapy sessions, meetings, and one-on-one counseling appointments for a minimum of three days per week, for four or more hours a day. You might need to travel to a residential treatment center every morning to take part in the same daily schedule as inpatient residents do, and a drug and Alcohol counselor may visit you at your home or workplace to check in with you and ensure you are staying clean and sober.

Intensive outpatient programs can last for anywhere from 20 days up to 12 weeks or longer, and the length of each program can often be customized to match your progress and needs.

Another form of outpatient rehab is partial hospitalization – this type of treatment is designed specifically for people who require medical monitoring, but have safe, stable housing within the community. Participants in this type of rehab program can expect to attend counseling sessions and therapy three to five days per week, for a minimum of four to six hours per day. Sessions may be held inside of the hospital, at a nearby clinic, or a professional office affiliated with the hospital where you are being treated.

Only you can decide whether outpatient treatment is the right choice for you. On one hand, continuing to live in your own home while participating in a drug or Alcohol rehabilitation program can be more affordable than inpatient rehab; it can also be less disruptive to your family and career. This is an important consideration if you are unable to take an extended leave from your job or personal obligations, or if you require medical care for another condition or disease that prevents you from living away from your home.

Some of the drawbacks of outpatient rehab include the fact that you may be constantly exposed to triggers that could make maintaining your sobriety difficult. You’ll miss the opportunity to build relationships with other addicted people at a treatment center, and you may find the lack of 24-hour professional support difficult to deal with, especially during times when you feel stressed or tempted to relapse.

Finding a Sponsor

If you decide to participate in a 12-step fellowship as part of your aftercare and recovery plan you likely want to find a sponsor to support you with your sobriety.

A sponsor is someone who has already been in recovery for several years; they are actively working their way through the 12 steps of the fellowship program, and they should have achieved a minimum of one year of sobriety. Studies show that most sponsors are active members of their local recovery community.

While there are no set rules regarding what the sponsor is supposed to do, in general, they are there to serve as a mentor – a person who can help guide you, keep you accountable and act as a sounding board when you struggle to work your program.

Finding a sponsor can feel a bit intimidating, especially when you first start participating in a 12-step program. Although you aren’t required to have a sponsor to participate in a 12-step program, the vast majority of people who do work with a sponsor report that the guidance and support provided by their sponsor is an invaluable part of their aftercare plan.

To find a sponsor you need to attend 12-step meetings, talk with other members, and participate in both formal, and informal conversations held before, during, and after the meetings. Introduce yourself, and be sure to make it clear that you are a new member and you are looking for a sponsor.

If you have access to a variety of meetings held at different times and locations, try to visit these as well – the more meetings you participate in, the better chance you’ll make a connection with someone who is willing to sponsor you in the program.

Whether you should seek out a sponsor who is the same gender as you or not is a common question that new fellowship members have, and although the official stance of AA is that same-sex sponsors are ideal due to concerns over boundary issues, there’s no simple answer to this question.

Most experts agree that the most important factors when choosing a sponsor include their investment in helping you work through the steps of the program and having a deep, personal understanding of the principles of the fellowship. Some addicts may prefer to work with a man or a woman based on their own personal triggers or past traumas, and the same can apply for which members a sponsor prefers to partner with. Ultimately, this is a highly personal decision that you need to make with your recovery in mind.

A sponsor can have more than one sponsee – this is another consideration when looking for a sponsor. You’ll want to find a sponsor who has experience in the role, yet also has enough time to answer your phone calls, meet with you, and provide you with support.

Addiction is a unique disorder in terms of the fact that it is chronic, and there is no known cure, there is a complex collection of treatments and interventions designed to help addicted people manage their disorder and stay sober.

Addiction is also one of the most common health problems in the United States today – according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health, approximately 15 million Americans aged 18 and older suffer from alcohol use disorder, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 23 million Americans over the age of 12 need treatment for drug or Alcohol abuse.

While many people can overcome their substance abuse issues and lead a healthy, productive life after completing a rehab program, their disease of addiction is never cured – that’s why continued care is so critical for everyone who completes a drug and Alcohol treatment program.

For many Alcoholics and addicted people, the negative behaviors and faulty thought patterns that contributed toward their substance abuse, dependency and addiction are deeply entrenched; leading neuroscience experts believe that people who develop an addiction are genetically predisposed to the disease. This, along with a variety of social and environmental factors, is the reason so many addicted people relapse after completing a drug and Alcohol rehab program – quite simply, sober living is exceptionally difficult.

Continued care is a critical part of every recovering addict’s life – it is a concrete plan that includes specific activities, goals, and therapies that are designed to build on the lessons and skills learned during treatment.

It’s common for addicts and Alcoholics to think that once they are completed rehab, they can simply return to their old lives, and abstain from drinking or using drugs. Unfortunately, sober living isn’t that simple – it requires addicted people to constantly work on their recovery, find healthy ways to deal with their problems, and navigate stressful situations without relapsing. Continuing care ensures that there are plenty of supports and resources available to help addicts avoid the powerful urges to turn to Alcohol or drugs that they are likely to experience.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that an estimated 40 to 60 percent of people who successfully complete a drug and Alcohol rehab program will relapse within a year of completing their treatment, and one of the best ways to beat these odds is to have a solid aftercare plan in place.

Continued care could include moving into a sober living facility, participating in a 12-step program, taking part in an intensive outpatient treatment program, or attending individual counseling sessions. Before you leave your residential treatment facility, it’s important to meet with your addictions counselor to develop your own personalized continued care plan.