Recovery from drug addiction is a long process. For many, successful long-term recovery requires work that extends beyond the initial treatment period, and the best way to increase the odds of maintaining sobriety is to have a strong aftercare plan in place.
An individualized aftercare plan helps prepare you to manage the challenges to recovery you’ll likely face outside of treatment. Research shows that adhering to such a plan can help you stay sober longer than if you do not.
Teenagers in recovery may be especially susceptible to relapse, with some estimates suggesting as many as 50% to 90% of them will relapse after treatment.1 Participation in support groups, access to ongoing professional treatment for patients and their families, peer support, or sober housing can help to reduce that relapse rate to 8 to 11% for teenagers, and bolster recovery rates to more than 85%.1
Young people in recovery may face peer pressure to relapse. Aftercare that incorporates educational facilities—such as recovery high schools or colleges—can reduce the likelihood of relapse while helping participants to develop positive, healthy behaviors.1 Additionally, treatment facilities that, as part of aftercare planning, help individuals connect with and participate in 12-step programs can further improve outcomes for those who’ve completed their initial course of treatment.2
Benefits of an Aftercare Program
Following a strong aftercare plan can be beneficial for several reasons. If you are graduating from a formal inpatient or outpatient treatment program and either transitioning to a lower level of care or back into society, the suddenly reduced levels of support and supervision may increase the likelihood of relapse.
An aftercare plan can help to fill these gaps and provide that additional support and emphasis on accountability to help you maintain sobriety. Treatment facilities often work to ensure that you learn to take responsibility for your actions, but once the program is over, and without the proper supports in place to ensure accountability, you may slip back into old behaviors. Support plays a crucial role during aftercare by celebrating successes and helping you overcome obstacles.
Because recovery is a slow and often difficult process, it’s easy to lose motivation to stick with your recovery plan. Along with participating in treatment, having a strong support network, including 12-step groups or sober housing, can provide that needed motivation to stay on track.
Following an aftercare plan can also increase your self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy. Setting and achieving short-term goals improves your confidence and provides encouragement to reach your next small goal. Each small goal then adds up toward your bigger goals. Then, after you’ve successfully overcome a series of challenges, you can look back and know you can do it again.
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Drug addiction grabs hold of your entire life and it can be very difficult to loosen its grip. But you never have to try to break free of an addiction on your own. Treatment placement specialists are available day and night to help guide you through the first steps of finding treatment and finding your way to freedom from drug addiction. Call now: .
Sober Living and Halfway Homes
Sober living and halfway homes are safe, sober environments where you can transition back into society. After treatment, the transition can be risky for those who are homeless, don’t have a stable or supportive living environment to return to, face triggers in the home, or have a history of relapse. Sober living and halfway homes can facilitate your transition process and support your sobriety while helping you to build a strong sober support network.
Sober living provides safe, drug-free housing where you can learn to live a sober lifestyle. Sober housing doesn’t require residents to participate in treatment, but can mandate or urge 12-step meeting attendance.3 You can stay as long as you feel the need to, provided that you adhere to house rules.3
Halfway homes are residential settings where you can live while you are actively participating in an outpatient treatment program or just after you complete one. Unlike sober living, you cannot live in a halfway house indefinitely. You and the treatment staff will set a specific amount of time for your stay, and when the time is up, you must move out, whether you feel ready to or not.3 However, the focus while you live in a halfway house is to prepare you to move out and live successfully on your own. Studies have demonstrated that living in a halfway home ultimately improves treatment outcomes.3
Sober living and halfway homes are a great choice for many people as an aftercare option, since they provide a sober environment with structure, stability, motivation, accountability, and peer support, and encourage participation in self-help groups.
For more information on sober living and halfway homes, please call our confidential helpline at . For more information on residential treatment services, call our helpline. Recovery support advisors can help you find a treatment program that incorporates aftercare planning into its services.
