Information on Aftercare Substance Abuse Treatment

Created On Wednesday, 25, January 2017
Modified On Tuesday, 09, November 2021


Aftercare support is any follow up process or treatment when completing inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. Completing drug and alcohol rehabilitation is a major accomplishment, but there is still more to do. There is still a risk of relapse during the weeks, months, or even years after rehabilitation. The quality of aftercare a person receives has a strong influence on remaining sober once treatment is complete. An aftercare plan should be built into any comprehensive treatment program for substance abuse. The main goals of aftercare are relapse prevention, peer support, and gaining new skills and abilities to maintain sobriety through the initial time after treatment.

Addiction recovery can be a long process, and it does not happen easily. Even after completing inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, there is still work to be done. Aftercare is any type of ongoing care a person receives after they leave treatment. Some of the most common forms of aftercare are 12-step meetings, outpatient treatment, counseling, sober living, or a form of recovery living. When an aftercare plan is developed, it helps the person anticipate future challenges to their sobriety and develop solutions to prevent relapse.

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It is essential for family members and friends to support their loved one post-rehab while encouraging healthy habits. Aftercare is a plan to support someone in their early recovery, prevent relapse, and help them as they work towards their goals. Aftercare plans include activities, interventions, and resources to help the recovering addict maintain sobriety. For example, this would include coping with triggers, stress, and cravings that they face during life. An aftercare plan is specific to the needs of the recovering addict.

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Some examples of aftercare include participating in a treatment center alumni program, staying at a sober living home, attending peer support groups, staying in contact with a 12-step sponsor, or attending individual group counseling sessions. Well-rounded rehabilitation should include aftercare because of the difficulties they may face when transitioning out of treatment. Developing an aftercare plan after treatment helps prevent relapse by providing support and allowing the person to continue to work on some of the issues surrounding their recovery.

The Goal of Aftercare is Relapse Prevention

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people take drugs for a few reasons. These reasons include feeling good because drugs produce an intense feeling of pleasure. The initial euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug use. People use drugs to feel better because some people suffer from social anxiety, stress, and depression. Someone also takes drugs to do better because they feel pressure to improve their focus in school or at work or their sports abilities. Finally, some use drugs because of curiosity and social pressure, which are common for teens and young adults.

Once the person has completed rehabilitation and handled all the issues connected to their drug use, the goal after rehabilitation is relapse prevention. Treatment centers providing continuing counseling, group sessions, and other meetings promote relapse prevention. Also, aftercare programs provide an extra level of accountability that helps ensure the individual has not fallen back on an old habit.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are certain components of an effective prevention program. Initially, the person should learn about their triggers. Numerous environmental, social, and psychological factors trigger substance abuse. For example, this could be stress at work, in the family, or a stressful public event. It is important to identify these triggers as part of relapse prevention.

Relapse prevention helps recovering addicts cope with stressors and cravings. When completing rehabilitation, the person is faced with many situations they may not have considered in treatment. For example, this could involve starting a job, beginning a new relationship, or moving to a new city that may leave you in an emotional and vulnerable state. Support groups and excellent options to help remain grounded and prevent relapse.

When struggling with stressors in life, it is important to think through the outcome of a relapse. Going back to drugs or alcohol with the expectations that the substances will make you feel better is naive. Relapse prevention teaches participants to evaluate the potential outcome of relapse before using drugs or drinking. The process also helps from keeping a lapse from turning into a relapse. A minor slip does not have to turn into a major relapse, and it is important to seek help if a slip does occur.

When is Aftercare Support for Addiction Recovery the Best Option?

Aftercare support is always a good option and should be part of treatment. As your time in treatment comes to an end, you will likely meet with therapists and counselors and develop a discharge plan. When developing an aftercare plan, it is important to consider your particular situation. For example, this would involve the need for housing, employment, or continued treatment. Once you become aware of your own needs, you can then work with addiction professionals to find proper resources, whether locally or online.

Overall, the length of aftercare support is based on your needs. Some people in aftercare may continue with it for weeks, months, or even years. The recommendation from addiction professionals is to remain in aftercare for up to one year. According to an article Addiction Treatment Aftercare Outcome Study, aftercare is crucial once an individual has completed drug or alcohol treatment and is in recovery. There is a continuity of care that should be followed once initial treatment is completed.

A study cited in the article investigated the outcome for 284 patients receiving addiction treatment in outpatient treatment, residential treatment, and sober living environments. The one-year abstinence rates were 16.8% for outpatient, 11.7% for residential, 23.8% for sober living. Across all three treatments, the one-month abstinence rate was 74.6%, three months abstinence was 63.7%, six months abstinence was 55.7%, and one abstinence rate was 42.1%.

The goal of an aftercare plan is to transition the person into an independent substance-free lifestyle. Aftercare is successful when a patient fully participates in the plan facilitation process. Aftercare programs are also excellent options to help families and provide support and instruction for the family members of recovering addicts. There is often a great deal of tension between the family and the recovering addict. For example, these are usually old arguments caused by events that occurred during the period of drug use.

Additionally, there are circumstances where the person is struggling to blend back into normal life, which is causing stress for the family. Aftercare programs provide counseling and advice for the family to help get them through a difficult time. Some of the aftercare services for family members include one on one counseling sessions for partners, spouses, and children. Family members can access group therapy meetings or educational programs to provide information on the nature of addiction. Overall, family involvement with aftercare is an important component.

How do Aftercare Programs for Addiction Recovery Operate?

