Why Aftercare is Essential for Sustaining Sobriety

 

The biggest indicator of lasting change is consistency. Consistency is when habits are formed, whether positive or negative, by becoming focused on repetitive action. For addiction, ongoing treatment helps create positive consistency that will push you to go deeper in your recovery. While deciding to make a change and taking steps to achieve that is important and necessary, it will only last if integrated into your daily life. When it comes to recovery, aftercare planning is important for every level of care. Detox and residential treatment on their own are not enough.

Detox is Only the First Step to Recovery

When you complete detox, you feel better physically, which can give you a false sense of confidence – that because you feel good, you now have everything you need to remain sober. Having felt the pains of withdrawal, you believe that the memory of those negative feelings will act as a deterrent from you using again. At that moment, both of these factors can be powerful motivators. However, they often do not last.

Once acute withdrawal symptoms subside, post-acute withdrawal symptoms can occur.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • low energy
  • mood swings
  • thought fog
  • inability to focus
  • lack of impulse control

These symptoms can last for days, weeks, months, or years depending on the substance. Without ongoing treatment, they can trigger you to use again because you may believe that sobriety does not work, or it feels worse to be sober than it did when using. Therefore, these symptoms make you vulnerable to relapse. Treatment after detox is crucial to get you on the right track and working through the most vulnerable part of the recovery journey.

The Challenges After Completing Residential Treatment

After completing residential (also known as inpatient) treatment, it is common to feel that if you put in enough time for your recovery, it is enough to remain sober. This is not always the case. When in residential, you learn skills in a safe setting, with supportive staff and peers, and in an environment where you cannot get your substances. Being able to maintain sobriety while in treatment can lead you to believe that you will also be able to do so once you are back home. This can provide a false sense of security that does not prepare you for the difficulty you may encounter when you return to your everyday life. While residential gives you the tools to succeed, the work does not end when you leave inpatient care.

While you have changed in treatment, your work, home, and community environment likely have not. This transition may cause you to focus on your old life first as you are trying to return to your life as a sober person. If you struggle with this, it can make you reluctant to ask for help or tell people that you are struggling because you believe that since you just came from treatment, you should know how to handle this. This misconception can increase your risk of relapsing. When the options you learned during residential treatment run out or do not fit the challenges you are facing, and you do not have a support network to lean on, you can easily fall into old patterns of behaviors.

Why Aftercare Makes All the Difference

Aftercare is crucial after residential because it provides you the support needed to implement the tools you learned in your daily life. It also keeps you accountable and motivated to have a mindset focused on recovery rather than just the act of being sober. When you continue with outpatient services, extended care, and/or recovery coaching, you put yourself in environments with people who can relate to you and validate you while also working towards achieving the same goals. The consistency of continued focus on establishing a routine is what helps create lasting sobriety little by little.

There are different types of aftercare options. What is most important is finding the one that best fits your recovery needs and goals.

Outpatient Services: Individual and group therapy, as well as psychiatric services, on a flexible schedule to allow you to meet your work, school, and personal obligations while still prioritizing your sobriety.

Extended Care: A structured sober living program where you can gain greater independence and put practical life skills to use while remaining in a safe environment.

Recovery Coaching: Mentorship and peer-to-peer support to help you work through real-world problems in real-time and adjust to your new life in sobriety.

Consistency with sobriety happens when you make recovery a part of your day-to-day life, and the best way to do that is by having a strong aftercare program. This allows you to practice your skills, feel supported by staff and peers, have an outlet to engage in recovery discussions, and remember all of the positive changes you have already made.