Living in Recovery: How Aftercare Can Help

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What is Aftercare?

Aftercare programs are one of the most important parts of the recovery process. They include any type of care offered after the detox or residential treatment.

Now that you’re sober, aftercare programs focus on how to keep it that way. They offer tools, strategies, resources, and support networks to make sure you don’t relapse. If someone doesn’t have an aftercare program in place after their treatment, there’s a very high likelihood they’ll cycle back into their addictive pattern.

Aftercare is a lifetime commitment and will always be a part of your recovery journey. But this should be an encouraging thought, not an overwhelming one. If done right, aftercare can be the most helpful and enriching parts of living in recovery.

Why is Aftercare Needed?

According to an article in the Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, there are over 14,500 drug treatment centers in the United States. Many use evidence-based treatments during treatment but “many facilities are missing a piece of the puzzle, especially during aftercare.”

Some of these missing “puzzle pieces” may include:

  • Mental health follow-ups
  • Education counseling
  • Child care resources
  • Vocational and employment training
  • Financial literacy advice
  • Housing assistance
  • Transportation assistance
  • Relationship counseling
  • Legal advice and support
  • Physical health monitoring

Substance abuse aftercare can also provide peer support to clients once they leave a rehabilitation facility. But before leaving the treatment center, you and your team should make an aftercare plan. This will paint a better picture of what things will look like as you transition back into day to day life.

How Important is Community Support?

Just like you didn’t beat the cycle of substance abuse on your own, maintaining your health and sobriety after treatment also requires the support of those around you.

When you leave your treatment program, it’s inevitable that difficult circumstances will come up. They might make you reconsider your dedication to a sober life, or might make you feel like a failure. Guilt, shame, and insecurities are often the tipping points for relapse; so, who can you turn to for help in these key moments?

Support networks can come in many forms. A study in the Journal for Addictive Behaviors, for example, has shown how social reinforcement drastically improved how long clients stayed in aftercare programs. According to their study, social reinforcement in therapy settings included:

  • Being verbally recognized by a group therapist in the first few weeks of attendance
  • Being presented with a certificate after six weeks of participation in group therapy
  • Being recognized by name on an honor roll on public display
  • Being presented with a medallion after eight weeks of participation in group therapy

Therefore, social affirmation and positive reinforcement by therapists are a key part to continued participation.

This also goes for friendship groups and everyday community interactions. It’s worthwhile to ask yourself how your friends and loved ones contribute to this positivity in your recovery process. Who is a good influence? Who brings you down? When you realize how important the community element is, the more successful your aftercare recovery will be.

First Steps to Making an Aftercare Treatment Plan

A typical substance abuse aftercare plan often includes a good balance of professional and independent elements. Things like developing a relapse prevention plan, outpatient therapy appointments, attending addiction self-help groups, and periodic drug testing are all good things to consider when you make your plan. The below tips will also help you get started:

#1 – Consult a professional: You should make sure to discuss your aftercare plan with their doctors and therapists, especially right as you leave your treatment program. An expert eye can help you identify what types of aftercare will be most beneficial for you and your journey.

#2 – Map it out, write it down: Make sure to keep a documented copy of their aftercare plan. It may start off as sticky notes and outlines, but ultimately, it should include all the information you need: important phone numbers, locations of support group meetings, and therapy appointment times.

#3 – Share your Plan: Your friends and family should be aware of your aftercare treatment plan. That way, they can respect your values and help support you in staying on track. This is essential if you want to stay accountable and keep the straight path in your recovery.

What Should You Expect in an Aftercare Program?

The long-term aftercare plan you work so hard to map out will aid you in your journey that you’ve invested so much time and effort in building. It’s important to remember that long-term drug use can harm your mental health and alter the brain’s normal functioning. These harmful effects don’t automatically go away when you stop using alcohol and drugs—it’s a step by step process to regaining control over your life.

In order to address the physical toll that addiction has on your body, aftercare programs shouldn’t be too extreme in their regimens. Make realistic goals and stick to them. An aftercare program should address these issues and help you monitor them so that you don’t end up relapsing.

You should also expect to dig deep into the process of identifying your triggers. When you move back into your community after rehab, you’ll be faced with triggers from your past. These triggers can make staying sober difficult. This is why a good aftercare program will include talking through how to cope with and even overcome them.

So while residential treatment programs come with a graduation date, aftercare can (and should) continue for as long as you need. For many people, aftercare goals can extend into years—this is lifelong journey. What could be more important than continuing to grow, staying healthy, and avoiding relapse? Aftercare is the place to start.

To learn more about our treatment options and aftercare services and how Pinnacle Recovery can help, contact us here.

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