Completing drug or alcohol rehab is definitely a time to celebrate your accomplishments, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have more work to do. As several addicts in recovery have told me, during the weeks, months and even years after completing rehab, they still felt at risk for relapse. Having a co-occurring disorder — a mental health condition that occurs along with a substance use disorder — increases the risk of falling back into addictive behaviors and self-destructive patterns. Aftercare programs help minimize that risk, and keep you moving forward on the road to a completely drug-free life.
The quality of the aftercare you receive can have a strong influence on your chances of remaining sober after you finish treatment, according to research conducted by Psychiatric Services. A plan for aftercare should be built into any comprehensive treatment program and your treatment team should help prepare you for the days following your graduation. With the right kind of assistance and therapeutic support, you can maintain your hard-won sobriety and build a solid foundation for recovery.
Addiction specialists now recognize that relapse is a hallmark symptom of addiction. If you have a co-occurring disorder like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, the temptation to revert to substance abuse to manage your symptoms is even stronger. Through continuing counseling, group sessions and other scheduled meetings, aftercare programs provide an extra level of accountability that helps ensure that you don’t fall back into old habits.
Alcohol Research & Health identifies the following components of an effective relapse prevention program:
- Learning about your triggers. There are a lot of environmental, social and psychological factors that can trigger substance abuse. An episode of depression, a flashback to an abusive situation, a conflict in your marriage or a stressful public event may drive you to turn back to drugs or alcohol. As part of relapse prevention, you should learn how to identify these stressors.
- Coping with stressors and cravings. After graduating from rehab, you’ll be faced with a lot of situations that you may not have considered during treatment. Getting a new job, starting a new relationship or moving to a new home may leave you in an emotionally vulnerable state. Counseling sessions and support groups can help you cope with these high-risk situations.
- Thinking through the outcome of a relapse. Many recovering addicts go back to drugs or alcohol with the expectations that these chemicals will make them feel better. In fact, drinking and drugging usually result in unpleasant or dangerous outcomes, such as an overdose, loss of a relationship or incarceration. A relapse prevention plan teaches participants to evaluate the potential outcome of a slip before taking that first drink or picking up drugs.
- Keeping a lapse from turning into a relapse. A minor slip doesn’t have to turn into a major relapse if you seek help immediately and take steps to get back to your program. Because the chances of relapse are so high, it’s important to learn how to cope with the occasional slip if it does occur.
Most rehab programs have aftercare services. For example, at Delray Beach’s Wayside House, women attend a 24-session Intensive Outpatient Program after completing the 90-day residential program.
Marlene Passell is Communications Manager for Wayside House, an addiction treatment program by women, for women in Delray Beach. www.waysidehouse.net or call 561.278.5500.