The Importance of Aftercare Rehab Programs

30 Apr The Importance of Aftercare Rehab Programs

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The Importance of Aftercare Rehab Programs

Entering into a treatment facility is often the first critical step for many individuals in their long road to recovery from substance abuse, but it’s important to remember that it is still the first step. The initial one to three months spent at an inpatient drug rehab facility is just a blip on the screen in comparison to the many months that will follow in the recovery journey. When a person leaves the safe harbor of a rehab center, they are once more left to the mercy of the waves of life—the stressors, relapse triggers, and temptations that might have caused them to use in the first place.

For many, reacclimating to life outside the walls of a rehab center can be a massive challenge that can all too easily result in a relapse if they are not prepared for the inevitable hurdles awaiting them. Rehab centers know this, which is why they strongly encourage every patient to pursue aftercare in order to maintain routines and accountability. Below, we will discuss the benefits of rehab aftercare programs, types of aftercare, and steps you can take to manage your sobriety.

What is Drug Rehab Aftercare Programs?

Aftercare is a custom-tailored plan that’s put in place once the initial treatment phase is coming to a close. Your aftercare plan is unique to you and depends on several factors:

  • The substance you struggle with
  • The presence of co-occurring disorders
  • Your support system
  • Your financial situation
  • Your triggers and stressors
  • Your weaknesses
  • Your specific needs

At rehab, you and your counselor will spend several sessions trying to understand these and other factors. Over time, together, you will formulate an aftercare plan that suits your situation to help you return to your normal life where you will be free to make your own decisions. Relearning how to live a sober life can be disorienting, challenging, and often frustrating.

Why Aftercare Matters

In the safety of rehab, it’s all too easy to forget the reasons why you abused substances in the first place or to feel overconfident about your new found sobriety; however, that will all come crashing back when you return to your old life as a “new person.” You will have to find new and healthy ways to deal with your specific challenges.

It is important to be realistic and state that every person who leaves rehab has a strong chance of relapsing at some point or another. According to a 2009 study entitled Drug Dependence, a Chronic Mental Illness – Implications for Treatment, Insurance, and Outcomes Evaluations:

“40% to 60% of patients treated for alcohol or other drug dependence return to active substance use within a year following treatment discharge… Drug dependence produces significant and lasting changes in brain chemistry and function. Medication adherence and relapse rates are similar across these illnesses.”

Addiction is a chronic issue that has no cure but can be sent into a form of remission by intensive and vigilant aftercare treatment. This involves staying vigilant, motivated, engaged, and held accountable while finding ways to seek pleasure without substance. The study concludes that drug dependence should be treated similarly to other chronic illnesses, which means that if a person wants lasting sobriety, they need to engage in:

  • Long-term care strategies
  • Medication management
  • Continued monitoring

Aftercare and Relapse Rates

Multiple studies have demonstrated that aftercare can dramatically cut down on relapse rates. Not only that, but the amount of time a person spends on their aftercare is directly correlated to the likelihood of relapse. For example, another 2009 study on the efficacy of the 12-step groups and alcoholism found that,

“Over 70% of those attending 12-step groups weekly for the 6 months prior to the 2-year follow-up were alcohol abstainers, while alcohol abstinence rates among those attending less than weekly were the same as those who never attended during that period; this suggests a threshold dose-response effect for weekly attendance at 12-step groups.”

A look at the graphs within this study exhibit a clear linkage between the rate of meetings attended and the percentage of months a person would likely spend sober. In the initial year, the following results were seen:

  • 0 meetings attended – 20% remained abstinent after a year
  • 1-19 meetings attended – 30% remained abstinent after a year
  • 20-49 meetings attended – 50% remained abstinent after a year
  • 50+ meetings attended – 60% remained abstinent after a year

Multiple studies confirm that aftercare rehab programs are of vital component for anyone who wishes to maintain their sobriety.

Components of an Aftercare Rehab Program

Your standard aftercare rehab program will include a variety of regular therapies that are both one-on-one and community-based. Other aspects in long-term recovery typically include:

  • Therapy and Counseling
  • Finding a sober living community
  • Support groups
  • Relapse prevention plan
  • Regular health, physical, and psychological monitoring
  • Educational aid
  • Legal assistance
  • Vocational rehab to aid you in finding a job if you lost your previous one due to your substance abuse
  • Activities and hobbies that help you build healthy habits and relationships

Therapy and Counseling

Regular therapy and counseling sessions are held either daily or weekly at an inpatient rehab facility. These are the most crucial aspects of the aftercare program, especially for those suffering from co-occurring disorders who need to address their mental health issues on top of their substance abuse. Common therapies include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Is the most commonly used behavioral therapy, which teaches people in recovery to seek connections between their feelings, thoughts, and actions to increase awareness of how they affect sobriety. CBT helps:
    • Remove false insecurities, excuses, or beliefs that cause substance abuse
    • Teach ways to communicate effectively
    • Give self-help tools to improve moods
    • Help deal with triggers by recognizing, avoiding, and coping with them
  • Biofeedback Therapy – Involves monitoring involuntary functions that can cause even greater stress. This therapy helps educate a person on how their body unconsciously responds or reacts to either emotional or physical tension. It tracks the following:
    • Heart rate
    • Breathing rate
    • Blood pressure
    • Body temperature
    • Muscle contractions
    • Sweating

Once aware of these automatic responses, a person can practice stress relieving techniques such as:

