Learn / Recovery Doesn’t End With Rehab: Why Aftercare Is So Important

Recovery Doesn’t End With Rehab: Why Aftercare Is So Important

Hannah Friedman
 September 19th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Recovery doesn’t end when you complete rehab. Instead, this ongoing process will continue for the rest of your life. Aftercare, or continuing care, helps people transition back into life after rehab.

Rehab removes you from everyday stressors. This lets you focus on yourself, and on healing. But the reality is that you can still expect to face stressful situations once you return home. To support you through this, continuing care helps keep you on track and gives you the structure you need to thrive.

Most facilities recognize their patients’ need for aftercare. As such, they may offer online therapy sessions, check-ins with staff members, or meetings with peers after you leave residential treatment. A rehab program with a robust aftercare component can smooth out the transition from treatment to everyday life.

Each center offers different forms of continuing care—when looking into treatment centers, keep in mind that this will be a critical stage of your recovery journey.

Structured Aftercare Programs

Some people benefit from a more structured approach to continuing care. Perhaps you’d like to ease back into daily life in a safe, controlled environment. In sober living communities, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), you’ll be in close contact with treatment professionals and other people in recovery. Sobriety is mandatory in these settings, and your peers can help hold you accountable. This might be exactly what you need in the next chapter of your healing journey.

Sober Living Communities

Sober living environments are designed to bridge the gap between rehab and daily life. These facilities house people who are learning how to navigate life without alcohol and drugs. They provide structure with house rules and a recovery-focused schedule, but allow more freedom than a residential rehab center would.

Many of these therapeutic communities will only admit patients after they complete residential rehab. However, some sober living environments also accept people recovering from other mental health conditions.

In these settings, you can socialize with peers in an organized way. You might attend support groups, go on planned outings, or even play team sports. You may also attend 12-step meetings, therapy sessions, and other group activities, all of which may be optional or mandatory depending on the facility. These may or may not take place off-site.

Many sober living communities require you to find a job (or already have one). They may even provide career coaching and other resources to help you look for work. This is your chance to set your life up for success, in a way that aligns with your new goals. And you’ll have support from those around you to do just that.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)

An intensive outpatient program may be a good fit if you prefer a more structured approach to aftercare. In an IOP, you’ll live on your own (or in a sober living environment), but attend a recovery program every day. While each program is different, most require at least 10 hours of therapy per week. You’ll probably attend both 1:1 and group therapy sessions, as well as meetings that support your sober lifestyle, like SMART or 12-Step. IOPs may also partner with community organizations for resources like job-related services or specific types of treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Patients in PHPs spend the majority of their day at the facility, and only go home at night. In that sense, they’re similar to IOPs—except that patients spend even more time in treatment. You can either enroll in a PHP instead of rehab, or after you complete it. PHPs may be a good option if you require the intensiveness of an inpatient program but prefer to live at home with your family.

Continued Individual Therapy

Therapy is an important part of maintaining your personal growth and tracking the goals you set for yourself in rehab. Some rehab programs offer individual or group therapy sessions as part of their aftercare program, which may or may not be included in the program cost. If you’d like to keep working with the therapist you saw in rehab, you can ask them if that’s an option. However, there’s a good chance that a therapist who’s regularly working at a treatment center may not have availability. You can also ask your treatment center for resources to help you find a new one.

Looking for a new therapist takes time. You may need to meet with a few to find one you feel comfortable with, and whose approach aligns with your identity and values. Keep in mind that every practitioner has different specializations, and not all of them treat addiction. Ideally, it’s a good idea to find a therapist before you leave rehab, with the support of your treatment team, to avoid a gap in sessions. Having this support in place can help with any uncertainty or overwhelm in the weeks following your discharge.

Therapy is crucial to the recovery process, but it’s not a quick fix. It takes time to work through trauma and develop new habits. But with the right therapist in your corner, you can continue your healing journey with expert support, long after you leave rehab.

Support Groups

Peer involvement is an essential component of the recovery process. It can be affirming to hear stories from other people in similar situations. You’ll learn from other people’s experiences, and they may even share helpful advice.

Support groups are a great way to connect with the local community and stay accountable. If you enroll in an IOP or PHP, you’ll likely join a support group as part of treatment.

