7 Essential Elements of a Good Aftercare Program for Addiction

Last Updated: Sep 21st 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Did you know that only about a third of people who are abstinent for less than a year after a treatment program will remain abstinent? 

Upon leaving an acute rehabilitation program, individuals face numerous challenges and temptations that can lead to a setback.

And those setbacks can subsequently lead to a relapse.  

That’s why an aftercare program is vital to the success of those in recovery. They provide individuals with ongoing assistance and support to greatly increase their chances of long-term recovery.

But not all aftercare programs are the same. 

What Elements Make an Aftercare Program Effective?

While relapse prevention is a high priority, it cannot be the only goal for an aftercare program.

An effective aftercare plan serves first as a guide to help individuals identify every possibility of relapse. From there, it empowers them to cultivate a healthy, productive and meaningful life.

The fact is, recovery is an ongoing and lifelong process. For addicts, life after treatment is built upon the progress they’ve made.

In order to achieve this, a successful aftercare program should do the following:

1. Make It Easy to Participate

Life in recovery is complicated enough without the added stress of figuring out how to fit aftercare into the schedule.

An effective aftercare program is one that individuals can attend with little or no disruption to other activities or responsibilities.

This is why social support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, for example, have proven so effective. Meetings are regular, frequent and are held in locations that are easy to access.

2. Offer Comprehensive Treatment 

In the past, getting addicts to stop using and usher them through the withdrawal period was considered enough. There was no consideration for other variables that could spark a relapse.

Aftercare treatment programs need to consider the individual at all levels. That means making accommodations for an individual’s medical history, cultural background, age, gender, education, social situation, and other issues.

Another important issue that must be considered is co-occurring mental health disorders or cognitive issues.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that roughly 7.7 million adults struggle with a co-occurring substance use disorder. Known also as a dual diagnosis, this is when addiction is accompanied by some form of mental illness.

In treating just one diagnosis, there is the chance that the co-occurring issue will worsen. And this could result in relapse. 

3. Teaches Accountability

One of the biggest lessons addicts must grasp is that they’re accountable for their behavior. This can be difficult for individuals who have relied on a substance for much of their life.

An effective aftercare program will, therefore, stress that the individual is accountable for not just attending therapy sessions or social support group meetings, but also for actively applying the principles learned in treatment to everyday life.

And in that crucial first year of recovery, there should be an objective measure to ensure that the individual is remaining abstinent. This includes the use of breathalyzer tests or urine analysis for drugs or alcohol administered by a therapist, physician, or other qualified individuals.

4. Lays out a Relapse Prevention Plan

After exiting a treatment program – whether outpatient or residential – it’s not unusual for a people to believe they’re out of the woods. And they have every right to be proud of the progress they’ve made.

But this feeling can make it difficult for individuals to consider what they’ll do when faced with the possibility of a relapse. And they’re often remiss in making a plan that will either help them actively work to prevent relapse, or what they’ll do should it happen.

Aftercare programs make it clear that the possibility of relapse is a major part of recovery. They help those in recovery to identify their triggers and warning signs, why they decided to get sober, and what they need both physically and mentally to maintain sobriety.

5. Offers a Support Network

Success in recovery relies on having a reliable support system. It is simply not something that can be done alone.

Because without a network of supportive friends, peers, and even family who understand your situation, the call to return to substance abuse can be far too tempting. 

A component of recovery is recognizing that certain people, places, and situations are no longer beneficial. Going back to those familiar places and faces can cause a relapse.

Those in recovery need others around them who are committed to helping them stay sober.

6. Teaches Healthy Coping Strategies

Working with a therapist or case manager can be the difference between relapsing and continuing to make progress.

Just because an individual completes treatment, it does not mean that he or she will be clear of cravings. These can persist for years or even decades after treatment. 

In tandem with a support network of friends and peers, a therapist or case manager helps individuals build healthy coping skills – such as having a sponsor or a list of people to call when feeling shaky or tempted.

7. Provides Ongoing Contact 

Continued assessment is crucial for recovery. 

It’s not unusual for individuals to enter a 12-step program and want to blow through all 12 steps in record time. But that’s just not the reality.

In the first year after treatment, it’s beneficial for those in recovery to maintain contact with their treatment professionals. Regular check-ins allow them to assess their progress.

After that, continued participation in social support groups, therapy, or complementary and alternative treatments, should continue for a minimum of 5-7 years after treatment. It’s at that point that the probability of relapse significantly drops.

And even then, there’s no guarantee.

Those who remain sober and involved in treatment-related activities for 5-7 years are often considered to be successful in their recovery. Even so, there are more than a handful of cases where individuals have relapsed after a decade or longer of abstinence.

So keeping vital connections with others in the community enables individuals to apply the principles learned in recovery over the course of their lifetimes. And it greatly reduces the possibility of relapse.

Find the Best Program Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and is ready to receive help, now is the time.

Please don’t hesitate. Contact us today to start taking those first important steps toward recovery.

And remember, there is life after treatment! With treatment and an effective aftercare program, life is SO worth living.

Resources:

https://www.alcohol.org/aftercare/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64088/#_A88808_

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.