The Importance of Addiction Aftercare in the Treatment Process

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Addiction aftercare is not an optional element of an overall substance abuse treatment program. The reality is that addiction aftercare is a crucial component of drug treatment, relapse prevention and sobriety maintenance. Addiction aftercare is mandatory no matter the underlying addiction giving rise to drug rehab or treatment in the first place.

More than half of all people who participate in an in-patient or out-patient addiction rehab program will seek addiction treatment again within five years, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). An additional percentage of individuals will relapse, use and not seek appropriate treatment. Moreover, some people who seek treatment will die from their addiction within that same five year time period.

Types of Programming Utilized in Aftercare

A variety of different types of addiction rehabilitation programming is utilized in the post-primary-treatment aftercare process. An ideal aftercare regimen is designed specifically to meet the unique needs, goals and objectives of an individual patient, according to John Hopkins University Medical Center.

Therapeutic engagement is a key component of a typical aftercare problem for an individual in addiction recovery. In many cases, this includes the use of individual counseling as well as group sessions.

Depending on a patient’s circumstances, history and circumstances, one-on-one sessions are undertaken with an addictions counselor (who typically is social worker with a master’s degree) or a psychotherapist. If a person has a dual diagnosis or is otherwise in need of prescribed medications as part of the recovery process, one-on-one therapy will be with a psychiatrist.

Group sessions usually are overseen by an addictions recovery specialist, who usually is a social worker. Some treatment programs attempt to include patient cohorts in transitional group therapy sessions as a means of transitioning into the next phase of recovery, according to Menninger Foundation.

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What Addiction Aftercare Programs Teach a Person in Recovery

Addiction aftercare programs instruct a person in recovery on a number of different levels. Chief among them is instruction on strategies to address the prospect or onset of a relapse, according to NIDA. Addiction recovery specialists, and the psychiatric community more broadly, recognize three stages of relapse. These are emotional, mental and physical relapse.

Through this type of aftercare education, a person is taught to understand these stages of relapse and signs that a relapse is imminent (or has occurred, at least at the emotional state). For example, at the emotional state of relapse, a person very likely does not even recognize that he or she has slid into relapse. A person in this state has not consciously considered actually using a mind-altering substance. Rather, an individual likely is engaging in some type of subtly risky behavior that opens the door to the contemplation of drug usage. A person missing a scheduled therapy session for no solid, rational reason is an example of this type of early relapse stage risk behavior.

At the mental stage of relapse, a person begins formulating specific thoughts about using, and ultimately begins planning to take a mind-altering substance. The final stage, aptly called the physical stage, occurs when a person actually uses a mind-altering substance.

As an aside, most addiction recovery specialists consider the use of any mind-altering substance a physical relapse, according to NIDA. For example, a person addicted to heroin who leaves treatment in a state of recovery will be considered to have physically relapsed if he or she starts drinking alcohol.

In addition to teaching a person in recovery about relapse and relapse prevention, an aftercare program may also instruct a person in a variety of life skills area, including educating a person on enhancing their job seeking abilities and how to find positive pastimes as substitute for unhealthy behavior.