Although the core components of specific groups are usually the same, you may prefer some more than others. For example, some meetings might look different, or you might connect with people in one group more than others. For this reason, it’s a good idea to try out several different meetings. You can even attend multiple groups if you’d like, and as many in one day as you want. Ultimately, you get to determine what is most helpful for you.

12-Step Fellowship

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)1 is probably the most well-known 12-Step program. However, there are now 12-Step groups for almost any type of addiction. These meetings are available around the world. They take place in person in most major cities, or you can join some sessions remotely.

In these groups, members follow 12 steps to recovery. 12-Step programs are faith-based, though anyone can attend. They often reference a higher power or God, and typically start meetings with a prayer. If you don’t feel comfortable in spiritual settings, this might not be the best program for you. But if you already feel strongly about spirituality, or would like to develop a practice, these groups and the social support they offer can be a boon to your recovery.

Meeting formats are usually similar, but may differ depending on the group. As an example, A.A. meetings2 might begin with a prayer, moment of silence, or reading about from the “Big Book.” The Big Book contains passages about the 12-Steps and recovery. After that, people might share stories or discuss a topic as a group. The exact format and activities in each meeting may vary depending on the group goals.

If it feels right, you can also connect with a sponsor. Long-time members can volunteer to become sponsors after some time in a 12-Step group. In this role, they commit to supporting you through any struggles you face. This might look like meeting outside of the group, or talking on the phone when you’re having a hard time.

Interest-Based Groups

You might want to dive into new—and old—hobbies after completing rehab. Finding activities you enjoy can truly be healing. And connecting with interest groups can be a great way to build your support system. The internet and social media make it easy to find people who like to do the same things you do. For example, you can look up “knitting groups in Phoenix,” or “hiking groups in Denver” and find plenty of options. You can even attend classes, like yoga or pottery.

Building sober community is critical to recovery. In fact, supportive relationships can actually help you maintain your sobriety.3 These positive influences will prevent you from seeking out negative ones. And, they can offer words of encouragement during tough days. According to experts, “Strengthening bonds with the social world can weaken bonds with substance use.”

Social Support From Your Existing Network

Support from those closest to you, like your friends and family, is invaluable. Surrounding yourself with people who believe in you—and your recovery—can do wonders for your healing process.

However, your old relationships might be different after you finish rehab. You may need to distance yourself from people who enable bad habits, for example. Alternatively, you might have hurt someone’s feelings before rehab—and they may not want to stay in contact with you. As unfortunate as this might be, it’s also possible to rely on previous healthy relationships or form new bonds with other sober people.

If you decide to work on your relationships with loved ones, you can attend family or couples therapy. And this treatment doesn’t only apply to biological members. You can bring anyone you consider family to sessions, whether they’re related to you or not. In therapy, you’ll learn to communicate in a healthy way. Family members will learn how to better support you through recovery. This may include establishing healthy boundaries or recognizing the signs of relapse.

Relapse Prevention Planning

Relapse is always a possibility. And it’s important to plan around it well in advance. You’ll start this process in rehab, and will continue working on it throughout your recovery.

If you do relapse, it’s not the end of the world. Healing isn’t linear, and sometimes you’ll hit bumps in the road. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you need to pick yourself up again—with the help of your support system.

Planning for Life After Rehab

It might feel intimidating to think about what life will look like after rehab. And in fact, it might be completely different from your life now. But that can be exciting. Rehab is your chance to start over. You can use this time to rediscover what you want out of life, and find healthy ways to move toward it.

When you return home, it’s up to you to keep the ball rolling—to take what you learned in rehab and apply to your new life.

This includes working to replace negative habits with positive ones. But you don’t have to do it alone. Instead, you can connect with people who can help you start this new, sober life. This process might be difficult and messy—but also inspiring and exhilarating. And there are plenty of people ready to support you, every step of the way.

Connect with a rehab program that provides aftercare to learn about sober living programs, remote treatment options, insurance coverage, and more.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Have a problem with alcohol? There is a solution. | Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aa.org/ []
  2. What to expect at an a. A. Meeting | alcoholics anonymous. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aa.org/information-about-meetings []
  3. Pettersen, H., Landheim, A., Skeie, I., Biong, S., Brodahl, M., Oute, J., & Davidson, L. (2019). How social relationships influence substance use disorder recovery: A collaborative narrative study. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 13, 1178221819833379. https://doi.org/10.1177/1178221819833379 []

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