Drug abuse and addiction problems can be so complex and overwhelming that many individuals experience great relief just through enrolling in treatment. When they have successfully made it through a full rehabilitation treatment program and restored their ability to live a healthy, productive and happy life, they may conclude that all their problems are over and they are free to live once again. Unfortunately, many of these individuals may return to their normal life environments and routines and experience shock as they realize just how different it is to maintain one’s sobriety in real life, compared to maintaining one’s sobriety in the safe, supportive and drug-free environment of a rehabilitation treatment facility. When an individual relapses into drug use, they may come to the conclusion that drug abuse and addiction problems are impossible to fully handle, or that rehabilitation treatment is ineffective. Thankfully both these conclusions are false, as the real answer lies in a failure to participate in the aftercare services that can help smooth an individual’s transition back into society.
What is Aftercare
Aftercare is defined as any sort of treatment services that follow the individual’s initial and formal treatment services. These services support and encourage the individual to maintain their sobriety and recovery despite any difficulties that may arise as they transition back into their normal life environments and routines.
The plain fact is that rehabilitation treatment services, while intending to be thorough in addressing and resolving all the individual’s causes and effects of drug use, cannot actually predict and prepare the individual for everything they may encounter in the future. An individual who completes their rehabilitation treatment program may feel they have accomplished something huge, and rightfully so, as the path to recovery can often be long and difficult. However, without looking to the future and determining what additional support they may need in order to learn how better to cope with and succeed in life, the individual is essentially only half-recovering and truly just hoping for the best. With drug use so close behind them, an individual who encounters serious difficulties and problems in their life can very easily relapse into drug use, which may serve to cement the idea that drug problems are permanent in nature. This in turn can cause the individual to turn down any future offers of help, essentially giving up all hope for a full and lasting recovery.
Why People Relapse
Initial drug use occurs when an individual encounters something in their life that they feel either unwilling or unable to handle on their own. They take drugs in the hopes that these substances can change undesirable conditions. Drugs are chemical substances that cannot solve the problems for which they are taken, but by interfering with the normal functions of the human body they can numb undesirable sensations and stimulate desirable sensations. While drug use can also result in the experience of undesirable side effects, an individual who feels that drugs are more helpful than harmful to them will often choose to continue using drugs.
The very same things that drive an individual to participate in initial drug use can drive an individual to relapse. A rehabilitation treatment program may have aided the individual in withdrawing and detoxing from drugs and addressing the mental and emotional causes and effects of drug use, but if they feel like relapsing into drug use again at some point in the future, they are missing something that they needed in order to effectively take control of and handle their life. It may be possible that their rehabilitation treatment program itself was incomplete – they did not fully eliminate all residual drug toxins from their body and so experienced cravings when they became physically active later on, or perhaps they simply didn’t learn the life skills they needed to be able to cope with or handle stressful situations. However, it can also be that the individual’s rehabilitation treatment program was complete and thorough, but the individual simply needed additional support in the future in order to continue building their self-confidence in overcoming the challenges of life. An individual who lacks goals for the future may find that it’s harder to focus on the reasons they once had for recovery. An individual who returns to the social situations and groups that once encouraged or condoned their drug use can find that the urge to return to drug use is overwhelming and difficult or impossible to fight.
There are many reasons for why an individual may feel like relapsing into drug use. While remaining in rehabilitation treatment indefinitely can help to solve many of the problems that may lead into a relapse, it is not really a workable solution. The better solution is to provide the individual with the support and encouragement they need through aftercare services. These services are especially helpful because they are provided while the individual is transitioning back into their normal life environments and routines and encountering difficulties or challenges. With support already established and immediately at hand, the individual is better able to remain motivated in their recovery and build up effective new coping strategies that can aid them long into the future.
Types of Aftercare
Just as is the case with rehabilitation treatment services, there are many different types of aftercare services designed to meet a wide variety of specific needs. There may be no doubt that the individual needs continued support and encouragement in order to effectively maintain their recovery, but the fact remains that it is their own discipline and dedication that will drive them toward success. For this reason, an individual has a responsibility to select and participate in the aftercare services that will best aid them in smoothly transitioning back into a healthy, productive life. Some types of aftercare services include:
- 12-step groups. These groups originated with Alcoholics Anonymous and are among the most well-known aftercare options. Individuals are encouraged not only to participate during their recovery, but even long after their recovery is complete, and indeed for the rest of their entire life. These groups empower individuals to maintain their sobriety by following well-defined steps and receiving support and encouragement from others.
- Support groups. There are different forms of support groups in addition to the 12-step groups, which may be highly beneficial to individuals who are not comfortable with the spiritual aspect of some 12-step groups. These groups still provide the individual with the peer support and encouragement they need to persist with their recovery.
- Counseling. Just as counseling was helpful during an individual’s rehabilitation treatment program, it can be helpful during an individual’s transition back into society. The individual can discuss and address any issues that they encounter in life and continue to build their ability to confidently take responsibility for their life and choices.
- Transitional housing. In many cases, an individual may leave rehabilitation treatment and not have a home or job to go to, which can make it especially difficult to stay firmly on the path to recovery. Transitional living facilities can provide the individual with a safe, drug-free residence to live at while they work on establishing a job and a home of their own.
With the right services and support, it is possible for an individual to permanently resolve their problems with drug abuse and addiction. Whatever aftercare services an individual chooses, these services can be instrumental in helping the individual maintain the sobriety they worked so hard to achieve during rehabilitation treatment.