One of the biggest concerns most addicts have as they approach the end of rehabilitation is how they’ll manage back on the outside. Somewhat acting as a protective fortress — especially for residential inpatients — the walls of a treatment center serve to make recovering addicts feel safe from their own urges and compulsions to use. Recovery is a lifelong process that requires ongoing support, so a strong aftercare plan is important post-treatment. With proper planning and support, those who leave treatment can embrace their new sober life with vigor.

What To Expect

Day One

You’re on the precipice of leaving rehab and venturing out into the world as the newly sober you. The New York Times reports that around 28 percent of adults in the United States have drinking habits that place them in an at-risk category for alcoholism and problems with stem from alcohol use and abuse. In addition, in 2012, approximately 23.9 million Americans reported using a drug non-medically in the prior month. This means quite a large percentage of the population are using drugs and drinking – and these people could serve as triggers, tempting you to return to substance abuse. It is your responsibility to plan ahead for encountering these triggers so you avoid returning to your old habits when you exit rehab.


Motivation is a great prediction of how well you’ll fare in the world of drinkers and drug users as an abstainer. This is why motivational interviewing works so well for recovering addicts. In one Journal of Addiction study, alcohol use disorder patients with hepatitis C were split into two groups, only one of which received motivational enhancement therapy (MET). The MET group fared better overall by more than doubling their rate of abstinence, jumping from 34.98 percent days to 73.15 percent, with the control group only increasing from 34.63 to 59.49 percent.

In rehab, you’ve set some realistic goals for yourself, and you now must have the courage to work toward them. Everyone will have setbacks. It’s important to look at your failures as learning opportunities and not flaws in your character. More importantly, recovering addicts are notorious for looking for reasons to drink and use, and failures and disappointments are common reasons.

Avoid your old haunts. No more stopping at the corner bar after work or Sunday beer fests while you watch the game. You’re likely going to lose some friends, too. Addiction is a powerful thing, and it bonds many. During your time in treatment, it’s quite possible you found yourself thinking of your drinking buddies and identifying many of them as problem drinkers and alcoholics. Likewise, anyone you abused drugs within the past potentially has a substance abuse issue of their own. This isn’t a time to approach those friends with your concerns. This is a time to take care of yourself, and that may very well mean cutting ties with some people.

Unfortunately, the addict is generally a self-serving person, and while your friends at the bar may love you dearly, they don’t have your best interests at heart. As the saying goes, misery loves company, and truthfully, there are no truly happy alcoholics or drug addicts.

Make a commitment to yourself to commit to others. Keep attending support groups and therapy at the treatment facility where you completed rehab. If you haven’t found a local Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous chapter, ask for a referral from an admissions counselor, therapist, or doctor. Go to meetings as often as you feel they are needed. If you’re religious, commit to attending services regularly. Determine which of your friends you can trust not to tempt you to break your commitment to sobriety and lean on them for support.

Work with a sponsor and spend time strengthening the bonds you have with family members, too. A strong support system will always boost your chances of long-term sobriety, but those without relatives to hold their hands have other options. The recent development of mobile phone apps geared to do the same thing – serve as a support system for the addict, with users being 65 percent more likely to remain sober in the first year post-treatment.

The First Year

The first year of sobriety is a pretty big deal. It is continually important to identify new issues that may trigger the urge to drink or use drugs. This could be anything from the stress a new job has piled on to a new relationship. When you feel overwhelmed by life’s stressors, take a step back and reassess your coping mechanisms. Oftentimes, just taking a moment to yourself can be enough to refresh your commitment to sobriety.


Believe it or not, a lot of people find themselves wanting to celebrate hitting the one-year mark with a cocktail or two. Remember that you’re not cured. A year is a long time and it’s a wonderful achievement you can be proud of, but there is no cure for addiction. You can still tailspin right back to where you used to be easily, and it all starts with your first sip or hit after a prolonged period of sobriety.

When it comes to health issues, you may have found some have been rectified in the absence of alcohol and drug use. Conditions like cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis aren’t going to disappear completely, but they serve as reminders for many of the reasons to continue to abstain.

You may have suffered from depression during this first year, but the clouds should start to lift by this point. If they haven’t, it would be wise to seek the help of a mental health professional for further treatment. By now, you likely have a good handle on coping with and treating your mental health problems, should you have any. You aren’t alone; in fact, 37 percent of alcoholics have at least one serious mental health disorder, and 53 percent of drug addicts suffer from at least one co-occurring condition, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The Five-Year Mark

Many make the mistake at this point of thinking they’re cured. Some will blame past alcohol and drug abuse patterns on their youth, citing it as a period of debauchery or irresponsibility. About 90 percent of alcoholics relapse at least one time by the four-year mark, per NIAAA, so if you’ve made it to five, you’re doing quite well. That being said, a single relapse is not a sign of failure. Many recovering addicts relapse on their paths to sustained sobriety. These relapses serve as learning experiences and can oftentimes fortify one’s stance in recovery.


In fact, a Harvard study article noted that recovering alcoholics who remain sober for five years are not likely to return to drinking. Psychology Today reports that alcoholics who maintain sobriety for five years are at a less than 15 percent risk of relapse.

Ten Years Out

You might feel like a veteran by now, but relapse is always possible, and your addiction is still present. There is little data on the prevalence of relapse after long-term sobriety, likely because funding for such research is limited due to the focus of studies being geared toward getting people sober. Nonetheless, Alcoholics Anonymous reports that 36 percent of their members have been sober for at least a decade. Whether you have recovered from a drug or alcohol addiction, your chances of lifelong sobriety are incredibly high if you have achieved 10 years of sobriety.

Start Your Journey to Sober Living Today

The Recovery Village can be the first step on your journey to sober living. Here, you’ll meet people from all walks of life who are fighting the same battle you are. You’ll form friendships with your peers that can last a lifetime. The people sitting next to you during group therapy can serve as your support down the road when you’re going through a tough time and struggling with the urge to have a drink. Call us today and we can be there as well. We can be by your side for the next year, five years, 10 years, or more, offering you ongoing support and encouragement as you continue your sober life.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.