Although completing treatment is a major step toward recovery from addiction, it’s not the end of the journey.
Like other chronic diseases, addiction can’t always be “cured.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug addiction relapse rates are between 40-60%.
But—similar to many chronic conditions—addiction can be managed effectively. A continuum of care or aftercare plan is crucial for long-term recovery. It helps you maintain and build on the progress you’ve made in treatment.
What Is an Aftercare Plan?
An aftercare plan is a personalized strategy for coping with the challenges you’re likely to face after leaving rehab. It also involves commitments to activities that will help you maintain your sobriety, like support group meetings.
Aftercare is not one-size-fits-all, so a good plan should take into account your own personal goals, struggles, and triggers. Your plan might include:
- Contact information for sponsors or others you can reach out to in times of crisis
- Times, locations, and expected frequency for meetings like AA or NA
- Self-help goals like church, yoga, journaling, etc.
- Individual or group therapy
- Working on employment or educational goals
- Managing time and finding ways to cope with stress
- Financial planning
- Housing and transportation assistance
- A list of supportive family members or friends
Be sure to find a rehab facility that is committed to their patients’ aftercare. Each patient should receive a personalized aftercare plan prior to leaving treatment in order to transition successfully.
Steps for Developing an Aftercare Plan
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMSHA), there are five key steps for developing a good aftercare plan.
1) The wellness toolbox– This includes daily activities that will help you stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Possible options include:
- Getting plenty of sleep on a regular schedule
- Drinking enough water
- Enjoying fun hobbies like walking, painting, or playing an instrument
- Practicing meditation or other relaxation exercises
- Talking to loved ones
- Eating three healthy and balanced meals
- Journaling difficult or stressful experiences and documenting what caused the stress
2) Daily maintenance plan– This plan includes the following subsections:
- A description of how it feels to feel good, positive, or content. (These are emotions you want to strive for in your daily life.)
- A list of your dreams or goals, both short-term and long-term, to help you stay motivated and hopeful.
- A daily list of steps that will support wellness. This can include items from your wellness toolbox, in addition to items like personal check-ins or spending time in the sunlight each day.
- A reminder list, which may be in calendar format, of important events or deadlines like homework, bills, support group meetings, doctor’s appointments, therapy visits, etc.
3) List of triggers– This may include certain people or locations, specific anniversaries, difficult relationships with family members, financial stress, symptoms of physical or mental illness, etc. These triggers should be avoided if possible.
4) Action plan for triggers– If these triggers can’t be avoided, then you’ll need to have an action plan for coping with them. How can you release some of the tension or anxiety these triggers cause you? Possible plans may include calling a loved one, listening to music, taking your dog for a walk, meditating, etc.
5) Early warning signs– If you understand the early warning signs of relapse, you may be able to prevent or minimize it. Warning signs include changes in appetite, a loss of pleasure, anxiety, forgetfulness, and depression. If you begin neglecting your self-care, becoming more solitary, or failing to complete the steps in your aftercare plan, you may be in danger of a relapse.
Benefits of Aftercare
Now that you know what aftercare is, why is it so important?
A solid aftercare plan can help you readjust to life outside of a treatment facility. You’ll suddenly have much more freedom, temptation, and stress than you had while in treatment. You may be tasked with searching for a job or finding a new network of friends. Without an aftercare plan in place, this time period is extremely dangerous for those in early recovery.
Even when you’ve been in recovery for a while, your journey won’t be without bumps in the road. When you experience stress or encounter your triggers, you need to have a plan. Otherwise, you might turn to your previous unhealthy coping mechanisms.
An aftercare plan also helps you stay proactive with daily routines, activities that help maintain sobriety, and physical and emotional self-care.
If you do have a plan and you’re committed to implementing it, you’ll increase your chances of lasting recovery.