Supporting Long-Term Recovery from Addiction
Aftercare and the Abstinence Stage of Recovery
An article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine identifies three stages of recovery. The first stage is abstinence, which begins when use of substances stops and lasts somewhere between one and two years. The second stage is the repair stage, during which there is a refocusing on restoring life and honing the strategies, skills and lifestyle needed for long-term abstinence. This takes another few years. And the third stage is the growth stage, which is a lifelong endeavor that involves refining skills and striving toward authenticity and authentic happiness. Aftercare is designed to help throughout the first stage of recovery once treatment is complete. Aftercare also helps develop the urgent, critical skills needed to maintain abstinence outside of the highly supportive treatment setting.
During the abstinence stage, the focus is on coping with cravings and staying sober. This stage involves working on a number of important tasks:
Typical Components of an Aftercare Plan
These are all very complex issues, and the time spent in treatment typically isn’t enough time to thoroughly explore and create change around them. That’s why ongoing therapy in some form is usually part of the aftercare plan. People who complete an inpatient program will typically be referred to an intensive outpatient or outpatient program that provides considerably more freedom but still offers a high level of structure and support. For those completing an outpatient program, ongoing individual therapy is often recommended.
Family therapy helps families identify and work through these issues and develop healthier, more honest ways of interacting and communicating with one another. Family therapy in treatment is meant to get the family stabilized to reduce household stress and decrease the risk of relapse after rehab. But many families need ongoing therapy to continue working on difficult issues.
Family members should consider individual therapy to help them identify their own faulty thought and behavior patterns and make positive improvements in their own lives. Because children of an addicted parent are more likely to abuse substances themselves later, individual therapy can help children change unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns and develop the coping skills they need to make healthy choices in the future.
Nearly every aftercare plan will include participation in a support group. Daily support group meetings provide structure and support in early recovery, and they promote mindfulness and personal responsibility. Support groups provide opportunities to develop healthy relationships with other non-users, and they help reduce feelings of isolation in recovery. According to a literature review published in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, participating in a support group reduces substance abuse, eases cravings, and improves self-confidence and self-efficacy in recovery.
While 12-step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are popular and effective, alternatives do exist:
- SMART Recovery focuses on motivation, coping skills, managing emotions and living a balanced life.
- The Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) takes a science-based approach to recovery that draws on self-empowerment.
- LifeRing Secular Recovery focuses on developing and sharing strategies for living an abstinent and purposeful life.
- HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol helps people make positive changes based on personal goals through elements like setting goals, making action plans and learning to cope without alcohol.
Family members also benefit from joining a support group for families who have been touched by addiction. These include popular groups like Al-Anon for adults and Ala-Teen for the children of addicted parents. Support groups reduce feelings of isolation and provide a safe place to express difficult emotions and work through a variety of issues unique to families in recovery. They also provide a place to share resources, celebrate milestones, and support others just beginning their recovery journey.
Sober living provides a strong foundation for recovery for those who need a little extra support after treatment. A study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that a sober living situation after treatment promotes long-term sobriety, increases employment and reduces symptoms of mental illness.
Aftercare Helps Prevent Relapse
However, relapses can and do happen despite following the aftercare plan. It’s important to note that relapse is considered to be a normal part of recovery and an opportunity to develop missing skills. Approaching a relapse with a positive attitude is important for getting back on track quickly -and stronger and more motivated than ever.
Following an aftercare plan is the best way to help ensure abstinence during the first, challenging stage of recovery. The aftercare plan is designed just for you, and following it reduces your risk of relapse and improves your chances of enjoying successful recovery for the long-haul.
In treatment, strive for complete honesty, and keep an open mind. You’ll be rewarded with astonishing and life-changing revelations about yourself that will drive your recovery and improve your quality of life and sense of wellbeing for a happier, healthier future.
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