An Overview of Aftercare

Among the facilities profiled in the 2011 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, a full 83 percent provided some sort of continuing care or aftercare. Clearly, since so many facilities provide this kind of care to the clients they treat, it’s considered an important part of the recovery process by many treatment professionals. Even so, people who enroll in addiction treatment programs may find it difficult to understand the need for aftercare, and they may feel as though they could simply walk out of the doors of their treatment facilities without giving the issue another thought. That might be a mistake. In fact, getting aftercare could mean the difference between succeeding in sobriety or returning to the poor habits that originally landed the person in the treatment program.

While aftercare is important, there is no right way or wrong way to help people who have completed an addiction treatment program. The attributes that might lead to success for one person could lead to failure in another. In general, however, aftercare programs tend to be made up of the same basic components. This article will outline some of the most common services provided in aftercare programs for addiction.

Regular Screenings

groupPeople who enroll in aftercare programs may be motivated to maintain their sobriety, but they might also be under enormous pressure to return to the substances they once knew and loved. That’s why some programs provide regular urine screenings for substances of abuse. These tests can help treatment professionals to spot a return to drug use almost as soon as that relapse begins, and the care provided after that slip could allow a person to get back on track in a timely manner.

Multiple substances of abuse can pop up in a urine screening, including:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription painkillers

The test is quick and painless, and most facilities have intensive procedures in place that reduce or eliminate the risk of tampering. But the idea of the testing might also be a helpful deterrent. People who take drugs might feel as though their substance use is private and invisible to the outside world. Drug screenings remove this false sense of security, reminding the person that others have a vested interest in the person’s sobriety. A relapse might be less likely when treatment professionals are always watching.

counseling sessionsCounseling Sessions

While screening might help treatment professionals to spot a relapse, counseling sessions might help clients to understand their actions a bit more completely. This is of vital importance, according to an article produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as a relapse to drug use is typically considered just part of the change and recovery process clients must go through as they make a break with drugs. Their relapses allow them to see the gaps left in their treatment programs and the areas in which they need to do more work. When the episodes are processed in therapy, they tend to be shorter and less severe in nature, and clients slowly begin to spend more time in recovery than in relapse.

The therapy allows people to come to an understanding of the chronic nature of their addictions, and the therapy allows them to build up skills that could prevent the next episode.

Some aftercare programs provide regular counseling sessions that slowly decrease in frequency. A client might go to counseling once per week, for example, and then go to counseling only once per month when six months of sobriety have passed. Some programs also provide touch-up counseling via telephone or computer, allowing clients to speak with a treatment professional when they are in crisis. Still other programs provide counseling sessions only on an as-needed basis. It’s a personalized program the treatment team pulls together based on the needs of clients.

Sober Living Communities

sober living communityWhile some people can continue to live at home while they work on their addictions, visiting their counselors for appointments while they juggle the demands of day-to-day life, some people just can’t resist the temptation that lies within the communities in which they once used drugs. These people may also have few sober role models, so they might be forced to live shoulder to shoulder with drug users when they’re at home. For people like this, a sober living community might be ideal.

In a sober living community, all residents make a pledge to be clean and sober, and they follow strict sets of rules that are designed to help them develop good sober habits for the rest of life.

Common rules involve:

  • Daily work or volunteering
  • Set lights-out times
  • Daily chores
  • Weekly meetings
  • Set curfews
  • Prompt rent payments

The residences might sound strict, but they’re designed to help people really change their lives for the better and develop new habits that will preserve their sobriety. Research suggests that they’re effective in helping people to reach this goal. For example, in a study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, researchers found that 40 percent of people who participated in sober living communities were completely abstinent for the six months that followed treatment, and 24 percent reported abstinence in five of the prior six months. Those are statistics that are hard to beat.

support group involvementSupport Group Involvement

Regardless of where the person lives, support group meetings are apt to play a role in a robust aftercare program. In meetings, people with addictions have the opportunity to meet others in recovery, and they may have the opportunity to mentor someone new to the recovery process.

Support groups also provide people with a series of steps they can follow to a successful recovery, and each achievement made in following the steps can feel like a victory in the fight against addiction.¬†Support groups can also be beneficial because the meetings and the help provided are often free. For those who don’t have complete insurance policies or hefty savings to draw upon, support groups can provide a form of lasting treatment that’s a little easier on the family pocketbook.

Case Management

It’s clear that aftercare programs take a significant time commitment, and there are many variables that must be attended to. Meetings, appointments, tests and more can fill up the days, and staying motivated to complete each and every step can be difficult. To help, some programs provide clients with a case manager or a recovery coach. These professionals don’t provide therapy, but they do help clients to remember all of the details of recovery that they must attend to, and they work to ensure that their clients stay motivated to recover. Some of these professionals move right in with their clients, working with them on an hour-by-hour basis. Others stay in touch via telephone and email. Still others meet with clients at appointed times. Any method could be helpful, depending on the needs of the addicted person.

Research suggests that having a case manager is associated with a more complete participation in the treatment process. For example, in a study in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that attendance rates for people who had case managers were double those of clients who didn’t have case managers. Studies like this seem to suggest that having a helper is key to success for some people who have addictions.

Final Thoughts

While aftercare is an important part of the recovery process, it can’t take the place of a strong treatment program. As a study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence put it, staying longer in a treatment program for addiction is associated with better abstinence rates. It takes time for the lessons of recovery to take hold, and people really must stay in their treatment programs in order for that transformation to come about. But when those programs are through, aftercare plays a significant role in the success or failure of that treatment.

If you’d like to know a little more about how aftercare works, or you have specific questions about how segments of an aftercare plan might fit into your own roadmap to recovery, please call us. We’re happy to help.