Sober living and aftercare programs

RehabAn effective rehab program can leave you feeling that your life has been transformed on all levels. While the changes in your body, mind, and spirit can be profound, they won’t last if you return to your destructive thoughts and behaviors. Aftercare services help you maintain the coping skills you learned in rehab, so you can continue to build the healthy, fulfilling life you want after you graduate from a recovery program.

Even for individuals who are dedicated to recovery, relapse after rehab is more like the rule than the exception. According to Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, relapse rates among adults and teenagers who have finished a rehab program are as high as 80 percent. The Cleveland Clinic states that relapse rates among people with eating disorders are just as daunting, with up to 50 percent going back to their old behaviors within the first year of recovery.

Whether you’re struggling with alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, marijuana dependency, or an eating disorder, studies show that relapse is a common symptom of addictive behavior. In the period after rehab, aftercare services provide valuable support to help you stay on track with your recovery goals.

When does aftercare begin?

Aftercare is far from an “afterthought” – it’s one of the most important stages of the rehab process. Technically, aftercare begins once you’ve completed a recovery program and are ready to make the transition back to your community. But in reality, the aftercare phase of recovery begins from the time you enter treatment. Even as you go through detox and rehab, your treatment team will work on identifying the tools and skills that you’ll need to be successful after you finish the program.

Aftercare can continue for as long as you’re committed to a healthy, meaningful life. People who stay drug-free after rehab often attribute their success to participation in aftercare services like self-help groups, 12-step meetings, alumni organizations, or volunteer activities that support sobriety. These activities can help you stay connected to other people who share your goals and values — people who can motivate and inspire you as you create the future you really want.

What are the goals of aftercare?

The purpose of aftercare isn’t just to keep you from drinking, using drugs, or returning to harmful eating habits. The ultimate purpose is to keep you engaged in recovery as you make the transition from rehab to real life. For some people, this may mean avoiding addictive behavior completely. Others may go back to their old behaviors. As you face the challenges of a sober life, aftercare services can help you in the following ways:

  • By helping you make healthy choices about your lifestyle, activities, and relationships
  • By reinforcing the skills you learned for coping with stress and strong emotions
  • By teaching you how to identify your own triggers and prevent a relapse
  • By teaching you how to minimize the damage of a relapse if you do slip back into destructive behavior
  • By giving you access to supportive individuals and groups who can help you through the recovery process

If you’re searching for a rehab facility for yourself or a loved one, choosing a facility with a strong aftercare program should be one of the most important parts of your decision. Listed below are some of the most important resources and services to look for.

Aftercare services

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, peer support is crucial to long-term recovery. Aftercare services can fulfill a number of functions: offering emotional strength, providing education or information about addiction, helping you connect with community resources (transportation, healthcare, affordable housing, etc.), or introducing you to social groups that can give you a sense of belonging. The following services fulfill one or more of these functions:

