Not long ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their 2015 Drug Overdose Death Data and the numbers are disconcerting. Overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999. In the latest year of record, 2015, opioids—prescription and illicit—were involved in 33,091 deaths, more than any year prior and a 15% increase from the 28,647 overdose deaths in 2014. Opioids are the number one cause of accidental death in the U.S.
Just as concerning is the relapse rate. This is an area that doesn’t get as much attention as deaths, but is important just the same. Unfortunately, relapse statistics are hard to come by. There is no one reliable source like the CDC that keeps track of such statistics. From what I can glean from online sources, the low end number that continually pops up is 40 percent, while some believe in certain circumstances it can be as high as 85 percent.
If anything at all, these statistics tell us that aftercare is more important to recovery today than ever before.
There are plenty of reasons why we’re in such a failed state of addiction treatment today. I suspect part of the problem is the myth that 30 days of inpatient treatment is enough to help addicts find their way to recovery. The origins of the 30-day model go back to the 1950s where two young men, neither of whom had prior experience treating addicts or alcoholics, chose 30 days for their treatment parameter. Their decision had no basis in science or proven effective medical protocols.
Despite its shortcomings, this novel approach has proven itself over time to be effective and provides the foundation for addiction treatment as we know it. But today treatment centers face far greater challenges that they did nearly 70 years ago when alcoholism was the leading addictive disease. Opioid and other chemical addictions take longer to treat than the 30-day model which is so effective for alcoholics.
I’ve spoken with quite a few treatment professionals with hands-on experience, and there is a common thread to every conversation. The vast majority of professionals in addiction treatment will tell you they simply do not have enough days with the addict to assure successful outcomes; they’re limited by the system they’re forced to work within. I’ve seen research suggesting it can take up to three years before an addict’s brain chemistry returns to normal. Addiction professionals tell me it takes a couple of weeks after detox for an addict’s mind to clear enough to reach them. So in reality, addicts only get about two weeks of comprehensive addiction treatment in their first 30 days.
This is where a good aftercare program fills the void. Addicts are very raw when they leave a treatment facility. It is when they walk out the door of the center that they are most vulnerable to relapse.
Fundamentally, aftercare is intended to prevent relapse, but services vary across facilities. A good program will continue where the treatment program left off. They have a steady routine of daily meetings and open access to coaches, therapists, and doctors. The better programs will teach life skills that replace old self-destructive patterns that are so hard for addicts to break. Recovery is an ongoing process and these are skills every addict will need for a successful recovery.
In my experience with my own struggles and with those I have helped over the years, I find the holistic aftercare approach of mind, body, and spirit—addressing both the physical and psychological component of addiction—to be the most effective approach with the strongest potential for better outcomes.
You should expect more from a holistic aftercare program than you would from others, as they address the broader issues that contribute to a successful recovery. For example, organic meals are a requisite. Most people don’t know that we have a second brain in our gut that influences our mood and behavior. Food supplies the raw materials that make our feel-good brain chemicals, as well as the antioxidants that help neutralize the myriad of toxins that we are exposed to daily—and that takes a toll on our physical and mental health. Organic meals will minimize that assault and aid in the healing process as well.
Meditation and yoga are also staples found in holistic treatment. Combined with regular exercise, these activities reduce stress, improve your immune system, and help you regulate your mood. Acupuncture, vitamin, and chiropractic therapies are also effective modalities founded in holistic aftercare.
Most people who have been in treatment leave the facility with confidence and a bright outlook on their future—and then life happens. The stressors of everyday life have a magnified effect on someone fresh out of rehab. It’s safe to say that half of them will relapse within one year of treatment, most often far sooner. A good aftercare program can help change that. It can provide the much needed support and an extra layer of relapse prevention at a critical juncture when an addict is most vulnerable. It is the first step following treatment that will make a significant impact on the success of a person’s recovery.
Repetition is the mother of all skill and learning. Good aftercare programs often start where the treatment center stopped, using the same fundamental approach that has been proven effective. Repeated and practiced over and over under an expert’s supervision, these skills start to become second nature to an addict in aftercare before he or she faces life’s stressors. This is a critical step in reducing the risk for relapse while providing solid footing for when they do reenter society.
Recovery is a one day at a time process. A good aftercare program will make it easier for people to stay on their path of recovery. Considering the state of our addiction treatment in its current form, I firmly believe aftercare is no longer an option but rather a requirement for anyone committed to their recovery.
Paul Huljich is the founder of LifeREstyle Wellness Center.
Originally from New Zealand, stress management and LifeREstyle coach Paul Huljich has become one of America’s top stress experts and the award-winning author of Stress Pandemic: Nine Natural Steps to Survive, Master Stress, and Live Well. Written to help people deal with all levels of stress, Stress Pandemic outlines a practical, effective, and proven approach to achieving longevity and complete wellness. Huljich is a frequent speaker at wellness conferences, universities, and events hosted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness. He also conducts motivational LifeREstyle seminars and workshops, including at the Omega Institute in New York and in Hawaii. Huljich has opened the LifeREstyle Wellness Recovery Retreat in Redondo Beach, California, which has implemented his nine-step overall wellness plan with great success. Huljich can be reached through his website: www.lifeRestyle.org Prior to his work in the mental wellness field, Paul co-founded Best Corporation, a pioneering, publicly-listed organic foods company of which he was Chairman and Joint-CEO. Read more about his journey from breakdown to recovery and wellness on his website.