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Choosing the Right Addiction Aftercare Program

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Addiction treatment interventions occur in a variety of treatment settings; however, treatment and recovery don’t have to stop when you leave a facility. The overall recovery process continues after you complete substance use disorder treatment and may include addiction continuing care programs, also known as aftercare.

Research continues to demonstrate that aftercare programs can increase treatment engagement, which can ultimately lead to better treatment outcomes.1, 2

This article will discuss what aftercare programs are, what’s typically involved in an aftercare plan, and the potential benefits of aftercare programs.

What are Addiction Continuing Care Programs?

Addiction aftercare is also referenced as continuing care and refers to follow-up services that occur after addiction treatment services have been completed.1 For some people this may be a type of step-down care like a less intensive treatment program or setting.

Recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD) is a lifelong process that typically requires ongoing evaluation and adjustments to your treatment and/or recovery plan based on your progress.1 When you take part in continuing care, it doesn’t mean that addiction treatment has ended. Instead, a continuing care plan reflects a different phase in the recovery process.

Some examples of aftercare programs include medication management, mutual support groups, and behavioral therapy.

Goals of aftercare include:1

  • Strengthening and maintaining the goals established in previous phases of treatment.
  • Establishing and sustaining abstinence.
  • Relapse prevention.
  • Developing healthy coping skills.
  • Connecting you to community resources like housing and employment.
  • Strengthening self-esteem.
  • Minimizing the severity of relapse.
  • Improving your social support system.
  • Establishing goals and identifying solutions to potential challenges.

Types of Addiction Aftercare Programs

Aftercare programs and services will vary based on your unique needs and evaluation by your treatment team. Aftercare services can take place after any type of addiction treatment and refers to the services that occur after you have completed a more intensive treatment program, such as inpatient residential treatment. This may also be referred to as “step-down” care.1, 15

Aftercare services can occur in different treatment settings, such as outpatient offices, recovery housing, and treatment facilities.

While more research is needed on the benefits of aftercare programs, current research suggests that aftercare programs should:2

  • Be at least 12 months in length.
  • Incorporate services specific to the person.
  • Be easily accessible to you.

Mutual Support Groups

Mutual support groups can include 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART), or any other type of support group offered through organizations supporting people in recovery.4

Mutual support groups are made up of men and women who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and want community support in helping them maintain abstinence. Mutual support groups can be a powerful tool in encouraging and supporting those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.4

Mutual support groups are an important component of an aftercare plan, as research has demonstrated that they can help improve abstinence outcomes and enhance overall recovery efforts.3

The benefits of mutual support groups like AA and SMART Recovery can occur on a personal, social, and societal level. More specifically, the benefits of mutual support groups may include:5

  • Strengthened social and emotional support.
  • Reduction in relapse rates.
  • Reduced homelessness.

Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

When a mental health and substance use disorder exists at the same time, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder.6 According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2018, over 9 million adults in America struggled with a co-occurring disorder.6

Common treatment approaches that are used to treat CODs include:7

  • Case management services.
  • Vocational and house services.
  • Brief and highly structured treatment sessions.
  • Behavioral therapies, such as motivational interviewing (MI).
  • Group and individual addiction counseling.
  • Peer support services.

Medication Management

Medication may be included as part of your treatment and aftercare plan. Medications are prescribed by doctors, and it is important to be regularly monitored so your medications can be adjusted to your changing needs.

In the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD), certain medications can assist with acute withdrawal symptoms, and some medications may be used indefinitely.8, 16 Medications used to treat OUD are effective, safe, and have been shown to reduce mortality rates for opioid addiction.8

You and your treatment team will be able to determine if medications are suitable for you and your recovery needs.

Recovery Housing

Recovery housing, sometimes known as sober living, is a transitional living environment designed to address your need for a healthy and safe living environment while prioritizing recovery and the development of healthy peer supports.9

More specifically, recovery housing:9

  • Is a shared living environment free from drugs and alcohol.
  • Promotes abstinence and sustained recovery from addiction.
  • Is centered on peer support.
  • Connects people to necessary services and resources.
  • Helps prepare you for returning to normal daily activities outside of the treatment environment.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is an important part of your treatment and aftercare plan, which can include several evidence-based therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI).

Behavioral therapy is useful in addiction treatment and aftercare because it can:10

  • Help you build the skills necessary to remain abstinent.
  • Modify your attitudes and behaviors towards drugs and alcohol.
  • Encourage you to continue care such as medication.
  • Teach you to recognize and avoid situations that may trigger a relapse.
  • Prepare you for change.
  • Improve overall family functioning.

Benefits of Addiction Continuing Care

Effective addiction treatment addresses the whole person, not just your substance use, and this may include a continuing care plan.10 Recovery is progressive, and your needs throughout the process may change. Your continuing care plan must be re-evaluated over time to address your changing needs and progress throughout the recovery journey.10 Your treatment and aftercare plan should include medical and mental health services, as well as family-based and community resources.10

Potential benefits of continuing care may include:10

  • Preventing relapse.
  • Managing underlying mental health conditions.
  • Learning necessary life skills.
  • Strengthening relationships with friends and family.

Making an Addiction Aftercare Plan

You can expect to create an aftercare plan with your treatment team before being discharged from your treatment program. Your treatment team can include medical professionals such as doctors as well as mental health and addiction specialists; this can include psychiatrists, counselors, and psychologists.

Together, you and your treatment team will develop an aftercare plan with the following considerations:11

  • Your home: Resources for safe and sober living arrangements including recovery housing
  • Your health: Individual and group therapy services, doctors appointments
  • Purpose: Vocational assistance and training, parenting classes, life skills training
  • Community: Connections to community activities, and groups such as AA/NA and other 12-Step support groups

Specifics of your aftercare plan may include the following:12

  • Developing a rapport with staff and other personnel in community agencies to ensure a smooth and effective transition to aftercare.
  • Identifying aftercare goals.
  • Developing criteria to monitor progress on your goals.
  • Identifying sober interventions and activities.
  • Finding available resources and services in the community.

What Happens if I Relapse During Aftercare?

Relapse is often a normal aspect of the recovery process and studies indicate that as many as 85% of people in early recovery relapse within a year of stopping drug use.13 Relapse doesn’t indicate failure; however, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of relapse so you or a loved one can get the necessary care.

Some warning signs of relapse can include:14

  • Social isolation.
  • Not going to support group meetings.
  • Poor sleeping and eating habits.
  • Craving drugs and alcohol.
  • Lying.
  • Glamorizing past use.
  • Looking for ways to be around the drug.

If you are on the verge of relapse or know someone who is, reach out for support from a trusted member of your treatment team, a loved one, or your doctor.

Do I Need Continuing Care After Addiction Treatment?

Only you and your treatment team can determine the appropriate care after treatment. However, continuing care plans can be an important part of the recovery process, regardless of the type of treatment program you are engaged in.

At American Addiction Centers (AAC), we recognize how important treatment and aftercare planning can be. If you’re ready to get help after a relapse or are new to addiction treatment, contact our caring team at to learn about treatment options and check your insurance. We’re available 24 hours a day and all information is confidential. Call AAC today and begin your recovery journey.

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Scot Thomas
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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