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Rehabilitation Aftercare Program
In many ways, the aftercare program is just as important as the rehabilitation treatment itself. It should not be seen as a distinct process, but rather as a part of the continuum of care that any respectable private drug rehab offers. People automatically assume that the aftercare would include weekly meetings, but this is only the case for 12-step programs. It is true however, that every individual who completes a rehabilitation program needs a good group of people to provide support in their newfound lifestyle away from alcohol and other substances. Even though it is the end goal to have the person be stable enough to avoid relapse regardless of their environment, this may be a gradual process. If the person returns home immediately after leaving the facility and falls into the exact same patterns and routines as before, which includes hanging out in the same places with the same people, the likelihood of relapse is very high. The risk someone takes when having a relapse is serious and may even be fatal.
What Should a Good Aftercare Program Have?
A good aftercare program from a private drug rehab should include some, or preferably all of the following:
- A report-in system for follow-up and support from the treatment center staff.
- A safe and supportive place to live. Even though it seems drastic to some, this may include moving to another town or another part of the country completely in order to avoid certain triggers.
- A plan for a job, career path or at least some type of productivity (possibly work or school) to stay busy and contribute to society.
- A good, drug-free group to associate with for support. This could include family, people at work, athletics, church, community clubs, or other organizations. A place where someone can feel as though they are busy.
- Other long-term goals for the patient's personal life, family and relationships, career advancement, helping others and contributing to society, etc. This is part of the final discharge planning process when completing the rehabilitation program. The designated support staff that work directly with the clients will monitor this progress.
Sometimes the patient may also sign up for services for continuing counseling and education in their own hometown. This may be done with an outpatient counselor, church pastoral counseling, life coach, or even someone else who has successfully gone through what the person is now faced with – perhaps another person who completed the same program. All of these together combine to create an effective relapse prevention plan.
Relapse Prevention Skills
When someone enrolls in a private drug rehab facility, part of the program includes figuring out how to handle high-risk situations that would otherwise leave the patient vulnerable to a relapse. However, as most people can imagine, practicing these situations in a treatment facility, surrounded by staff and in a supportive setting, is quite a bit different from encountering the same situation in the real world. That is why these skills are not only taught while enrolled in the program, but also honed during aftercare. During aftercare meetings the patient can learn from fellow participants, talk about strategies for dealing with real-world problems and talk about experiences they may have had. As the individual progresses through the stages and becomes keenly aware of problems they may face, they start to learn how to:
- Manage emotions – research published in Alcohol Research & Health demonstrated that emotions could make a person vulnerable to drinking and using illicit substances. This includes negative emotions (something most people would assume) but includes positive emotions as well. Emotions may increase the risk for relapse, it is important to learn how to manage them.
- Handle social situations – Even though many people assume it would be easy enough to avoid alcohol or drugs, it may be more difficult. While no longer hanging out with friends who use drugs seems logical, what happens at a birthday party or when the person goes out to dinner? There is likely to be alcohol. It is important to learn how to deal with social situations where the person may feel pressured or inclined to relapse.
- Find friendships and activities – Many people that struggled with addiction find that they suddenly have a great deal of free time. They may also find that people that they considered friends were merely acquaintances that the patient hung out with because of his or her addiction. It is important to find activities and friendships that support the sober lifestyle.
- Find work and housing – It is important to transition from a program into the real world. Both housing and work can help with that.
- Prevent further problems – Sometimes a person has a moment of weakness and has a single drink. It is important that these small problems do not backslide into larger incidents. A single drink can be a mistake, but it may also be the trigger for long-term relapse. The patient needs to understand the difference. When a person builds a support system, it can help them recover from a temporary slip if they do have one.
The Transition to the Real World
Once the person is free from alcohol or drugs, they feel as though they have an entirely different outlook on life and are equipped with a new set of life skills; they may feel more "in control" than they have in years. The person may feel more confident, healthier and stronger. However, the reason that aftercare matters is because once the real world sets in, and social activity, relationships and work puts pressure on the person, they may find that old triggers are still present. Many things may lead to someone turning to their old coping mechanisms, depression, stress, happiness, boredom or anger. While self-discipline is one thing, sometimes people need a little more help to prevent themselves from making a mistake.
It is important to view this type of program as a safety net. Even though it is ultimately up to the patient, the moment their motivation wavers, there is a sense of security. While there are many variables when it comes to dealing with addiction, aftercare services will increase the chance of avoiding relapse significantly. Of course, like everything else, it depends on how active the individual is. If the patient is active in going to medical appointments, group meetings and ongoing classes, the chances of meeting the previously set recovery goals increase even further.
It does not genuinely matter if the person stays in touch once a week, or almost daily, it may be a vital component to sobriety. Many of the programs that we can recommend offer multi-faceted support for the recovering individual.
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