According to the Surgeon General, there are many paths to recovery. Recovering addicts usually choose support programs based on cultural values, socioeconomic status, psychological and behavioral needs, and the nature of their addiction. The key finding in recovery points out that mutual aid groups and newly emerging recovery support programs and organizations are key parts of the system. Well-supported scientific evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of 12-step mutual aid groups focused on alcohol and 12-step facilitation interventions. Evidence for the effectiveness of other recovery supports like education settings, drug focusses mutual aid groups, and recovery housing is promising.

Aftercare plans operate in many different ways, but there are some important elements to consider. Aftercare support is an immediate next step and includes things like outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programs, transitional living, and sober living homes. Treatment centers help the recovering addict develop a relapse prevention plan, which identifies the warning signs and triggers that could lead to a relapse. A support network is also important, and without supportive friends, family, and peers in recovery, a relapse may occur.

Aftercare plans also include aftercare recovery resources, which include individual therapy, family therapy, 12-step support groups, and other forms of peer support. A good aftercare plan will connect the person with resources in their local community. Aftercare resources help develop healthy coping strategies, which help curb cravings and the temptation to use long after completing treatment. Recovering addicts should also maintain contact with their treatment center. Quality aftercare includes regular contact with alumni to assess progress continually.

According to the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, continuing care interventions were more likely to produce positive treatment effects when they had a long-planned duration. The use of alternative service delivery methods and care settings may also lead to greater engagement and retention in continuing care. Of the studies looked at within the article, continuing care that was provided for a minimum of 12 months 100% yielded significant effects favoring the extended interventions. Continuing care that was provided for more than three months but less than 12, 44% yielded significant findings. Finally, in the studies in which three or fewer months of continuing care were provided, 38% of the studies yielded positive effects.

What are Aftercare Support Options?

The most recognized aftercare support is 12-step support groups. Twelve-step support groups offer experience, strength, and hope, and many of these programs are Alcoholics Anonymous, which use the 12-step structure to maintain sobriety. The benefits of 12-step support groups are the opportunity to connect with other recovering addicts at free meetings. Participants have access to motivational speakers and literature to help the individual reach recovery goals. Moreover, these are practical guidelines and strategies for coping with the daily challenges of addiction. The guidance of sponsors is also essential because they help the person through the 12-steps.

Transitional communities, recovering housing, or sober living homes are effective after being discharged from inpatient facilities. These communities offer structured, secure environments to residents while they concentrate on their recovery. These communities provide an environment free from drugs and alcohol and affordable living for recovering addicts that are searching for employment. Recovery housing provides emotional support and encouragement from fellow residents who understand the challenges of recovery. Also, most sober living homes provide house meetings to reinforce a sense of fellowship.

Recovering addicts can also access alumni programs, which provide tools and support to help to cope with the transition back home after treatment. The goal of the alumni program is to connect people with continued support. Alumni programs are a constant support network and access to programs and support resources to maintain sobriety. For example, an alumni program would help a recovering addict find a sober living home. Sober living homes are drug and alcohol-free residences that provide a safe and supportive environment.

Ongoing therapy or outpatient services are excellent options after completing residential rehabilitation. Transitioning to an outpatient program or meeting with a therapist helps continue to address the issues of recovery. Outpatient counseling or therapy helps with developing relapse prevention strategies and involves family members. Outpatient options include partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, and standard outpatient services.

Common Terminology with Aftercare Addiction Recovery Support

Term Definition
Aftercare Support an aftercare plan supports someone in early recovery, prevents relapse, and helps them as they work towards their life goals. There are a variety of aftercare support programs when completing inpatient rehabilitation.
Sober Living Homes These are a form of transitional housing arrangements that are step down from substance abuse treatment programs. These homes help recovering addicts transition to society, find work, and a new place to live while living within a supportive environment.
Halfway Houses These are transitional homes for people with criminal backgrounds or abusive drug use tendencies to learn the necessary skills to reintegrate into society and better support and care for themselves.
Intensive Outpatient Services An IOP program is different from a standard outpatient program. An intensive outpatient service usually requires nine or more hours a week of treatment sessions. Most of the treatment consists of group therapy and individual counseling.
Partial Hospitalization Services A PHP is a treatment process that offers 20 hours or less per week during the day. Some of the services include individual and group therapy, medical support, and medically supervised withdrawal. Partial hospitalization programs are also used as aftercare support resources.
12-Step Support Groups These are peer support groups based on Alcoholics Anonymous, where recovering addicts come together to support one another in recovery. 12-step meetings are effective options for aftercare support.
Alumni Programs for Recovery When graduating from a residential rehabilitation program, you become an alumni of the program. Graduates have access to support services through the alumni program, which involves being connected to support groups and aftercare services.
12-Step Sponsor Sponsors are veteran members of 12-step groups that help new members work through the 12-steps and maintain sobriety. Finding a sponsor in early recovery can be helpful because a good sponsor can provide support when you are struggling with cravings.
Relapse Prevention is a broad term used to describe a combination of coping skills, tools, and abilities to prevent relapse. Aftercare plans to help build and incorporate a relapse prevention plan as part of the recovery process.
Family Counseling Aftercare plans include family counseling, which could involve individual or group counseling sessions as a family. The family has an important role in supporting their loved one through recovery.


Marcel Gemme, DATS


on November 9, 2021

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.

Michael Leach, CCMA

Medically Reviewed

on November 9, 2021

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Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.