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Going through and completing a rehab treatment program for a drug or alcohol dependency or addiction is a big deal and a real accomplishment. However, that doesn’t mean you are cured for life and will never need any more help. Over the weeks, months, and maybe even years after you leave rehab, you will continue to be “in recovery”, and this means that you could fall victim to a relapse. This is particularly true if you have a dual diagnosis, meaning that you also have a mental health issue. Unfortunately, for people with co-occurring disorders, it is incredibly common for them to revert back to their previous self-destructive patterns and addictive behaviors. This risk is minimized by ensuring people have access to excellent aftercare programs, encouraging them to be completely drug-free for life.

Importance of a Good Aftercare Program

How good the aftercare program is can literally make the difference between a life of sobriety and a relapse. This is why good rehab facilities always develop aftercare plans in cooperation with the people who are going through treatment. Research by Psychiatric Services has demonstrated that those who have an aftercare plan that has been incorporated during treatment are far more likely to be successful, particularly if the patients have a co-occurring disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, depression, or schizophrenia. The plan that is created should be a plan of action in terms of what you definitely have to do, and also in terms of what you should do if you feel yourself slipping. Essentially, it is the foundation for your life of sobriety and full recovery.

When your treatment period ends, clearly, recovery is far from over. Aftercare is not so much aftercare, but rather continued care. Rehab facilities usually ofter treatment programs that only last for 28 days, which, are actually too short to ensure complete recovery. Aftercare usually lasts much longer, often for years. That said, it is also far less intensive than inpatient treatment.

Understanding the Need for Aftercare

After the patients have completed treatment, they are actually entering their most vulnerable period, because they are returning to their previous environment where they developed the addiction, and they are on their own. This is why they have to have the tools in place straight away to reinforce what they learned during recovery. This can be done through a range of different aftercare options, all of which have been designed to avoid relapse and to reinforce the coping strategies that the patients have learned. The most common aftercare programs include:

1. An outpatient treatment program, whereby the patient goes to treatment several times per week at a convenient time for counseling, drug testing, and more.
2. Group counseling, whereby recovering patients spend time together with their peers who are at different levels of recovery. This helps them to build both social skills and coping skills. Furthermore, they often find mentors in these sessions, and eventually, they themselves become mentors for others.
3. One to one therapy, whereby progress is discussed and issues are addressed
4. 12 step programs, which are the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and where recovering patients can receive support and encouragement.

How Long Should You Receive Aftercare Treatment?

The length of time patients need aftercare depends entirely on their personal situation. During rehab, they will play a central role in developing the aftercare plan, and they must commit to implementing it. Unfortunately, relapse rates continue to be high, between 40% and 60% in fact, and this demonstrates that people need more support once they leave rehab. This can be achieved through 12 step programs and other support networks. In some cases, people are ordered to do so, for instance, if they were court ordered to attend rehab in the first place, and they must also attend hospital or addiction clinics to be drug tested regularly.

While intensive, aftercare is more relaxed than rehab. Usually, people see their therapists and physicians a few times each week, rather than every day. This is because rehab promotes healing, whereas aftercare promotes real life, including being self-sufficient.

A good aftercare program will monitor how well someone transitions from being fully supported to being fully self-sufficient. This also helps patients to better identify and avoid trigger situations, helping them to resist the urge to go back to using. Aftercare can also help to identify an upcoming relapse (a relapse occurs in stages, with the third stage being a return to the drug), or even one that has already happened, for instance through drugs testing. If they see the warning signs, they can immediately alter the aftercare treatment plan to make sure people don’t fall victim to their addiction once again.

How to Create an Aftercare Plan

As you can see, the aftercare plan is hugely important. It should be created during inpatient care and should list a patient’s goals and requirements, needs, response to treatment, and more. Aftercare, just as inpatient treatment, does not have to be voluntary. However, it does help and increases the chances of someone being successful in terms of long term recovery.

Some of the components that are usually added to an aftercare plan are:

1. A strategy for relapse prevention
2. A prescription for counseling, support groups, and 12 step programs
3. Follow-up appointments with counselors and clinicians to ensure patients stay on track
4. The opportunity to live in a controlled environment, such as a sober living facility
5. Drug testing requirements or recommendations
6. Monitoring through appointments, email, telephone, tracking apps, and so on

The Reality Is That Recovery Is Hard

Recovering from an addiction is incredibly difficult and often impossible without the constant presence of a support network of people who can assist you to avoid temptation. It is quite common for addiction counselors to first visit the home of a soon to be released patient to check for and remove any drug paraphernalia, for instance. The patient, meanwhile, is encouraged to fully comply with the plan at all times.

Usually, a sponsor is also involved. A sponsor is someone who has been there, and who understands. Patients or their support network can contact the sponsor whenever the recovering patient feels that a relapse is impending.