Addiction is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or heart disease. That means, like these other conditions, addiction can be managed with the right tools.

When it comes to successfully managing addiction, a vital tool is aftercare. To get there, the individual struggling with substance use must first abstain from alcohol, drugs, or both. Then they have to learn the tools to repair their life, health, and relationships, including best practices for aftercare.

Finally, they enter the final stage of recovery, which is focused on growth. This stage is the longest and is ongoing — so long as the person maintains their sobriety. Aftercare can help them do so.

Moving Beyond Rehab

Making the decision to undergo detox and enter addiction treatment is a major step in recovery. But the reality is that treatment is simply the beginning of recovery. Once an individual completes a treatment program, they need to begin aftercare.

Any care that someone receives after leaving rehab is referred to as aftercare. Some form of aftercare may last the remainder of the person’s life, and it plays a significant role in helping someone with an addiction navigate their return to everyday life. Some of the most common types of aftercare include counseling, sober living spaces, 12-step meetings, and outpatient care.

The attention the person gives to aftercare can determine how successful they are in maintaining their recovery.

Why Aftercare?

The period after a person’s initial treatment phase can be challenging as they learn to cope with triggers, stress, and cravings. Having a plan in place — complete with activities, interventions, and resources — can increase their ability to navigate any issues that may arise.

A person’s aftercare plan will vary depending on their own needs. Most plans include one or more of the following components:

  • Participating in the alumni program of the treatment program they attended
  • Moving into a sober living house for a period of time
  • Attending a recovery or 12-step meeting regularly
  • Finding a sponsor and creating a sober support system
  • Attending counseling, whether as an individual or in a group setting

The idea behind an aftercare plan is to have help in place that a person in recovery can use if they feel they are in danger of relapsing.

Creating an Aftercare Plan

To create an effective aftercare plan, the person in recovery should consider their own situation. This means considering their housing situation, employment, and their need for continued treatment.

For instance, if they don’t have access to a safe and stable living situation, they may need to consider living in a sober house for a period. If they lost their job due to their addiction, they may need assistance in finding new employment.

The length of time someone will need to follow their aftercare plan will vary. Some may need a higher level of care only for a few weeks, while others may need a higher amount of care for months. Most people in recovery will need some form of aftercare — even as basic as attending 12-step meetings — for the rest of their life.

An individual in recovery may need to modify or adapt their aftercare plan over time as their needs or situation changes. At all times, they should remain honest and open about any potential challenges or issues so they can face issues head-on. Not doing so only increases the individual’s chances of relapse.

Relapse is Not a Failure

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 40 to 60% of people will relapse during their first year of recovery. Because drug or alcohol addiction is a chronic disease, relapse shouldn’t be considered a failure. If relapse does occur, the person in recovery should reexamine their aftercare plan. They may need to resume active treatment or modify their care in other ways.

While relapse is not a failure, it can be dangerous. This is because a person’s tolerance for a drug will decline once they are no longer actively addicted. If they return to using and take the amount they were accustomed to before they got sober, they could put themselves at serious risk of an overdose.

To help prevent a relapse, a person in recovery should identify their triggers. These can be people, places, or emotions that cause the individual to crave alcohol or drugs. Avoiding these triggers is essential, especially during the early days of sobriety.

Additionally, individuals in recovery should develop a plan to manage their reactions should they encounter a trigger. This can include a variety of coping strategies, from journaling to breathing exercises.

Supporting Long-Term Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) describes recovery as a process supported by four pillars: health, home, purpose, and community. All four play a crucial role in maintaining sobriety, but community is a particularly relevant part of aftercare.

Community references the relationships and social networks that sustain a person and offer support. These can be connections with family members and friends. They can also be the relationships someone has with co-workers or classmates. For recovering addicts, this can also mean the bonds they form with others in recovery via 12-step programs and support groups.

If you have questions about what an appropriate aftercare plan could look like for you, we’re here to help.

We’ve created a treatment philosophy based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing substance use and mental health disorders. Utilizing therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices, we provide superior patient care across Indiana.