The Components of Effective Aftercare

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Individuals who have recently completed treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring mental health disorders must continue learning how to prioritize their recoveries outside of treatment. Contrary to what some may believe, recovery is not completed once a treatment program is finished. Fortunately, effective aftercare can help people maintain their healthy habits as they transition to life outside treatment.

What Is Aftercare?

Aftercare is an ongoing treatment service. It is offered to individuals who have achieved initial sobriety by completing an initial treatment program.

Also known as continuing care, aftercare is a necessary, yet often overlooked component of recovery. It is a long-term, detailed plan that supports individuals in early and long-term sobriety. The goal of aftercare is to prevent relapse as people transition to life outside treatment. Effective aftercare helps people maintain lasting healing in their lives.

The Value of Aftercare

A common belief is that achieving sobriety is one of the most challenging parts of the recovery journey. This may be true for some people. However, it is important to remember that addiction is “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In other words, for those in recovery, the chronic nature of addiction poses a high potential for relapse at any and all times. Therefore, recovery needs ongoing intention and work. Aftercare plans provide the stability and security that individuals, especially those in early recovery, need to maintain sobriety. Effective aftercare will increase confidence and enthusiasm for continued recovery.

Stepping Down in the Continuum of Care

Addiction treatment has many levels. These levels can be understood as a continuum of care that decreases in intensity as people gain knowledge and experience in living sober lives.

Residential to Outpatient Treatment

As people make progress, they step from higher levels of care to lower levels of care. For example, someone who has recently completed a residential treatment program may transition to an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or partial hospitalization program (PHP). These programs allow people to practice greater independence and accountability for sobriety while still receiving support.

After IOP or PHP, people might step down to a general outpatient program. General outpatient programs give people even greater accountability for their recovery. At the same time, they support people by providing continued access to professional and peer support.

The Role of Aftercare in Transitions

During these transitions, it is important that each person has a reliable aftercare plan. Throughout recovery, a person's needs will inevitably change. Aftercare plans are living documents, meaning that they can adapt and change to fit a client's unique needs and recovery goals. These plans enable individuals to effectively address, navigate, and overcome environmental triggers as they ease back into their lives outside of treatment. 

Considerations for Aftercare Plans

There are factors to consider when making an aftercare plan. A plan should take into account what parts of the treatment or recovery process are involved in a person's transition. Its components may also depend on the aftercare resources their treatment facility offers.

For example, some aftercare programs may consist of face-to-face visits with a client's care team. Others may involve attending weekly support groups with others who have completed treatment programs.

It is also important to consider that some individuals may have traveled quite aways to receive treatment. In these cases, treatment facilities can refer clients to aftercare programs local to their hometown. Some treatment facilities have expanded their aftercare resources virtually. This allows clients to process their recovery journey with peers in recovery through social media and other ways of connecting online.

Ultimately, an aftercare plan should be personalized to a client. This ensures that they feel confident in their ability to maintain their sobriety as they step down in the continuum of care. At Pathways Recovery Center, we provide individualized treatment for every step of the process.

Components of Effective Aftercare Plans

Certain components of aftercare are often involved in well-rounded, effective plans. Individuals progressing through recovery should consider adding the following to their aftercare plan.

#1. Engaging in Self-Care

Prioritizing self-care strategies is necessary for building self-esteem in recovery. Taking time to care for one's body, mind, and soul is the foundation for well-rounded and lasting healing.

Examples of daily self-care methods to consider adding to an aftercare plan include:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Incorporating a healthy diet
  • Practicing mindfulness skills and relaxation techniques
  • Exercising regularly
  • Spending time alone
  • Making time for the hobbies you enjoy

#2. Strengthening Bonds with Sober Peers

Another important component of aftercare involves strengthening bonds with peers in recovery. Sober networking not only helps to prevent relapse but can also facilitate deeper meaning and purpose for an individual's sobriety.

Individuals can consider attending sober networking events. Participating in hobbies can also provide opportunities to create and strengthen relationships with other sober people.

#3. Engaging with Support Groups

Support groups are an invaluable resource for those in early recovery. These groups bring together like-minded individuals to inspire one another's continued efforts to maintain sobriety. When sobriety presents challenges and setbacks, individuals can lean in on others in their support groups for motivation.

#4. Giving Back to the Recovery Community

For many, long-term aftercare may involve giving back to the recovery community. This may include mentorships and volunteering. People can increase their own motivation and joy by encouraging others in early sobriety to establish lasting healing.

#5. Checking In with Treatment Professionals

Aftercare usually involves regularly checking in with treatment professionals, such as therapists and other treatment staff. Sometimes, these check-ins are offered in virtual formats, such as e-mail conversations or text chats.

Continuing to stay in touch with treatment professionals is essential. They can help individuals get back on track following a potential relapse or assist them in sustaining long-term recovery, even years after they complete an initial treatment program.

Whatever stage of recovery you are in, it is vital that you understand the value of aftercare in sustaining long-term sobriety. There are various components of aftercare that you can include in your recovery plan. Some examples include attending support groups, engaging in self-care, checking in with therapists, and giving back to your recovery community. Pathways Recovery Center is a residential substance abuse treatment facility that believes in the necessity of aftercare for maintaining lifelong recovery. We can tailor aftercare plans to fit your unique needs and goals for recovery, ensuring that you feel confident in your ability to sustain sobriety as your return to life outside of treatment. To learn more, call (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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