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Completing Drug and Alcohol Treatment: What’s Next

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 11 July 2024

Completing a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program can be challenging but it is one of the best ways to achieve sobriety. If you have recently done this, congratulations. Though a feat in itself, finishing a treatment program does not guarantee anything and it is important to understand that recovery truly starts when the program is over.

  • What You'll Learn

As you the exit the controlled environment of rehab, there are often many things that need to be accomplished. Finding a job, discovering a new group of friends, adjusting to a new lifestyle, and locating a place to live are just a few of the many challenges an individual just starting recovery will face.

With so much information and misinformation about how to succeed after treatment, we’ve created this guide to assist you.

To get started, select the statement below that best describes what you’re looking to learn more about. This will take you to the appropriate portion of the page, which will answer your questions and suggest the best way to proceed. Finally, we’ll go over some of the myths that exist about what to do after treatment and provide you with the real information so you continue on your road to a drug-free life.

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I Just Got out of an Inpatient Treatment Program

First off, congratulations on completing your program! It is important to realize that the transition from treatment can be difficult, and now that you are back to your “normal life,” you will be faced with challenges. Outside of the controlled environment of a rehabilitation program you may find yourself having trouble coping with the stressors of the “real world”, and without the guidance of trained professionals it is normal to feel slightly overwhelmed. You mustn’t let this stress negatively affect your sobriety.

You’re going to have a major adjustment. During inpatient treatment, your days are scheduled and filled with activity. Upon returning home, you may find yourself wanting to take a break and have some downtime. Be careful with this, as it may start you off on a trend that leads to danger. Boredom, becoming introverted, and low morale could lead to relapse. You likely have a lot to accomplish and shouldn’t wait to get started. Whether it’s finding a job, transitioning your living arrangements, or going to follow-up care like outpatient treatment, it will make you feel better about getting these things started.

Your living situation may be in question. If you lived by yourself before treatment, it may not be a bad idea if you have to stay back your family for a little bit. The added support probably won’t hurt. If this isn’t possible, maintain a close connection with your support group regardless. It could even be that you don’t have anywhere to live. Ideally this would’ve been handled before discharge. You may have to consider a halfway house or something of that nature. The good news about this is these settings usually require structure and accountability, continuing the tempo set in rehab.

If part of your treatment involved things like 12-step meetings and support groups, continuing this will be helpful. It could be that your treatment center hosts these meetings and they’re open to the public or alumni. Look into this. Otherwise, AA and NA meetings are easy to find, and you can find one’s near you online.

I Just Got out of Outpatient Treatment

At this point, you may be pretty comfortable in your recovery. Your outpatient sessions have likely wound down to once or twice a week. This means it’s time to make the final transition to complete independence.

Continue the things that’ve been successful for you. While this won’t include outpatient sessions, you can maintain the helpful lines of communication that’ve gotten you this far. Continuing support group meetings may be helpful for you as well.

Aside from the above, you should now be well-equipped. If you don’t feel so, make sure you tell your treatment provider so they can help you before your treatment ends. It’s okay if you need to keep going for awhile or increase your schedule. There’s no shame in that but you must be honest.

My Loved One Just Completed a Treatment Program

Once your loved one returns from treatment you need to display a healthy balance of support and accountability. Trouble can arise if you go to the extreme on either side of this spectrum.

All too often, people think that once an individual has completed treatment, they are “cured”. Treatment is the foundation, and true sobriety is attained by operating in the real world and refraining from reverting to past behavior. Don’t allow your loved one to fall back into the same old habits under the pretenses that they are sober now so it’s fine. Remember that their old behavior was part of their problem so allowing them to pick up where they left out will almost always end in relapse. Support them, but keep in mind that their addiction did not only affect them.

On the other end of the spectrum, be careful not to overwhelm them with unrealistic boundaries and restrictions. Putting them on house arrest, taking their phone or anything like that will likely backfire by causing them to feel like they’ve made no progress. This can be one of the most destructive things to a person’s recovery. It also gives them little lines which they’ll likely cross, even if it’s not to use drugs. They may sneak out or borrow a friend’s phone simply because they can rationalize that there’s no harm in it, which may even be true. But re-starting this pattern of revolting, hiding it and lying can kickstart the cycle of addiction again. They may start to feel like they’re wrong even though they’re not using drugs, so why not use.

It’s a balancing act that requires lots of communication. Sit down with them first. Rather than issuing all your expectations, ask them what they feel would be appropriate measures to take to ensure they’re staying on the right track. You may be surprised to find that they want some accountability and monitoring. Compromise and work towards clearly defined ideas that everyone can agree on. The less you judge or make them wrong for their past, the greater the likelihood they’ll be honest with you if they begin to have trouble.

Tips for Staying Sober After Treatment

Communicate! Your loved ones can’t help you if they do not know what’s going on. Do not try to passively show you are having a rough time and get upset when people do not read your body language. Remember that your past behavior usually deters people from confronting you about how you are doing. Speak up, and you may be surprised at the amount of help you will receive.

Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can consume a small amount of alcohol or do “a little” drugs. More often than not, this leads to excessive use, regardless of how much control you think you have, stay abstinent.

Don’t feed into skepticism from family and friends. For those with a long history of drug abuse, it is natural that your loved ones are going to assume you’ve used something. People operate off patterns and past behavior. Realizing that you’ve created these allegations by your past conduct may be tough to come to terms with but doing so will prevent you from getting angry and making a mistake. Continuous good behavior is the best way to change the skeptics’ viewpoint.