Aftercare may include group or individual therapy, as well as ongoing medication-assisted treatment. The type of therapy you may receive is based on your specific recovery needs. Attending regularly scheduled individual therapy sessions with a mental health professional who specializes in addiction can be highly beneficial in strengthening your recovery efforts. There are a variety of therapeutic techniques that may be used by your therapist that have proven helpful in relapse prevention.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) untangles the often jumbled web of your thoughts, emotions, and actions.4 You work together with your therapist to monitor your thoughts, identify unhealthy thought patterns, and understand how they contribute to your negative beliefs and harmful behaviors. Then you develop statements to replace negative thoughts that contribute to self-destructive behaviors with positive ones. CBT often requires some amount of “homework” between sessions. CBT is a well-known, frequently used, and highly effective therapeutic approach for addiction treatment.4
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is based on CBT principles and mindfulness techniques and focuses on learning how to manage uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and actions, and accept them rather than fight them.4,5 DBT encourages you to develop a balance between working toward the changes you want to make and accepting where you are now. Like CBT, it incorporates homework assignments to help you learn how to develop and strengthen your coping techniques. DBT has proven highly effective at creating lasting change and improvement, as well as incorporating harm-reduction strategies, positive reinforcement, focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses, and practicing everyday life lessons.4
Mindfulness-based therapies work to increase your insight into and acceptance of your thoughts, emotions, and sensations within your body as they occur, and the realization that they are fleeting. You learn how to become aware of and accept experiences, instead of trying to change or avoid them through drug abuse or other harmful behaviors. Mindfulness-based therapeutic techniques work to help you learn to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or situations. Mindfulness-based therapies also help slow reaction time, so that when you have an urge to use, you can practice mindfulness and awareness to avoid relapse.5
Existential therapy focuses on your individual struggle and delves into various topics, including freedom, anxiety, responsibility, mortality, loneliness, and meaning as they influence your current situation.6 The main belief in existential therapy is that regardless of what happens to you, you retain the choice about how you will respond to these events. It shifts the focus from being a victim to being empowered over the choices you make. Learning to accept responsibility for creating life situations and issues is a primary focus of treatment, followed by learning to take control over choices and make positive changes.6
Spiritually based therapy focuses on your spiritual or religious beliefs and how they factor into drug addiction and the feelings or thoughts surrounding it. Spiritual beliefs are often a source of strength and support for people in recovery who identify as religious or spiritual.Some spiritually based therapists incorporate 12-step principles since they tend to integrate well. The major focus of spiritually based therapy is on principles such as acceptance, forgiveness, unconditional love for self and others, releasing resentments and blame, becoming accountable, gaining insight into your weaknesses, and developing the skills you need to release maladaptive or harmful patterns of thought, emotion, or behavior.6
Aftercare plans can also incorporate group therapy, to which there are a number of advantages, especially in drug addiction and recovery.7 Group therapy may take many focuses, such as addiction education, relapse prevention, life skills training, CBT education and application, and peer support.7
The benefits of group therapy include:7
- Positive support from peers and peer pressure to stay sober.
- A reduced sense of loneliness or isolation that often accompanies addiction.
- Shared experience in how group members have overcome addiction and other challenges, and shared hope.
- Providing accurate feedback for people who may have a distorted view of themselves.
- Encouragement from peers and learning how to positively interact with others.
- Providing support while group participants take on difficult challenges.
- Practicing appropriate social skills.
- Providing gentle confrontation about relapse or destructive behaviors.
- Providing structure and discipline to individuals who come from chaotic settings.
- Facilitating the development of a sober support network.
In 2014, nearly 8 million Americans had struggled with a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental illness.8 These people may require specialized dual diagnosis treatment (which may include the use of various psychiatric medications) to manage their mental health issues while navigating early recovery.
There are also medications approved for the treatment of some forms of substance dependence that facilitate the recovery process by stabilizing an otherwise unpleasant withdrawal period and reducing the impact of cravings for and urge to use specific substances. Coupled with behavioral therapies, this pharmaceutical approach to recovery is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is a valuable treatment approach for many who struggle with alcohol use disorders and opioid use disorders. While MAT approaches to treatment will begin during the initial rehabilitation period, they may continue as part of the aftercare regimen as well, and will require regular check-ins with the treating physician.
Peer support is another important aspect of a comprehensive aftercare program. Participating in a 12-step or other peer-run groups can effectively reduce your likelihood of relapse and work toward prolonged sobriety.2 Peer support groups are effective because they provide many of the same benefits as group therapy in a more relaxed, comfortable setting. They are not led by professionals or overseen by any state or federal organizations, so it is especially important to do your research before joining any groups. Feel free to work with your treatment program staff before you are discharged to find the right group for you.
All 12-step groups emphasize the importance of obtaining a sponsor in your recovery process. Ideally, a sponsor should have a significant length of sobriety, be available to provide support and guidance, and assist you in working the 12 steps to create lasting change. You may also feel more comfortable sharing in a one-on-one situation with a sponsor.
Before discharge, counselors may coordinate with a case manager who can assist you with implementing your aftercare plan. This can include vocational training to prepare you for employment; helping you find a job; and making connections to important community services.2 Case management is often a tremendous asset when you are really struggling with the consequences of your drug addiction, or difficult circumstances in general.
Reintegrating into everyday life can be very stressful and often triggers relapse. In order to maintain sobriety, it is essential for you to find relaxing and enjoyable activities or therapies that help reduce your stress. These may include:
- Reiki or massage.
- Exercise or sports.
- Spending time outdoors.
Becoming involved in community activities or groups can help improve your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing in recovery. Community organizations, such as houses of worship, fitness facilities, or volunteering can also support your recovery efforts.
If you or a loved is ready to begin treatment for a drug addiction, please call our helpline at . Treatment placement advisors can help find you the right program for you that also incorporates aftercare treatment into their protocol.
- Holleran Steiker, L.K., Counihan, C., White, W. & Harper, K. (2015). Transforming Austin: Augmenting the system of care for adolescents in recovery from substance use disorders.Journal of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 3(3).
- Vazquez, R.D. (2015). Evaluating overall success and relative influence of different treatment services in substance use treatment (doctoral dissertation). P41, 60.
- Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Bond, J. & Galloway, G. (2010). What did we learn from our study on sober living houses and where do we go from here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425–433.
- Corey, G. (2013). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (9th edition). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. PP139–140, 469–471.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2005). Substance abuse treatment:Group therapy.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2016). Psychotherapy.
- Marcus, M.T. & Zgierska, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based therapies for substance use disorders: Part 1 (editorial). Substance Abuse: Official Publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse, 30(4), 263.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Mental and substance use disorders.