What is an Aftercare Program?
In the field of addiction treatment, the term “aftercare” or “continuing care” is used to mean the stage of treatment that occurs after completing a program of more intensive treatment. Active involvement in an aftercare program after completing an intensive rehabilitation program for a substance use disorder (SUD) is essential.
Let’s start at the beginning. People with moderate to severe SUDs will usually first become involved in a serious rehab program. These programs typically include an initial withdrawal management program, also known as medical detox.
After withdrawing from the addictive substance, the individual will enter either a very structured inpatient or residential treatment. On the other hand, they may also begin an intensive outpatient treatment program.
After completing the initial program, many people enter a phase known as aftercare. At this time, this phase is more commonly referred to as “continuing care” because it puts across the idea that active treatment continues in this phase.
What Benefit is Aftercare for Substance Abuse?
Research shows that the greatest risk for relapse is during the first 90 days after your initial treatment. Additionally, the odds of maintaining recovery are lower without an aftercare program.
Aftercare has many benefits, including the following:
- You will learn how to cope with stress.
- You can receive support and encouragement.
- You’ll learn how to interact with family in healthy ways.
- You may find someone to call if your cravings start; you’ll build a support system.
- It builds confidence and develops skills through therapy, peer groups, and continued education.
Why Is Aftercare So Important?
Because addiction is a chronic, or relapsing, condition for many people, it needs to be treated on an ongoing basis like any other chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension. Yet, the traditional treatment model has been a supervised, intensive treatment program followed by limited outpatient care.
Continuing care or addiction includes:
- Regular assessments
- Training in self-management skills
- Monitoring the patient’s risks of relapse
- Treatment customized to the needs of the individual
- Links to other professional and community support
Addiction treatment has generally been short-term and focused on intense periods of care. After a medically supervised withdrawal, stabilization, and inpatient or residential care, people would have time-limited outpatient treatment. A national study of outpatient SUD treatment programs found that the planned length of outpatient care was usually 90 days. However, the actual duration was around 30 days.
For a lot of people, addiction is a relapsing condition that lasts for years after being diagnosed. It has been found that 40-60% of people treated for alcohol or other drug addiction return to regular use within a year following treatment.
Aftercare Eases the Transition from Formal Treatment Program to Life Outside of Treatment
Individuals in an inpatient or residential treatment program often report that they feel unprepared for the transition to everyday life after discharge from their SUD program. Sadly, there is an increased chance of relapse to substance use after a short period of abstinence.
People who complete an inpatient treatment program often still struggle to handle their everyday lives such as keeping a daily routine, going to work, or handling other obligations. Continued care includes individualized follow-up services after the initial phase of treatment.
How Does It Work?
In any chronic illness, you begin with a treatment plan and once it is under control, you move into the maintenance phase. You can achieve lifelong recovery with the right maintenance. In fact, recovery starts with aftercare—the continued outpatient treatment after leaving detox in a treatment facility. It might include:
- Group counseling
- Medication to treat your SUD
- Additional job skills training or anger management
- Continuing therapy with a counselor or psychologist
- Peer support programs like 12-step or SMART recovery groups
- Follow-up meetings with an addiction specialist or medical professional
How Long Does It Last?
Aftercare can last from a few months to the rest of your life. An individual in recovery will typically meet with their healthcare provider to reconsider their progress and treatment after a certain amount of time.
As treatment continues, some of the treatments might be reduced or even eliminated. If you feel like you are beginning to relapse or need more support, your counselor or medical provider may recommend changing your aftercare plan to concentrate on your needs at the moment.
Types of Aftercare for Substance Abuse
The best-known type of aftercare is peer-support groups. This includes 12-step models such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These groups use the social support offered by peer discussion to help promote and maintain substance-free lifestyles.
In these groups, members attend regular meetings and have a sponsor—a more experienced person in recovery. The sponsor can offer individual support. Some type of spiritual element is usually included, but people who are not spiritual have found these groups to be beneficial. Members of 12-step programs often attend the meetings for the rest of their lives.
Most addiction treatment programs promote the idea that patients should take part in group therapy during and after formal treatment. Besides the ones previously mentioned, there are other peer support groups for someone in recovery.
These include SMART (Self-Management And Recovery Training) recovery groups and Rational Recovery. These are popular for people who are not comfortable with the spiritual aspects of AA and NA. They offer another layer of community-level support to help build healthy lifestyle goals for people in recovery.
Treatment facilities frequently offer follow-up visits after you have completed the primary treatment program. These visits are sometimes called “booster sessions.” They are scheduled at regular periods and are meant to serve as a refresher. Along with assessing the treatment plan and how it’s working, booster sessions can give patients more coping tools and techniques to avoid relapse.
Meeting with a counselor provides a safe place for a person in recovery to express their feelings. It works as a sounding board to vent their frustrations and as a guide to help them handle the problems that crop up. A counselor can also recognize the warning signs of relapse which helps the person in recovery get additional help or treatment if necessary.
During therapy, a person in recovery learns methods to change their thought patterns, therefore changing their behaviors. Behavioral therapy can help recovery from an SUD through learning new coping skills, helping to set goals, and keeping you motivated to maintain recovery.
Sometimes, medication is needed to help an individual maintain their substance-free life. In the cases of nicotine or alcohol addiction, the medication is tapered off after time. For addiction to heroin or painkillers, medication is more often used as a long-term maintenance treatment.
Dual Diagnosis Support Treatment
This type of aftercare treatment is meant for people who have other mental health issues in addition to a substance use disorder. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “treatment must address the needs of the whole person to be successful.” With that in mind, the dual diagnosis works to treat all problems that will help the individual maintain their recovery. Dual diagnosis support must be individually created to each patient’s needs, so plans will vary.
Sober Living Homes (SLHs)
Sometimes called a “sober house” or “recovery house,” a sober living home helps a person in recovery make the transition from treatment to normal daily life. Technically, sober living homes are not considered aftercare. However, they do provide supports for people in substance abuse recovery.
Sober living homes provide a safe, substance-free environment for people trying to abstain from drugs and alcohol. Normally, SLHs aren’t licensed or funded by state or local governments and the residents share the costs among themselves.
Residents are typically expected to share in the upkeep and maintenance of the home. Individual homes have their own rules and they are strictly enforced, particularly the abstinence requirement. Living in an SLH allows you to work and navigate the real world and return to a safe substance-free environment.
The guiding recovery philosophy of an SLH emphasizes peer support and attendance at 12-step meetings. Some homes require residents to attend a preset number of counseling and group support meetings. Studies show that residents in sober living have a considerably lower rate of substance use than individuals in typical aftercare. It’s also noted that living in a sober home is associated with increased employment and income and fewer legal problems.
Start Your Recovery Journey at Behavioral Health Centers
At Behavioral Health Centers, we can offer you the treatment that can meet your needs and preferences. Our staff of professionals is experienced in treating drug and alcohol addiction as well as any co-occurring mental conditions. We use evidence-based treatments and therapies along with holistic therapies to treat your whole body, spirit, and mind.
Our treatment center can offer you a partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient program, and outpatient treatment programs for after you complete your initial phase of treatment. In this way, we can help you into a structured step-down of programs to help you with a successful transition. Contact us for more information today!