Learn / How to Navigate Mental Health and Addiction After Treatment

How to Navigate Mental Health and Addiction After Treatment

Sarah Shawaker
 March 29th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Learn how to navigate transitioning out of intensive treatment.
  • A well-rounded aftercare approach with multiple modalities bolsters lifetime recovery.
  • Build a support network and use coping skills and relapse prevention.

Recovery is an ongoing journey, and intensive treatment arms you with essential tools. After treatment, continuing to use these tools and learn new ones can sustain lasting recovery. Aftercare planning can give you resources for success.

Aftercare, also called continuing care, can reduce relapse rates, help you stay sober, and enable you to lead a healthy, fulfilling life1. You and your care team will create an aftercare plan detailing treatment options, support groups, and lifestyle habits to follow post-residential care. Your aftercare plan will be tailored to your unique needs, ensuring personalized recovery. 

Transitioning Out of Treatment

Completing intensive treatment is a milestone to celebrate; however, transitioning back to daily life after addiction or mental health treatment comes with a unique set of changes and manageable challenges. These obstacles can be broad and vary from person to person, but understanding them can help you navigate this phase more effectively. 

One of the most significant difficulties in this transition is applying lessons learned in treatment to your daily tasks. Without proper guidance, it may be difficult to maintain these skills when you’re no longer in a trigger-free environment. Other challenges include rebuilding relationships, finding a safe home environment, and financial stability2—fortunately, the skills you learn and practice in aftercare can address all of these.

Aftercare services are a vital part of a successful transition2 and allow you to continuously practice coping techniques and stay connected in recovery. Although your recovery is your responsibility, multiple avenues of support can assist your journey.

Types of Post-Treatment Support

Each of these support options plays a vital role in addressing different aspects of recovery and relapse prevention. 

  1. Outpatient care: These programs allow you to live at home while attending treatment sessions. Programs can vary in intensity and frequency, from daily sessions to meeting twice a week. Outpatient programs usually include evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoeducation.
  1. Sober living: Sober living provides a substance-free, supportive living environment for those transitioning out of residential treatment. Residents typically follow house rules, complete chores, and continue in outpatient care, therapy, and support groups while living there.
  1. Talk therapy: Weekly psychotherapy with a therapist can be helpful to continue skill building and work through stressors. During individual therapy sessions, you’ll likely engage in various therapeutic methods like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
  1. 12-Step support groups: Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer ongoing support through in-person and virtual meetings and a structured program of recovery steps. These groups provide a sense of community and mutual support from peers who are also in recovery.
  1. Non-12-Step support groups: Alternatives to 12-step programs, such as SMART Recovery, offer a non-religious approach to recovery and focus on self-empowerment and self-reliance. Peer support from those with similar experiences can maintain motivation in recovery3. Those healing from mental health concerns can find community in National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) support groups.
  1. Alumni Program: Your treatment center may provide an alumni program where you can bond with peers through in-person or virtual alumni meetings, sober events, or group trips. The program might include follow up check-ins and therapy sessions with a counselor, as well.
  1. Medication management: For some people, especially those recovering from opioid addiction, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be an effective component of post-treatment support4. Medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision. Medication management for antidepressants, antipsychotics, and more can assist recovery for those with mental health concerns.
  1. Holistic and wellness programs: Activities such as yoga, mind–body therapies, acupuncture, and meditation can be an effective way to manage addiction and mental health symptoms5. Combining holistic modalities with evidence-based therapies can provide a well-rounded approach to care and an alternative way to heal. Additionally, proper exercise and nutritional counseling can support overall well-being and stress management in recovery6.

Building a Supportive Environment

Creating a support network with strong relationships is a foundational aspect of long-lasting recovery. Social support in recovery can reduce stress, increase self-efficacy, and motivate sobriety or remission7. When you return home, you’ll want to connect with loved ones who supported you through the treatment process. Let them know how much their help and encouragement means to your recovery. Try your best to plan regular get togethers with friends and family, as avoiding isolation and bolstering these relationships can make recovery easier.

You may want to revisit relationships that were strained by your condition(s). This is an opportunity to practice the communication skills learned in treatment and show your growth, empathy, and patience. 

Your social circle should fully support your recovery efforts, contributing to a healthy home environment. You can also adjust other factors in your life that create a supportive living space, including removing triggers (such as substances), decluttering your home, practicing mindfulness, prioritizing sleep, and building a routine with meal times, exercise, and hobbies.  

Coping Strategies and Relapse Prevention

Recovery is something you actively engage in for the rest of your life. There may be times when you experience uncomfortable feelings and situations; however, with the right tools, you can navigate through uneasy moments. 

Triggers can look like stress from work, relationships, finances, and certain establishments. It may be smart to avoid bars or similar environments to prevent attending a high-risk situation. Recognizing these triggers and planning how to manage them can prevent relapse.

During treatment and after, you’ll practice using coping techniques, which can look like breathing exercises, regulating emotions through journaling, and saying “no” to situations that do not serve your recovery. It’s important to mindfully use coping skills in both uncomfortable situations and relaxed environments—that way, when a time arises when you need to use the skill, you’ve practiced it in low-stress times and feel comfortable using it.

You and your care team can create a personalized relapse prevention plan. This plan addresses potential triggers, outlines coping strategies, and identifies supportive resources, making it a cornerstone of successful long-term recovery.

Monitoring Progress and Adjustments

Although recovery is alinear, all healthy progress should be tracked and celebrated. To ensure that you’re engaging in activities that suit your current recovery needs, you can have regular check-ins with your healthcare providers. What may have worked in the beginning of your treatment experience might not serve you years down the road. You might find journaling about your 1 month, 1 year, and 5 year goals helpful. You can also write answers to questions such as:

  1. What were your main goals when you started the aftercare program? How well do you feel these goals are being met?
  2. In what ways have you changed since beginning your aftercare program? Consider habits, thought patterns, emotional responses, and relationships.
  3. What are the most significant challenges you’ve faced during your recovery process, and how have you addressed them? How has your aftercare program supported you in these challenges?
  4. What new coping strategies or skills have you learned through your aftercare program? How effectively are you able to apply these in real-life situations?
  5. In what areas do you feel you still need to grow or improve? How can your aftercare program or other resources assist you in these areas?

Staying flexible yet focused on your end goals can help you feel more fulfilled in your recovery. Every milestone, whether achieving 1 year of sobriety or simply having a good day, should be celebrated. Honoring your efforts can help you stay motivated and recognize how far you have come in your recovery journey. 

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