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According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 20 million Americans aged 12 and older reported having a substance use disorder (SUD) within the last year. Among those people, only 4.2 million received some form of substance use treatment during that year.1 Substance use disorder is a chronic relapsing condition.2 Even those that complete treatment usually still need some form of drug rehab aftercare or relapse prevention strategies such as ongoing counseling, support groups, medication maintenance, or mindfulness-based interventions to help maintain sobriety in the long term.2,3
What is Drug Rehab Aftercare?
Drug rehab aftercare refers to methods of care, treatment, and support that help you transition from drug rehab back into your daily life in society: connecting you to the community, helping prevent relapse, maintain sobriety, and practice healthy coping skills learned in rehab when faced with stress. Because SUD is a chronic, relapsing condition, addiction aftercare is crucial to helping people sustain long-term recovery.4
What Are Examples of Drug Rehab Aftercare?
There are many different forms of drug rehab aftercare available for people in recovery from substance use disorders. These include:2,3,4,5,6
- Individual therapy: Ongoing individual counseling or therapy after completing drug rehab can be helpful to continue to provide you with professional support in processing your emotions and triggers to misuse substances and practicing coping skills learned during rehab to help you prevent relapse.
- Group counseling: Group counseling helps provide a sense of community while also getting professional counseling advice and support in maintaining recovery.
- 12-step programs: 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, connect you with a supportive community and help you lean on a higher power to achieve and maintain recovery.
- Non-12-step support groups: There are a variety of non-12-step support groups available to help provide people with peer support in maintaining recovery. Groups are sometimes tailored to specific populations such as gender-specific, religious-affiliated, LGBTQ, executives, etc.
- Step-down care: It is often helpful for people in recovery to step down from higher forms of treatment such as inpatient rehab to outpatient treatment. This helps provide continued treatment and support as you adjust to life outside of the rehab center.
- Medication maintenance: There are many medications available to help prevent relapse from opioids and alcohol. Talk to your doctor about your medication options to determine what is right for you.
- Mindfulness-based relapse prevention: Mindfulness-based therapies and practices can help prevent relapse by helping you be more present at the moment, approaching whatever is present in the moment with an attitude of nonjudgment, compassion, and acceptance. Mindfulness is especially helpful for coping with triggers and cravings. Many people practice “urge surfing,” where they witness their craving from the attitude of an observer and just “surf the waves of the urge” until it passes rather than choosing to give in to the urge.
- Sober living homes: Sober living homes, also called recovery houses, are transitional residential facilities for people who have completed inpatient treatment. These homes help people transition back to society and provide resources to help them obtain employment, manage finances, and practice relapse prevention skills.
How Do I Create an Aftercare Plan?
When you are near the completion of your treatment, your addiction treatment team will help you form an aftercare plan. You may have an aftercare plan addiction recovery specialist who collaborates with you to create an individualized aftercare plan that meets your unique needs.
Your treatment team may also be able to provide you with helpful aftercare resources to support you in your goal of maintaining long-term recovery and preventing relapse.
What is the Most Effective Form of Addiction Aftercare?
Some of the most common forms of relapse prevention are therapy, skill development, medications, and continued monitoring, but there isn’t enough research to say that any one approach is more universally effective than the other.6
While peer support groups are also popular and helpful, research is limited in terms of whether they are more effective at preventing relapse than other drug rehab aftercare methods.6
Research has shown that contingency management programs are some of the most effective treatment modalities for addiction recovery. Contingency management uses motivation to improve recovery outcomes. Patients will provide urine samples, and if they are negative for substances, they receive vouchers or other awards in return. While such programs are highly effective in the short term, they can be expensive to implement, and their effect on long-term recovery diminishes once the rewards are no longer readily available.6
Ultimately there hasn’t been a single intervention that has demonstrated effectiveness for everyone.6 The addiction recovery process is highly variable, somewhat unpredictable, and unique to each person. Everybody’s needs and preferences are different. What works for one person may not work for another. It’s vital to speak with your aftercare plan addiction recovery team about your unique needs to determine the best fit for you.