Don’t compare yourself to other people. Your life is unique to you and so is your recovery. All too often, people base how they are doing by looking at others. Comparing yourself to others can lead to you thinking that you’re not doing as good as you should and sometimes can trick you into thinking you’re more stable then you are. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. If YOU are doing better, then be happy and continue achieving your recovery goals.

A slip doesn’t have to be a fall. If you make a mistake and use drugs or alcohol, do not use that as an excuse to continue. Some people immediately regret the decision and stop. Others feel shame and continue to use because they already relapsed, and they don’t see the point in not making it “worth it.” Do not fall victim to this destructive thought process.

Stay busy. You hear this a lot but it’s true. The only way to feel good about yourself is if you’re producing something of value. This can come in the form of work or hobbies, but you must continue making steps toward your goals. This can be tough at first because you may not have a job yet or even know what you like to do for fun. Try looking back to before you used drugs and recall some of your favorite hobbies. Try them out again. You may rediscover a passion you once had.

Take care of your body. A big reason why some people relapse is simply that they don’t feel good. It can take a while to recover from the effects of drugs, as they rob the body of nutrition and vitamins. Correcting this doesn’t occur overnight. Take a good multivitamin supplement that comes from a reputable manufacturer and is high in B vitamins. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try natural supplements like Melatonin, Valerian Root or 5HTP. Get a regular exercise regimen going, which will help with sleep and your overall mood. Exercise produces endorphins which are sorely lacking in most people who’re recently sober. This will help you feel happier and more stable as well as boosting your immune system.

Practice being wrong. This one’s counter-intuitive and hard to do at first. The reality is that anyone who’s been addicted to drugs has been very wrong in the past. They carry this with them, which instinctively causes them to feel defensive. This is normal behavior but prevents growth and improvement. A simple way to look at it is if you’re never wrong, you can never do better. Being able to admit and accept that you messed up opens the door to changing that behavior and improving. So, start practicing this with little things. If you miss an appointment or forget to do something just acknowledge it. Accept responsibility and do it differently next time. Don’t fall into the habit of making excuses or justifications. Every time you do this, you’re essentially saying that someone or something else has control over you. And that’s a pattern that can lead to relapse.

Common Myths About Completing Substance Abuse Treatment

90 Meetings in 90 Days Is the Only Way to Stay Sober

Though you may hear this repeated often if you went to a 12-step based treatment facility, it is not the end all be all in terms of staying sober. Have people had success doing this? Absolutely, but not everyone’s recovery looks the same. If your attempts to comply with this have failed do not get introverted and think you are doomed. There are many healthy was to remain sober that are not dependent upon your attendance of meetings. Healthy support is imperative especially when you first get out of treatment, so make sure you have a system in place regardless of what it may be.

Friends From Rehab Are Fine to Communicate With After My Program

The social dynamic of treatment is undeniable, and in many cases, you meet individuals who have a similar background as you. Though these relationships may be beneficial to help you through the treatment process and help keep you focused, they can be risky once treatment is over. Once individuals go back to their lives it’s impossible to tell how their sobriety will go, and before you start hanging out with this person in the “real world” it’s best to give it time to ensure you are both doing well, stable, and most importantly sober.

Now That I Am Sober, I Can Hang Around People Who Use Drugs and Alcohol

While this may seem obviously false, people often test this theory out with poor results so it’s worth explaining. When new in recovery, a person may feel very good and confident to the degree they feel unfazed by anything. But hanging out around drugs and people who use them is never worth the risk. Once you’re around these triggers, you’re susceptible to them in a way you haven’t previously experienced. It’s hard to know how you’ll respond and testing your strength in this way is dangerous. Caving in and using can set off a domino effect of justification, lying, and shame that plays right back into the cycle of addiction. It’s not worth it. If you must attend some function which could test your recovery, make sure you’re with a member of your support group who can assist you in staying strong.

Everyone Is Going to Treat Me Different Now That I Am an “Addict”

Some people might, but they usually represent a vast minority. You may be surprised to find that most people won’t treat you any differently at all. Substance abuse is much more known and understood than in the past. More and more people have either had personal experience with it or know someone who has. While this unfortunately illustrates the impact that addiction is having on our society, the silver lining is that you won’t be viewed as a freak or an immoral person.

Using in Moderation Is Okay Once I Am out of Treatment

This is virtually always false. After all, you’ve probably tried this before. Did it work? This isn’t saying that you gained nothing from treatment or will never get better. But despite having done a lot of work on yourself and handled personal issues, it’s not worth finding out the hard way. You may be right, maybe you can handle it. But if you’re wrong, think of all that’ll be lost. That’s an expensive gamble, and one not worth taking.

If I Slip up and Relapse, It’s Best to Make the “Most” out of It

Many people do this. They think it’s all over, they’re doomed. Might as well really enjoy it before starting the treatment cycle again. Don’t fall into this excuse. Relapsing one time will not create physical dependence again. In reality, the only thing you’ve lost is one bad decision. This isn’t a reason to make many more. Also, with a lowered tolerance you’re risk for overdose is much higher. Obviously, it’s better not to relapse at all. But if you find yourself at this juncture, don’t keep going. Be honest. Get help and get back on the right track. This doesn’t automatically mean you need to go back to rehab, but you do need some guidance with changing whatever factors lead to this decision. Use your support group, call your previous counselor, and start making some changes.

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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.