Consistent drug abuse leads to enduring changes in the brain and the body of the individual that can make quitting difficult 1. The decision to quit abusing alcohol or drugs is an essential part of the recovery process, but it is only the beginning since comprehensive substance abuse treatment and follow-up care are needed to get clean and sober in the long run. A person may find some success without treatment in the short-term, but for long-term recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, continued engagement in ongoing care is crucial 1.
People may be tempted to conclude treatment once their initial program ends, but continued addiction treatment and support can promote lasting abstinence. Aftercare treatment is an invaluable option that can help to prevent relapse and establish a substance-free lifestyle. Though not all aftercare treatments are equal, the best aftercare programs are individualized and fine-tuned to meet the current needs and goals of the person in recovery. Whether someone has been in recovery for 5 days or 15 years, there are helpful aftercare options available.
What is Aftercare?
Aftercare is the broad term used to describe any ongoing treatment that follows the completion of an addiction treatment program. For example, someone who is addicted to prescription pain medications, such as Vicodin or Percocet, may need an intense level of care, such as residential or inpatient treatment. These programs may last anywhere from 28 to 90 days, and sometimes longer if necessary. In this case, any form of care or support that occurs after the person has completed their treatment program is considered aftercare.
Aftercare treatments cover a wide variety of service types, locations, and intensities. Although they are very different, there will be many similarities between aftercare programs. Aftercare options may:
- Offer supports and services aimed at extending the person’s period of sobriety based on several factors including:
- Current physical and mental health.
- The rate, duration, and dose of substance abused.
- Type of drug abused.
- Supports and stressors.
- Previous attempts at recovery.
- Individual goals.
- Emphasize and restate previously learned coping skills.
- Teach and reinforce new coping skills.
- Promote engagement in healthy community activities and socialization.
- Involve your family and friends in treatment, as needed, to improve relationships and communication.
At times, the individual may be tasked with creating their own plan for aftercare, but more often, it is the duty of the treatment program they are currently enrolled in to help that individual make his or her aftercare connections.
Inpatient Detox Centers
Inpatient detox centers provide medical supervision to addicts who want to break their physical and mental dependence on alcohol or drugs. Inpatient detox usually ranges from 5 to 14 days for alcohol abuse, but the specific length of the detox program is dependent on the type and severity of the substance abuse. Read More
Relapse Prevention Options
As mentioned, relapse prevention options show incredible range and variation. Since not all aftercare options are appropriate for all people in recovery, the referral source will take care to place the individual in a program that offers a suitable intensity, frequency, duration, and type of services.
Relapse prevention/aftercare options include 1,3,4:
- Residential programs: If the individual’s first stage of treatment was an intense inpatient treatment, they may require a residential option as a step-down level of care. Residential treatments often occur in therapeutic communities in which the person lives at the facility for an established period of time, lasting anywhere from a month to a year. By avoiding stressors and unwanted situations from the individual’s life, more time and energy can be dedicated to treatment. Residential centers provide 24-hour care from a professional staff.
- Outpatient programs: Outpatient treatment programs are often used as step-down treatment once a person has completed an inpatient addiction treatment program. These less intense options permit the person to tend to responsibilities at home, work, or school. During outpatient treatment, the person will present to the center, receive treatment, and then return home. There are several intensities besides standard outpatient treatment like:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP): Sometimes called day treatment, this outpatient option involves between 4 and 8 hours of treatment 5 days per week.
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP): Somewhat less intense that PHPs, IOPs require at least 9 hours of treatment per week.
No matter the level of aftercare, professional addiction treatment programs will utilize several types of treatments to accomplish the goal of extending sobriety and improving the sense of well-being. These treatment types include 1,3,4:
- Individual therapy: Any treatment where the person in recovery meets one-on-one with a therapist.
- Group therapy: Meeting with other people in recovery and at least one professional group facilitator.
- Family therapy: Treatment that includes a therapist, the person in recovery, and at least one significant person in their life like a friend, romantic partner, or family member.
- Medication management: Meeting with a medical professional who offers medication used to alleviate cravings or other mental health symptoms that impact recovery.