How Do I Transition into a Sober Living Home?
Sober-living homes provide you with supervised, transitional housing after you complete inpatient rehab. Your aftercare plan addiction recovery team will usually help you make this transition.
You will choose the sober-living home and make all necessary arrangements before you complete the treatment, so on treatment graduation day, all you have to do is pack your bags and go.
The staff at the sober living home will do everything they can to make your transition smooth, supportive, and successful in helping you maintain recovery and transition back into daily life in society.
Where Do I Find Support Group Meetings?
Your drug rehab aftercare plan addiction recovery specialist and other members of your treatment team can help connect you with local support groups in your area that you can attend after completing treatment. You can also find local NA, AA, Smart Recovery, and other peer support group meetings by doing a Google search or checking the group websites for available meetings near you.
How Can I Avoid Relapse?
It is crucial to normalize relapse and understand that it is considered a typical part of the recovery process. Most people will relapse at least once during their recovery period. However, research has shown that 60% of people with substance dependence will eventually achieve sustained recovery.5
While you may not be able to completely avoid relapse, there are many things you can do to help prevent it, such as:3,4,5,6
- Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health will promote optimal well-being, which can prevent relapse.
- Practice mindfulness: Research has shown that mindfulness practices can help enhance overall well-being, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and prevent relapse.
- Join a peer support group: Feeling connected to a community of peers who understand what you are going through in your battle with substance use can help you maintain recovery.
- Continue to attend therapy sessions: Therapists or counselors can help provide you with ongoing support in processing your emotions, healing and integrating traumatic experiences, and developing and practicing healthy coping skills.
- Seek treatment for any co-occurring mental health or medical conditions: If left untreated, the symptoms of these conditions could lead you to a relapse. Taking a holistic approach to your recovery and addressing all areas of your life will help promote optimal well-being and long-term recovery.
- Talk to your doctor or treatment team before stopping your medications: Medication-assisted treatment can help prevent relapse. Stopping your medication without a doctor’s supervision could lead to an unexpected relapse.
- Consider avoiding people, places, and situations that may trigger you to use if at all possible: Sometimes recovery means finding a new circle of friends and new activities. If you know certain events, people, places, or experiences may trigger you to want to use substances, then it may be best to avoid those places altogether, especially early in your recovery.
- Identify your relapse warning signs and create a relapse prevention strategy: It is critical to know your own triggers and warning signs intimately. If you are aware of when you are triggered or on the verge of relapse, it can help you to recognize what is happening and make a different choice. It is also just as important to have a plan in place so you know which skills and approaches you need to use when you feel on the verge of relapse. Some relapse prevention strategies you may include in your plan are:
- Take some deep breaths.
- Call a friend, recovery coach, sponsor, therapist, or another supportive person.
- Distract yourself by engaging in a fun hobby or activity.
- Practice healthy self-talk.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings.
- Write a letter to yourself outlining all of your reasons for choosing to seek sobriety, and read it to yourself when you feel cravings.
- Stay busy: Boredom can increase the desire to use substances. Consider keeping yourself as busy as possible, so you don’t even have time to think about using drugs or alcohol. Fill your schedule with healthy, positive activities that make you feel good during and afterward. It can be helpful to cultivate a hobby and put all the energy you put into substance use into your hobby. When you feel a desire to use substances, turn to your hobby instead.
If you or a loved one are in addiction recovery and would like more information on addiction treatment aftercare options, call 800-405-1685 (Who Answers?) today.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.
- Bowen, S., Witkiewitz, K., & Clifasefi, S., Grow, J., Chawla, N., Hsu, S., Carroll, H., Harrop, E., Collins, S., Lustyk, M.K., & Larimer, M. (2014). Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(5): 547-556.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Treatment and Recovery: Can Addiction Be Treated Successfully?
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2020, September 27). Reducing Relapse Risk.
- Guenzel, N. & McChargue, D. (2021, July 18). Addiction Relapse Prevention.