    • Progressive muscle relaxation
    • Mindfulness meditation
    • Guided imagery
  • Faith-Based Therapy – A majority of Americans identify as practitioners of a religion of one form or another. Faith can help provide substance abusers with purpose, forgiveness, and spiritual routines that help reduce harmful behaviors. Such programs not only focus on drug rehab techniques but spiritual growth and self-betterment as well. This may include:
    • Group spiritual reflection and discussion
    • Biblical teachings and encouragement
    • Focus on prayer, scripture reading, and mediation
    • Music worship  
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy – DBT is especially helpful for people with borderline personality disorders or who suffer from suicidality. It helps recovering addicts gain skills such as:
    • Interpersonal effectiveness
    • Emotional regulation
    • Distress tolerance
    • Mindfulness

The goal of this practice is to help encourage patients to seek out others for support, to remove triggers, and build up self-esteem.

Sober Living Community

Also known as halfway homes, give people a safe place to transition from an inpatient rehab center back to their everyday life. It’s helpful to imagine a sober living community as if you were in a swimming pool: instead of plunging you into the deep end of sober living, you get a chance to stick a toe in and then carefully wade in the shallow waters. You get a chance to adapt slowly without facing the deluge of stressors and triggers all at once.

Sober living homes provide recovering addicts with a support system in peers who also struggle with similar temptations as well as medical professionals who have plenty of experience in helping others battle addiction. These homes provide routine, stability, and support that might otherwise be lacking at home. People who live at these homes are expected to do the following in order to stay in the home:

  • Live drug-free
  • Take regular tests for drugs or alcohol
  • Participate in house meetings
  • Attend support group sessions
  • Help with house chores
  • Build life skills
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy

A 2008 report that aggregated and studied trends from several previous analyses on Half-way homes found that they: “Indicated positive outcomes to treatments offered by various halfway houses.” The primary positive outcomes were:

  • Lower detoxification admission index
  • Lower use of public assistance services
  • Lower involvement with criminal justice or prisons
  • Higher employment commitment after discharge
  • Lower admission to emergency hospitals
  • Lower medical and legal costs to the public
  • A higher degree of satisfaction among residents
  • Improvement in abstinence levels

Support Groups

As discussed earlier, studies show significant correlations between support group attendance and sobriety, especially in the early stages of sobriety. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you find a group that meets regularly near you. These groups are composed of people such as yourself who are also on their everlasting road to recovery; some might be 20 years sober, while others may have relapsed that week.

By finding a support group, you have an opportunity to meet, discuss, be open and honest, and held accountable for your actions. Support groups provide a judgment-free zone with people who know exactly what you are going through. It can be challenging to relate your difficulties and cravings with your family, especially if they might not understand. The most common support groups are 12-step programs that are based on the AA model.

The 12 steps typically involve something along these lines:

  • Admitting you are powerless over substances—that your life becomes unmanageable on your own.
  • Acknowledging that there is a Higher Power that can provide support and supernatural aid.
  • Deciding to give up your addiction and worry to God
  • Committing to an open and honest moral inventory of yourself.
  • Admitting to God, yourself, and others that you have done wrong and need to seek forgiveness from those you have wronged.
  • Asking God to support you through your journey and to help you overcome your shortcomings.
  • Making a list of the people you have harmed and being willing to make amends.
  • Actively seeking forgiveness and to repair the bridges you’ve burnt.
  • Continuing to take stock of your actions and admitting wrong in honesty, rather than hiding it.
  • Seeking to understand yourself, your struggles, and your creator through meditation, prayer, and contemplation.
  • Having a spiritual awakening or breakthrough as a result of these steps.

While the religious nature of this may initially turn you off, the whole point of these steps is to teach you about accountability, self-acceptance, and forgiveness. Whether or not you believe in a God will not alter the fact that following these steps will help forge you into a better person who is less likely to relapse. And if you do relapse, you will be better equipped to address it immediately, rather than falling into a pattern of addiction.  

Relapse Prevention Plan

One of the main focuses of your one-on-one therapy sessions involves learning about relapse in order to plan strategies and acquire skills to help you cope with stressors or triggers. Relapse prevention sessions may include:  

  • Identifying high-risk situations
  • Coping with stress
  • Learning how to safely respond to high-risk situations
  • Setting realistic expectations
  • Learning the three stages of relapse and the signs of an impending relapse
  • Creating an action plan in case you do relapse.

Aftercare Matters

If you want to continue walking down the road to recovery, aftercare is one of the most important weapons to have in your arsenal. The moment that you feel like you got it and that you no longer need aftercare is the moment you should immediately redouble your efforts. Overconfidence leads to dereliction, which all too often results in a relapse.

Take the time to carefully plan your aftercare formula and then stick to it. Ask friends and family to keep you accountable and make sure that you are maintaining your vigilance. Remember, there is no cure for addiction, but with dedication and continued maintenance, you can send it into long-term remission.

If you are currently struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, our team can help walk you through the different types of addiction treatment available. For more information on Georgia treatment centers, please contact our drug detox experts or visit our website today.


McLellan, T. JAMA. Drug Dependence, a Chronic Mental Illness – Implications for Treatment, Insurance, and Outcomes Evaluations. (2000).

MAYO Clinic. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (2019).

Reis, A. NCBI. Halfway Houses for Alcohol Dependents: From Theoretical Bases to Implications for the Organization of Facilities. (2008).

Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 Steps of AA.


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