Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach for New Life
Aftercare, also referred to as continuing care, is a set of strategies utilized by an individual to help them stay on track with sobriety throughout their long-term recovery journey. These plans are typically created with the help of a therapist or collaborative care team during an individual’s time in an intensive addiction treatment program. As that individual evolves throughout their recovery, their aftercare plan must change and evolve as well.
No matter where one is in their recovery journey, it is crucial to understand the value of aftercare for healing. Whether an individual is new to treatment, has recently completed a treatment program or has been in recovery for some time, aftercare plans can ignite their motivation for staying sober throughout their life.
Recovery from addiction is a lifelong journey.
For those who don’t know, addiction is a brain disease characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors. Addiction is the most advanced form of substance use disorder (SUD). It is referred to as a disorder because chronic substance use interferes with both brain structure and functioning, often leading to a plethora of devastating consequences.
While treatment helps individuals achieve initial sobriety, recovery is not a one-and-done event. Relapse is always a possibility, so they must keep up with recovery-supportive practices long after achieving sobriety. Aftercare is essential because these services help individuals stay on track and avoid relapse.
Substance use affects the brain.
To better understand recovery as a lifelong journey, it is important to understand how substance use affects the brain. Substance use impacts nearly all brain areas.
Alcohol and drug use produce unnatural dopamine surges in the brain, which is why individuals often feel compelled to repeat drug use behavior over and over again. As a result, the brain no longer motivates the individual to seek out healthy activities because they do not produce the same intensity of pleasure that substance use does.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), other brain functions that are affected by long-term substance use include:
The Benefits of Aftercare in Addiction Recovery
Although the main goal of aftercare programs is to prevent relapse, they offer many additional benefits. For instance, engaging in aftercare can:
It promotes social support.
Social support plays a key role in one’s ability to effectively recover from SUD. Sobriety can often feel like a lonely path. Engaging in aftercare can encourage individuals to engage with like-minded peers who are also in recovery.
It identifies and manages triggers.
While treatment generally helps individuals become familiar with their triggers, triggers tend to change over time. Regularly participating in aftercare can help individuals overcome new and changing triggers as they surface.
It makes transitioning out of treatment easier.
The transition from inpatient rehab to life outside of the treatment facility can be overwhelming. Aftercare plans can help hold individuals accountable for sobriety and offer support as they navigate the transition to post-treatment life.
It offers deeper meaning and purpose for recovery.
When individuals are not actively participating in aftercare, they can lose sight of why they chose sobriety. Engaging in aftercare can encourage people to find a deeper meaning for maintaining recovery and help them not stray off the path.
Examples of Aftercare Services and Programs
It is important to understand that, like treatment programs, aftercare programs must be tailored to an individual’s unique needs and recovery goals. There are many aftercare services and programs available. Here are just a few examples of ways one can engage in aftercare:
- Attend individual psychotherapy sessions
- Participate in regular 12-Step groups or other support groups
- Reside in a sober living home
- Become a sponsor or a mentor
- Receive financial planning and/or budgeting support
- Utilize alumni groups and resources
Elements of an Aftercare Plan
Planning and scheduling your engagement with aftercare services is only one element of a successful aftercare plan. Individuals in recovery might consider adding the following sections to their plans:
- A section that names and tames emotional and substance use triggers
- A section that identifies useful coping skills they can use for stress management
- A section pertaining to emergency exit plans to use in high-risk situations
- A section that identifies important recovery resources such as safe housing, emergency contacts and employment opportunities.
New Life Addiction Counseling and Mental Health Services understands how important aftercare is for an individual’s long-term recovery journey. If you or a loved one is struggling, do not hesitate to call us today at (877) 929-2571.