Addiction treatment can be a long and challenging process. For many, it can take anywhere from three months to a year. When you finally complete your last day of treatment, you may feel a range of emotions. On the one hand, you may feel liberated. You will be in charge of where you go and what you do from now on. You can pursue your own goals, take on new responsibilities, and get back to your regular life. On the other hand, you may feel a bit anxious. Protecting your sobriety is up to you and you alone now, and it could feel like being on a tightrope without a safety net.
However, treatment should have equipped you with the strategies to prevent relapse and safeguard your recovery. Still, your recovery doesn’t end when you finally complete the last level of care in your treatment plan. Addiction is a chronic disease, and treatment doesn’t necessarily cure it, but it does give you the tools to live a life free from active addiction. However, relapse is always a threat that you should be aware of, and there are different tactics you can take advantage of to safeguard your sobriety after your treatment is completed.
One of the most important things to remember is that you don’t have to stop pursuing recovery just because you finished treatment. Community resources can help you protect your sobriety and pursue positive goals.
Learn more about aftercare and alumni programs and why they’re important.
Addiction is a disease that affects the reward center of the brain, also known as the limbic system. Your reward center is designed to learn about life-sustaining things that make you feel good and encourage you to do those activities again. This part of the brain teaches us to keep going and offers chemical rewards for survival. However, some psychoactive drugs offer those rewarding chemicals, which rewrites your reward center’s desires.
It causes you to instinctively seek drugs and the impulse is even more powerful than the drive to eat when you’re hungry. Alumni and addiction treatment programs know the hard work it takes to learn to correct these powerful impulses.
Studies show that addiction is similar to other chronic diseases such as hypertension and asthma in that it has a relatively high rate for relapse. People who achieve sobriety can relapse between 40 to 60 percent of the time, though the numbers may be lower for people who go through the full continuum of addiction treatment.
Other chronic diseases, like hypertension and asthma, can result in a relapse in between 50 to 70 percent of cases. However, relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that it will not work for you. As with all of these diseases, if symptoms return, treatment needs to be reinstated or modified.
However, knowing that relapse is a serious risk to people in recovery can also motivate your continued commitment to recovery. After treatment is completed, continuing to be involved in recovery programs can help you stave off relapse. Plus, connecting to a support system can help give you the accountability to remain in sobriety.
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An aftercare program should be as multifaceted and multidimensional as your recovery plan while you were still in formal treatment. It’s important to resist complacency in recovery and to continue to pursue positive goals that relate to recovery from substance abuse both directly and indirectly. Pursuits that are directly related to your recovery from drug or alcohol addiction include relapse prevention and connecting to a community support system. Indirect pursuits that can help safeguard your sobriety might be to find gainful employment or become financially independent.
You don’t have to be in a formal addiction treatment to pursue goals directly related to managing substance abuse triggers and cravings. After treatment, you can continue to learn about and process addiction-related struggles. Twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are a free resource and can be a tremendous benefit. Programs like these can help you process triggers, and learn from others about how to deal with high-risk situations.
You will also connect to a broader community of people who share your goals. When you have friends in your support system who are also pursuing recovery and sobriety, it may be easier to find people who can relate to your goals and struggles.
Resources that can benefit your indirect pursuits in recovery could include job placement centers, personal finance educational resources, hobbies, other support groups, and community recreational activities. Engaging with other positive pursuits that aren’t directly related to your recovery can be equally important. Making connections with other people and avoiding isolation can help prevent high-risk situations and certain triggers. In fact, research has suggested that making personal connections with others is vital to addiction recovery.
Because making connections is so important, friends and family members can play key roles in your recovery. You might have gone through family therapy while you were in treatment if your therapist thought it would benefit your treatment during that time. However, continuing to pursue family therapy options can be a good part of an aftercare or post-treatment therapy. Friends are also an important part of your support system after treatment. Many people lose touch with friends that they used with before treatment, especially if those friends are still in active addiction. Connecting with a broader community, whether it is in 12-step, other substance use support groups, or through your hobbies can help you rebuild a support group of friends.
Sober living housing is a common step between treatment and complete independence. In some cases, you may start residing in a sober living house while you’re still in an outpatient program, but they may be available to you even after treatment. A sober living house is a residential environment that is designed to provide a sober setting and other assistance that can help you launch into your new post-treatment life.
When you live in a sober living house, you will be expected to refrain from substance abuse, or you will be sent back to treatment. You will go through periodic drug tests to make sure you’re not using outside the house either. This level of accountability can be an important support system for people entering an independent life.
Sober living houses may also offer assistance in other life areas such as creating a resume, job hunting, and applying for permanent housing.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
Weiss, R., LCSW. (2015, September 30). The Opposite of Addiction is Connection. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-and-sex-in-the-digital-age/201509/the-opposite-addiction-is-connection