Relapse Prevention: The Aftercare Plan

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This entry was posted in Addiction & Recovery, Alumni on .

The decision to seek treatment for an alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) is a major turning point in life, and a relapse prevention plan is an important part of the treatment process. It’s critical to realize that treatment can change everything. You restore balance to your personal affairs, begin to rebuild your primary relationships with family and others, and learn to live without alcohol and drugs.

But what happens once treatment is over?

The transition from treatment back to daily life takes planning, attention to detail, and hope for the future.

Is there a way to stay connected with a resource that can help you stay on track with your recovery goals? A way to maintain your optimism and hope for the future, while attending to the important daily details that lead to sustainable recovery?

There is. We hinted at it above, when we use the phrase relapse prevention plan. A relapse prevention plan is a crucial component of something many people have never heard about, especially if they’ve never been in treatment, or had a friend or loved on in treatment for AUD or SUD.

It’s called aftercare.

The Aftercare Plan

The primary goals of a well-designed aftercare plan are to keep you on track, keep you engaged in recovery, and prevent relapse. Aftercare plans may take different forms, but all of them should contain similar elements, including:

  • Community Support Resources:
    • Sponsor contact info for AA, NA, or another community support group
    • Meeting times and schedules for AA, NA, or other community support groups
  • Therapy and counseling information:
    • Names, dates, and times for your first series of appointments
  • Resources for recovery-oriented lifestyle activities:
    • Yoga class locations and schedules
    • Exercise/workout plan
    • Meditation resources
    • Plans to continue expressive activities such as art, writing, or music
  • Medical support information:
    • Names and locations of physicians trained in SUD treatment
    • Locations of pharmacies for medication, if needed

You should have a plan with these elements in hand before you leave treatment. The more detailed and structured your plan is, the better it is. The better your plan is, the greater your chance of sustained sobriety. Think of your aftercare plan as an extension of your treatment – but you get to be in charge.

The Warning Signs of Relapse

If you’re worried that you’re at risk of relapse, or a friend, loved one, or recovery peer is at risk of relapse, watch for the following signs.

Relapse to Alcohol or Drug Use: Warning Signs

  • Skipping community support meeting like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Cutting off contact with sponsors and recovery peers
  • Return to old/unhealthy eating and sleeping habits
  • Cutting off contact with family
  • Emotional ups and downs/instability
  • Going to places where alcohol and drug use is common
  • Returning to places where you used to use alcohol and drugs
  • Increasing anxiety
  • Increasing irritability and/or anger
  • Frequent defensive/combative mood
  • Self-isolation
  • Romanticizing/mythologizing past alcohol and/or substance use
  • Thinking about returning to alcohol or substance use
  • Making plans to use alcohol or drugs again

If you’re in recovery, you know relapse is an important thing to be concerned about, because relapse is a common phenomenon. Here’s something to think about, though: addiction is a chronic medical condition, with relapse rates similar to other chronic medical conditions. Let’s compare relapse rates for AUD/SUD to relapse rates for two other chronic medical conditions, as reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • Hypertension: 50%-70%
  • Asthma: 50%-70%
  • SUD: 40%-60%

Those figures show that relapse rates for addiction are, on average, lower than the rates for asthma and hypertension. Many people who relapse get discouraged and think they’ve failed. Let’s set that straight, right now:

Relapse is not failure. Relapse does not mean you have to go back to square one, and it doesn’t negate everything you’ve learned or all the hard work you’ve done.

The best way to look at relapse is as a setback from which you can recover. In other words, you can manage relapse and get back on your recovery plan. You can learn from the experience and use it to support your ongoing recovery. The best way to look at it is as a bump in the road, and the best way to handle it is to get in touch with your support system, get back on your aftercare program, and proceed one day at a time.

Let’s take a look at how your aftercare program can help you both before and after a relapse.

Relapse Prevention: The Benefits of an Aftercare Program

There are several ways an aftercare program can be a positive cornerstone in your recovery. Here are five:

1. Aftercare Helps You Create a Solid Support System

You might have had friends before treatment who enabled your AUD or SUD. While you may miss those relationships, you want to be around people who will encourage, rather than undermine, your recovery. An aftercare program connects you with other people on a similar journey. Together, you empower one another to stay on course. This type of support system is vital to your ongoing success.

2. Aftercare Reminds You to Live Life On Your Terms

When you’re in active addiction/actively engaged in the disordered use of alcohol or drugs, your life is not yours. Substance use dominates virtually everything. You forget about things you love to do and may abandon your big-picture life goals. During treatment, you may start to remember those things – and remember your goals. Aftercare programs remind you that you matter and that your life is yours, and you can live a full and fulfilling life, based on who you are and what you want.

3. Aftercare Helps You Help Others

Recovery creates a special bond between people. As you learn, live, and grow in recovery, you learn that you can share your experience and wisdom with people at the beginning of their recovery journey. Helping others makes everything come full circle. You get perspective, you check your own knowledge, and you get to be a positive influence in someone else’s life.

4. Aftercare Helps You Manage Triggers

During treatment, you explored the reasons why you used alcohol and drugs. You learned that some things – maybe people, maybe events – elicited the emotional state that led you to drink or use drugs. You learned to call these things triggers, and learned ways to cope with those triggers so you can avoid turning to alcohol and drugs in the future. Once you return to life after treatment, triggers can come barreling at you full blast. An aftercare program helps you maintain the focus you need to manage your triggers – and better yet, avoid them altogether.

4. Aftercare Helps You Keep Growing

Treatment can be intense. The learning curve is steep. No one expects you to keep that same level of intensity going indefinitely, but it’s important to keep learning, living, and expanding your knowledge of – and skill at – the recovery lifestyle. Aftercare keeps you focused and on track.

Think of your aftercare plan as an ongoing treatment strategy formulated to help you get the most out of your life after treatment. Your aftercare community can become your recovery family. When the going gets tough, they’ll be there for you. And when the going is good, they’ll be there to celebrate your success – without alcohol or drugs.

Aftercare: The Value of Alumni Programs For Relapse Prevention

When you complete a treatment program of any level at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, we invite you to join our extensive nationwide recovery network. Staying connected to recovery peers allows you to check-in with your recovery community as needed, share your successes and challenges, and discuss any anxiety or excitement you have about the future. We focus on the positive, but we also keep it real. Your fellow alumni will tell you if they see warning signs of relapse, and help you find ways to keep you on track, on your program, and help you continue to grow and thrive in recovery.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.