More Aftercare Support Options
Outside of professional treatment options, there are additional aftercare options based on receiving support from peers rather than treatment from a trained mental health/substance abuse professional. These nonprofessional aftercare options include 1,5,6:
- Sober living houses: Housing options for people in recovery that are not prepared to return to their home environments. Sober living homes lack in-house treatment and often have 12-step meeting options. Certain rules are enforced, such as:
- Completing chores and responsibilities.
- Contributing financially to the house.
- Staying drug-free.
- Complying with a curfew.
- 12-step support groups: Support groups that are organized and led by group members based on a 12-step model of recovery. Common 12-step groups include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
- Cocaine Anonymous (CA).
- Non-12-step support groups: Support groups that exist apart from the 12-step philosophy. These offer a variety of in-person and online options to support recovery from various addictions. Common non-12-step groups include:
- Recovery 2.0.
- Recovery International.
- SMART Recovery.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS).
- LifeRing Secular.
Recovery Options: Because relapse prevention treatments are flexible, several aftercare options can be used concurrently for as long as the individual chooses. Call our helpline at
to learn more about recovery and aftercare options.
Is Aftercare Necessary?
All substance abuse treatment is voluntary unless ordered by the court. Similarly, no one is required to attend aftercare treatment, but people interested in achieving long-term recovery should consider extended periods of care. Longer periods of professional substance abuse treatment are associated with better outcomes 1.
People interested in achieving long-term recovery should consider extended periods of care.There is no way to guarantee lifelong abstinence, though. Relapses are common during each stage of recovery, but active treatments do help. While treatment is active, the risk of relapse is lowered, but when treatment ends, the risk increases. In this way, addiction is comparable to medical conditions like type I diabetes, asthma, and hypertension 1. Between 40 and 60% of people with addiction experience a relapse at some point during the recovery process 1.
Aftercare treatment can help the individual manage contributors that influence relapse like 1,7:
- Stress: Whether financial, legal, educational, or occupational, high levels of stress can lead to relapse as use becomes a coping skill.
- People, places, and things related to drug use: During substance use and addiction, associations are built that link substance use to the environment. Being around certain people in certain situations with certain items (drugs, alcohol, and drug paraphernalia) can increase cravings and trigger relapse.
- Unwanted emotions: People with addictions are more likely to have other mental health issues. At times, alcohol and other drugs are used as a form of self-medication to limit unwanted feelings.
No matter what factors trigger cravings or relapse, aftercare treatment can directly address them to maintain sobriety and a healthy lifestyle.
Choosing to Participate in an Aftercare Program
Ideally, the previous treatment provider has created an aftercare plan for an individual in recovery. If this is not the case, you may be left trying to locate and initiate your own aftercare treatment. At the beginning of this process, it can be helpful to identify what services you are interested in receiving from your program of choice. Aftercare treatments can offer services like 1,3:
- Skills training: Offering information and practice recognizing relapse triggers and action to prevent substance use or other negative behaviors. Some training will focus on relapse prevention while others focus on:
- Anger management to reduce conflict.
- Interpersonal communication to boost interactions and foster healthy relationships.
- Goal setting to plan and accomplish new goals.
- Support groups/social activities: Aimed at building a network of positive, drug-free connections that support recovery.
- Vocational/educations services: Assistance attaining appropriate employment or education in a field of interest.
- Drug education classes: To teach about substance abuse, addiction, and dependence in hopes that the information will modify future decision making.
- Drug testing: To increase accountability and honesty in attempts to remain substance-free.
- Dual-diagnosis/co-occurring conditions treatment: To explicitly address the combination of a substance use disorder and another mental illness like depression or anxiety.
- Holistic treatments: That include complementary and alternative medicine approaches.
At any stage of recovery, the most effective treatments will consider and address all aspects of your life 1. By treating your physical, mental, social, financial, legal, and other needs in a comprehensive way, the program can improve all facets of life and aid long-term recovery.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2008). What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
- Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services. (2016). Substance Abuse Services Descriptions.
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010). What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go from Here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425–433.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Co-Occurring Disorders.