  • Counseling and therapy. Counseling is a big part of rehab, as you learn how to identify and prevent behaviors that contribute to substance abuse. But your relationship with the therapists on your treatment team shouldn’t end when you finish the program. These professionals can talk you through some of the challenges that will face you when you’re back in the community, such as coping with job stress, dealing with conflicts at home, educating family members about addiction, and facing old emotional triggers. Individual counseling, family counseling, and group therapy should be part of your aftercare program.
  • Family education and counseling. After rehab, the family plays a critical role in the success of your ongoing recovery. Family counseling and education programs help you and your loved ones create an atmosphere of trust and hope at home. Although therapy for couples and families typically begins in early rehab, this work should continue into the aftercare phase. Many rehab programs offer classes and educational activities for the spouses, partners, or children of their patients, in addition to individual counseling sessions with a licensed family or marriage therapist.
  • Case management. Case managers can be some of your most valuable allies throughout the recovery process. But their role becomes especially important in discharge and aftercare, as you prepare to re-enter the world outside the rehab facility. Case managers act as advocates, guides, counselors, or supporters — whatever the situation demands. They can help you identify health care providers in your community, navigate your way through the legal system, or find affordable housing and childcare.
  • Relapse prevention therapy. One of the scariest aspects of rehab is thinking about how you’ll handle the stressors, cravings, and high-risk situations that you’ll face in the outside world. Through individual counseling or group therapy sessions, relapse prevention therapy (or RPT) provides a set of skills that can help you identify your personal triggers and deal with them effectively without resorting to addictive behavior. RPT usually begins while you’re still in rehab, but it can continue through the aftercare phase as part of an outpatient aftercare program.
  • Outpatient recovery services. For many rehab patients, recovery begins in an intensive inpatient program or a residential facility. These structured environments provide 24-hour monitoring and supervision, making it easier to avoid the stress of everyday life as you focus on detoxifying and healing your body. After finishing a residential or inpatient program, your treatment team may recommend that you transition to a more flexible, less structured outpatient recovery center. In an outpatient program, you can continue to receive services like counseling, group support, and medication management while living and working in your community.
  • Sober living homes. The transition from rehab back to life in the community is one of the most vulnerable periods for a recovering addict. Sober living homes provide a secure, stable environment where rehab graduates can continue to practice their coping skills in a drug- and alcohol-free setting. Sober living homes have strict rules — such as no substance abuse, mandatory house meetings, regular drug screening, and participation in household chores — but these rules help provide structure. A study of 300 residents of sober living homes published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that the majority of participants had positive outcomes: more days of sobriety, more social support, and fewer legal problems after rehab.

Relapse prevention: personal account from Mitch Baumann

Building a support network

Social support is one of the most important factors in helping recovering addicts maintain a healthy lifestyle. Along with the professionals you meet in rehab, you can draw strength and hope from a variety of community organizations, programs and activities:

Many comprehensive rehab programs offer alumni organizations for their former patients. These organizations give you the opportunity to stay in touch with your treatment team and with the friends you made in rehab. Most alumni groups sponsor annual reunions, family weekends, recreational activities, and online support groups for their members. Membership in a lifelong alumni organization can give you the motivation you need to keep up with your recovery goals long after you finish your program.
Most communities have self-help recovery groups where addicts can meet to share their experiences and learn new coping strategies. Twelve-step groups are the most popular example of self-help principles in action. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Dual Recovery Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous are available in all large cities and many smaller towns. There is no charge to attend a 12-step meeting, and participation is confidential. For those who object to the spiritual component of 12-step recovery, secular alternatives like Smart Recovery are available. Many community mental health centers offer non-12-step groups and classes for individuals seeking a support system after rehab.
Sponsors are individuals who agree to provide support and mentorship for new members of a recovery organization. Sponsors are a key feature of 12-step programs, where they volunteer to help incoming addicts through the steps. A sponsor is an experienced, recovering addict who has completed the program and who is taking on a leadership role as a way to further maintain his or her sobriety. The duties of a sponsor include teaching the sponsee about the principles of the program, providing emotional reinforcement, helping the sponsee through high-risk situations, and attending meetings or activities with the sponsee. Sponsors typically work within the framework of a 12-step group like AA or NA; however, the term may be applied to mentors who take a similar role in other programs.
Life coaches who specialize in recovery services can provide motivation, inspiration, and education in the aftercare stage. A life coach is usually a trained therapist or counselor who works one on one with patients to help them define and achieve their personal goals. Unlike sponsors, who are usually affiliated with 12-step programs, life coaches and mentors can introduce you to different recovery strategies and help you find the path that’s right for you. They can also help you build the self-confidence you need to try a new career, start a new relationship, or pursue one of your creative dreams.

Identifying the resources you need for a successful recovery is one of the most important goals of rehab. From the time you enter the facility, your treatment team should be working with you to help you build new life skills and find effective tools. Recovery isn’t just about clearing the drugs and alcohol from your system or stopping destructive behaviors. It’s about creating a healthy new life that gives you a sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction.

At The Recovery Village, we start planning for this phase as soon as we welcome you into our program. Call our intake counselors today to find out how you can find hope and healing through our individualized programs.

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