Substance abuse is a common mental health condition, and it can affect anyone. It also comes with serious risks.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, the number of people who have died from drug overdoses since the year 2000 is approaching 1 million.
Addiction treatment is the best way to prevent overdose and overcome substance abuse, but to be successful in the long term, aftercare is often required.
What Is Aftercare In Substance Abuse Recovery?
Aftercare, or continuing care, begins once a person finishes their initial treatment program. It can last for however long a person needs, though most aftercare lasts for at least six months.
Addiction can alter the brain, and depending upon the severity of the addiction, longer aftercare support may be needed.
Options may include therapy, peer recovery support such as 12-step groups, sober living arrangements, alumni groups, and more.
The Significance Of Continuing Care
As with any chronic condition, addiction can involve relapse. Triggers and life challenges can put to the test everything that has been learned in treatment, and without proper support, a relapse can occur.
The risk is most prominent in the period immediately following treatment.
Because substances may have been used as a tool to cope with pain, trauma, hardships, or stress, returning to life as before without the structure of treatment can be difficult.
It’s important to note that relapsing is different from lapsing. Lapsing is a temporary use of a substance with a return to recovery. Relapse is a return to the prior level of use.
Risks Associated With Addiction Relapse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), relapse rates for addiction overall (40% to 60%) tend to be lower than that of other chronic illnesses such as asthma.
However, up to 75% of people who misuse opioid drugs and stimulants relapse within three to six months after treatment.
Relapsing comes with many risks, including an increased risk of overdose. After a person loses tolerance for a substance, they are vulnerable to overdose if they use the same amount of a substance as prior to treatment.
Relapse can also result in the continuation of problems the person faced before beginning treatment. This can lead to further health risks, injury, and dissolution of relationships.
Aftercare helps people avoid these risks by connecting them to support systems that help them build confidence, resilience, and healthy coping skills.
Accessing Continuing Care For Substance Abuse
It takes great strength, courage, and vulnerability to begin treatment. Once a treatment program is completed, aftercare helps people build on their success and strengthen their sobriety.
Outpatient options are less intensive than residential care, where clients live onsite, but also offer varying levels of care, such as partial hospitalization programs (PHP) or intensive outpatient programs (IOP).
Recovery is most effective with aftercare options in place. Most addiction treatment facilities offer aftercare services and will discuss the best plan of action following treatment.
For people not given aftercare options, or with insufficient options, recovery support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be found in many communities or online.
Aftercare Options To Support Sobriety
There are a number of resources that people can access through aftercare programs to help with long-term recovery.
In addition to the specific types of aftercare listed here, rehab centers may also provide assistance with job hunting or obtaining social services to further support people on the recovery journey.
Continuation Of Therapy
Therapy doesn’t need to end after treatment, and in many cases, it continues for years after treatment has ended.
Therapy helps with establishing healthy coping mechanisms, recognizing areas needing growth, and learning how to lean into personal strength and resilience.
It can also help socially to connect with others through group therapy options, such as peer group therapy or family therapy.
This also may include continuing support for dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders.
Peer Recovery Support And 12-Step Groups
Along with therapy sessions, peer support can be vital, as some people may be in the process of leaving old social groups behind in favor of newer ones allied with their recovery goals.
Peer support groups help connect people in recovery with others going through similar experiences, offering support and a sense of belonging.
Common peer recovery groups include 12-step programs such as AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or secular support groups such as SMART Recovery.
Peer mentors or sobriety coaches who have completed treatment and thus know the recovery process may follow up with mentees and help with accountability and adherence to sobriety.
Mentors can be there to assist when challenges begin to mount as well as to celebrate victories along the way.
Nutrition, Health, And Wellness Counseling
Substance abuse can wreak havoc on the body. The kidneys, liver, and brain are just some of the organs affected.
Studies have also found that an imbalance of gut bacteria can have an effect on mental and physical health.
This imbalance has been shown to influence depression and other mental illnesses, and have a correlation with the onset of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more.
Substance use disorders and other mental health conditions are closely linked, and so achieving good gut health and overall health can be very helpful throughout the recovery journey.
Some addiction treatment facilities connect their clients to dieticians or other health care providers who can offer programs on diet, exercise, and overall health and wellness.
MAT And Medication Management
When dealing with alcohol addiction or opioid dependency, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be an option. This treatment may begin in an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility.
MAT has been shown to assist with relapse prevention by minimizing cravings, staving off withdrawal symptoms, and allowing people who are unable to detox to still choose sobriety.
Medications used in MAT such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are FDA-approved and evidence-based addiction treatment methods.
MAT is often overseen by medical treatment providers and can help people embrace sobriety and remain in recovery.
Medication management may also include any medications utilized for co-occurring mental health disorder treatment.
Sober Living Environments
Sober living environments, also known as halfway houses or sober living homes, provide a supportive, substance-free place to live for people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
These residential options offer accountability, structure, and social support while people adjust to the recovery process.
They may be helpful for people who have just completed residential treatment and need further support or for people receiving outpatient care who require a safe living environment.
Some drug and alcohol treatment centers offer an alumni network made up of past graduates of their treatment programs.
Like peer mentorship, alumni engagement can assist with accountability as well as offer compassionate support when it is needed most.
Alumni networks may offer recovery-focused events with speakers, sober meetups and outings, and mentoring options.
Supporting A Loved One’s Recovery Journey
Aftercare can offer a lot of needed support for people in recovery. But how can you support a loved one in recovery?
Patience with your loved one, as well as knowing that addiction is a disease, is vital. Education on addiction can help you understand what your loved one is going through.
Being supportive without enabling the addiction can also be beneficial. This includes attending social events as a “sober buddy” or hosting events without serving alcohol or allowing drugs.
Recovery is a lifelong process, and support for yourself is also important. Groups such as Al-Anon, Alateen, and Nar-Anon can offer support for family members and friends of people with an addiction.
If your loved one has relapsed, talk to them about it and seek help. They may have a relapse prevention plan in place, or you can always contact the treatment center or another care provider.
Recovery is more of a journey than a destination, but with the proper support, it can be filled with growth, discovery, and healing.
Find Help For Addiction Today
Finding substance abuse treatment that includes aftercare can make all the difference in recovery. Contact us today and get the help needed to begin your recovery journey.Article Sources
- National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Scientific Reports
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy