If you are considering admittance into a drug or alcohol rehab program for 30, 60, 90 days or more (or know someone who could benefit from doing so) much of your focus is probably on uncovering exactly what a treatment facility offers. Searching for program choices, medical and holistic therapies, accommodations, location and payment options is important, of course. Even with this due diligence to find the best solution possible, recovery success isn’t just about the rehab – it’s also about what you come away with. Everything you go through in detox and treatment isn’t truly tested until the day you leave drug rehab. That’s when you’ll understand how crucial a solid, aftercare program is to your sobriety and why aftercare matters.

What Is Aftercare?

Aftercare in addiction rehab refers to the ongoing support and treatment that a person receives after completing an initial rehabilitation program. Aftercare programs are designed to help individuals maintain their recovery, prevent relapse, and adjust to life without substance use.

These programs are important because recovery is a long-term process and doesn’t end when a person stops using substances. In many cases, the period immediately following intensive treatment can be particularly challenging, as individuals must navigate new routines, relationships, and life circumstances without the structure of a residential program or the constant supervision of treatment professionals.

Aftercare programs can take many forms, including:

  • Continued Therapy and Counseling: Individual, group, or family therapy sessions can continue after the initial rehab program, helping the individual navigate their new sober lifestyle, cope with triggers, and work on any underlying issues that may contribute to substance use.
  • Support Groups and 12-Step Programs: Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can provide community support and a platform for shared experiences. These meetings can be critical for maintaining long-term sobriety.
  • Sober Living Homes: These are residences for people recovering from addiction. They provide a substance-free environment and often have rules, chores, and therapeutic meetings; they can be particularly helpful for individuals who don’t have a supportive and safe home environment to return to after treatment.
  • Medication (if applicable): For some individuals, medication may be an important part of aftercare. Certain addictions, such as opioid or alcohol addiction, can be managed effectively with medications that reduce cravings and mitigate withdrawal symptoms.
  • Skills Training and Lifestyle Changes: This might include strategies for stress management, healthy living guidance, career counseling, and other services that help individuals build a fulfilling, substance-free life.
  • Regular Check-Ins with Healthcare Providers: Regular appointments with doctors or other healthcare providers can help ensure that the individual is staying healthy and managing any physical or mental health conditions effectively.

Each individual’s aftercare plan will be different, reflecting their unique needs, goals, resources, and recovery journey. Developing a robust aftercare plan is a critical part of any comprehensive treatment program, and can significantly improve a person’s chances of maintaining long-term recovery.

Why Aftercare Matters

The American adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, helps define the moment a patient leaves drug rehab and officially enters the aftercare phase. During drug or alcohol addiction treatment, time is strategically focused on individualized care. Many doctors, therapists and counselors who specialize in behavioral health help each person to rid the body and the mind of the toxic remnants of addiction. The seemingly automated choices made during the addictive process are then replaced by healthy practices that include exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, relationship and life skills that help increase, vitality, mental acuity, emotional intelligence, patience, self-acceptance and tolerance of others.

No matter how strong the addiction treatment program, the moment a person transitions into aftercare there is one presence that is the underlying reason for all relapse — stress.

Stress is the precursor to relapse triggers. While no one can completely avoid life stress, there are ways to buffer its impact and that’s where aftercare comes in. Just like any habit, it takes time and repeated acts in changed behavior to create a healthier lifestyle. While stress may challenge it, whether you have prior issues with addiction or not, stress does not have to define you.

Without the Right Aftercare, Relapse Is Just Around the Corner

Scientists are making some headway into the intricacies of the addicted brain and what makes one person able to get past relapse triggers compared to another. In a National Geographic article, reporters revealed various breakthroughs in the study of the disease.

A neuroscientist from the University of Pennsylvania, Anna Rose Childress, engaged a clinical study assessing the brains of cocaine addicts and their responsiveness to various cues that could spur drug cravings. For example, participants were shown a close-up image of a man cutting cocaine on a glass-top table for 33 milliseconds. Their brains responded in excitement at the image. Researchers are hoping to develop medications that will hamper the brain’s responsiveness to these types of images, ultimately diminishing the relapse trigger process.

The rate of addiction relapse in those with alcohol use disorder is more than 50 percent, especially within the first year, for obvious reasons. Because alcohol is readily available in entertainment venues, dining establishments and the supermarket, etc. the addicted brain is served constant reminders of alcohol, just by engaging in everyday life.

No One Wants to Go to Drug Rehab More than Once

Fear is also a force in the face of relapse. Even after a thorough addiction rehab program, moving into a life free of drugs or alcohol isn’t familiar territory. Fear of the unknown can be challenging during aftercare. This is one of many reasons why a longer drug treatment program is recommended because there is more time to detox, heal and learn how to adjust to sober living.

Director of the Scottsdale Recovery Center® Aftercare & Alumni program, Charlene Sarraf, says comfort and stability is at the core of success. “Aftercare is about connecting to yourself in a way that makes it easier to connect with others. It takes work. It takes time. It takes ongoing support. It takes more than a 30-day program. We’re just getting started at 30 days…”

Why People Repeat Drug Treatment

When the mind succumbs to addiction, the need for the drug will override every other rational thought. Hunger, rest, relationships, obligations are removed from one’s personal equation of survival as the only desire that matters is to experience the drug to remove the pain, again and again.

What it Feels Like When You Leave Drug Rehab

Naked, vulnerable, self-absorbed yet insecure, relieved yet fearful, lost yet found.  This is what it often feels like when you leave drug rehab. A smorgasbord of emotions run through, changing by the hour, as the greatest adventure starts, called lifelong recovery.

When transitioning into the real world, aftercare programs provide stepping stones that ease the process from where you were to where you want to be. It’s like a built-in safety net but the true benefit of the right aftercare is that it gives you everything needed to push forward and thrive on your own.

Comprehensive Aftercare Kicks in When You Want to Bail Out

Getting reinstated into life after drug rehab is exciting and all-consuming. There’s work or school responsibilities and the basics like where are you going to live? It’s a progressive game of catch-up but with aftercare advisors working with you throughout the treatment and recovery process, getting acclimated to your new life is a more positive experience. With their assistance, a sober living plan is set up before you leave rehab so expectations will be met with minimal hassle.

Aftercare Lives in Alumni Recovery Program

Perhaps the most emotional part of aftercare is in letting go of the therapists and friends made during treatment. Upon completion of a drug treatment program, clients graduate and become alumni members of the facility.

Through aftercare outreach, those relationships can remain. Staying in touch with fellow alumni and staff members by attending group meetings and recreational events that the facility provides alumni will support a healthy balance throughout recovery.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.