When individuals seek recovery for substance use disorder (SUD), they may have the misconception that treatment will solve all of their problems. There is no question that treatment is required to help kickstart one’s sobriety and recovery. However, recovery is a lifelong process. Completing a treatment program is only the first step. Following treatment, individuals must get involved in aftercare to ensure long-term recovery.
What Is Aftercare in Addiction Recovery?
As professional treatment is required to recover from SUD, aftercare is another vital step that individuals must utilize to experience lasting recovery. Also referred to as continuing care, aftercare is a plan that outlines how an individual can best go about maintaining long-term sobriety. While the main goal of these plans is to help an individual prevent relapse, they also encourage individuals as they work to achieve additional life goals.
Why Is Aftercare Important?
When individuals are in treatment, they can place their full attention, time and energy on healing. This fact is even more evident when individuals utilize inpatient treatment programs, where they are removed from substance use and environmental triggers. Undeniably, treatment presents a host of challenges for individuals seeking sobriety. However, the real test begins once the individual completes treatment and leaves the treatment setting.
For an individual to safely transition out of treatment back into “normal” life, they need an aftercare plan in place to ground them in their sobriety and recovery. This is because those new to recovery experience an increased risk of relapse. While this is true, it is important to understand that relapse can happen at any point in one’s recovery journey. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that the relapse rates for SUD are similar for other chronic diseases, sitting between 40-60%. That being said, the first few months following treatment are especially crucial for preventing relapse.
Aspects of an Aftercare Plan
Just as effective treatment for SUD must be individualized, aftercare plans must also be individualized. Most aftercare plans address several important categories, including:
- Substance use and mental health triggers
- Effective ways to cope with triggers
- Stress management techniques
- Safe housing resources
- Emergency contacts for support
- Local support group meetings (times and dates)
- Continued counseling sessions
Is Aftercare Effective?
Simply put, aftercare can be an incredibly effective tool to help individuals sustain long-term sobriety. Nevertheless, there are several additional circumstances to consider when determining the effectiveness of aftercare. The journal Alcohol Research Current Reviews highlights the following research findings regarding the impact of continuing care:
- Evidence shows that long-term aftercare can produce more consistent and positive results
- Patients who experience a higher risk for relapse — those who have experienced past relapses, have low social support and/or low motivation during early treatment — may benefit more from aftercare
- Because humans are ever-changing and evolving, aftercare plans must also change and adapt to fit the present needs of a patient
Determining Your Aftercare Needs in Addiction Recovery
Whether you are seeking treatment or have been in recovery for years, aftercare can positively impact your recovery. A professional can serve as a motivating and supporting force as you go about this process.
For Those Beginning Treatment
If you are seeking or just beginning a treatment program, there are many things you can do to prepare for aftercare. It may help to know that your treatment team will likely address this as you go through the program.
As you dive into self-discovery during treatment, make a conscious and continuing list of your triggers. Triggers are anything that reminds you of your substance use or leads you to mental distress. Throughout treatment, work with your therapist to identify effective coping skills to manage these triggers. Remember that triggers can change and evolve, just like you will throughout your recovery.
You can also start incorporating healthy habits into your weekly routines. One habit that should stay long after treatment is participating in weekly therapy groups. These groups can offer essential social support and a newfound perspective. Factors like these can positively impact your recovery journey and help prevent relapse.
For Those in Long-Term Recovery
If you are in recovery and feel you need a sobriety refresh, you can implement a new aftercare plan that prioritizes your ongoing healing journey. First, address your current triggers and reflect on any relapses that you may have experienced throughout your recovery. Then, identify healthy coping mechanisms and stress management techniques that work well for you. Make an effort to utilize these strategies not only during times of stress but also as a form of daily mindfulness to prevent emotional distress from interfering with your sobriety.
Additionally, when you are comfortable, try to wear your sobriety on your sleeve. Try attending therapy groups to support others as they go about their early or long-term recovery journeys. You might join a mentorship or sponsorship program to help others who need encouragement as they work to maintain sobriety. Learn to jump at any sober networking opportunities to keep yourself surrounded by people who share your priorities. Above all, remind yourself how far you have come and all the benefits you have received from recovery.
Casa Palmera is a mental health and addiction treatment center that recognizes the importance of aftercare for long-term recovery. We help create aftercare plans for all of our patients, ensuring that each plan is individualized and practical to fit the needs and goals of each patient. To learn more about our treatment programs and aftercare, give us a call today at (855) 508-0473.