Addiction Aftercare – What Happens After Treatment?
Most of us have heard the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” That old adage is true in many circumstances. None, however, are more true than when it comes to human services, and especially addiction treatment.
When looking for effective ways to treat addiction aftercare is a vital part of the process, and provides a much needed support to those in early stage recovery. With aftercare, a person struggling with sobriety can get the practice and support they need to live a life free from drugs and alcohol. Aftercare and its planning need to be one of the main goals of any recovery plan.
What is Aftercare?
Aftercare is the term used for the part of recovery immediately after completion of an inpatient addiction treatment programme. Inpatient programmes can run anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the need of the individual and the type of programme they are running. Successfully finishing treatment can be one of the hardest things a person struggling with an addiction can do, as they are essentially learning to live their life over, without drugs or alcohol.
Whilst for some a couple months of inpatient rehab may feel like forever, they have been living with drugs or alcohol for a lot longer than this to become addicted to them. Treatment is essentially rebooting the mind and body, and giving it a fresh start as well as a stable platform. It brings them to a place where they can begin again, and create a foundation to learn and develop the skills they need to maintain sobriety.
Aftercare is everything that happens after treatment. A good treatment programme will be able to provide or refer clients to an aftercare programme that will provide ongoing support and counselling to help strengthen the skills that were taught in rehab. An aftercare programme should be tailored to individual needs as well and will last for a much longer time than rehab.
When to start planning your Aftercare
When do you start planning to succeed? – the sooner you plan, the better.
In any form of treatment, whether it’s for addiction, managing depression, or even after a heart attack, there should always be a focus on what happens next. Yes, the staff treating you will be working with you in the moment, but there should always be an eye and work being done towards what you need to do when you are discharged.
For example, if you are in the hospital after a car accident, you may need to have surgery to repair some broken bones and heal internal injuries. The doctors and nurses will treat you, but they will also be prepping you for leaving, and planning with you for how you are going to get around at home, finding a physical therapist for you, and coordinating with your primary doctor on what care you need afterwards.
In an addiction treatment facility, the same thing happens, and needs to happen. You will need a plan to help continue the healing process, who will be there to support you, and what you will need to support you the most after inpatient care.
Why do you need Aftercare?
Many people think that they can go into rehab, get their treatment, then they are cured. The unfortunate reality is that a significant number of people who leave treatment, even after finishing it successfully, will return to using drugs or alcohol.
Where does this leave aftercare? Research has shown that the more support a person has, the more likely it is that they will remain clean and sober. This is why many treatment centres encourage or require some type of 12 step meetings as part of their programme. The more types of support, the better, and aftercare can provide a very powerful type of support.
Research also demonstrates that the longer a person is in treatment, the more likely it is they will remain drug and alcohol free. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process and committing to one year in primary and secondary treatment would be of great benefit for many people however finances and or other life commitments don’t often allow this for most people. This is why an intensive programme, followed by aftercare at the outpatient level fits the criteria for length of treatment.
What happens during aftercare?
There are generally three different types of aftercare programmes. This will depend on the services available to you, however. There is what is called intensive outpatient (IOP) or traditional outpatient and online aftercare programmes.
Here the services are typically the same or similar, but the time commitment required is very different. In an intensive outpatient programme, you can expect to be meeting with counselling staff several times a week in both individual and group counselling. There will also be regular meetings with any clinical staff that you have, for example, regular psychiatrist appointments.
Traditional outpatient care involves the same types of services, but it will not be as structured, and will not have as many appointments during the week. The idea here is to give the person the aftercare they need, not just treat it like a one size fits all model.
Typically, people freshly in recovery, or those who have been struggling with it, will benefit more from an intensive outpatient programme and the greater support. While those that have been in recovery typically a year or more can transition into traditional care, and have greater opportunity to just live their life.
Post-rehab online aftercare programmes can be either of the above or often a combination of the two which includes a more individualised tailored programme comprising online counselling, learning and developing relapse prevention skills, recovery mentoring and life coaching to assist those leaving inpatient or secondary care back into the transition of everyday life.
Online aftercare is particularly of benefit to those living in remote areas where there may be travel or time restraints due to work or other family commitments as well as those who have attended rehab in a different country to where they live. Another major advantage of online aftercare is the flexibility to participate outside normal working hours such as evenings and weekends.
Individual counselling will continue the work done in treatment and many rehabs will prepare a discharge summary as part of a continuing care plan which (with client’s permission) can be shared with outpatient counsellor. One of the typical models of individual counselling is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It involves looking at the thoughts and assessments we make about people and events, that take place instantly. We likely aren’t even aware of them, they are so fast, and so old.
Group therapy is another facet of aftercare. This is a very important part of treatment, as it allows each individual the opportunity to hear from others going through the same things as they are. It is a way to learn from one another, as well as to see how people are reacting to them. In treatment, there is a lot of change and growth.
Experiencing how individuals are acting and getting honest feedback from a safe group can help them figure out how and who they want to be. There is a great sense of freedom in a group of people that can provide support and wisdom to one another.
Support services are typically available, if not mandated. These will depend on what the person in treatment needs. Supportive services can range from a caseworker that helps coordinate care and services, to a psychiatrist monitoring medication. Many inpatient facilities provide these kinds of services as well, as people coming into treatment will most often have multiple needs beyond just therapy, needs like finding stable housing or job services.
One other thing that can be expected in aftercare is the recommendation or requirement to attend a recovery support group of some kind. Twelve Step groups are popular, but there are other options than the traditional AA or NA. These include Rational Recovery that takes the Twelve Step framework, but does so without religious overtones and SMART Recovery which offers a more scientific CBT based approach.
All these support groups share the same goals which is to offer abstinence-based approaches focused on helping people recover from addiction. Remember, attending a recovery support group is tied into maintaining a sober lifestyle, so this is important, even if it is not taking place in the treatment centre.