Aftercare is a plan that is developed in collaboration by each patient and the staff to increase the chances of success after formal treatment has ended. It is individualized to the needs of the patient and can include outpatient treatment, self-help meetings, private therapy, or vocational oriented services, among others.
Depending on an individual’s needs and their disposition upon completing the initial treatment, aftercare can be prescribed for varying lengths. It is very important for the patient to follow the plan carefully, since the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that relapse rates are estimated between 40% and 60%. Continued participation in a 12-step program is often encouraged and, in some cases, required.
Aftercare typically entails far less frequent contact with treatment personnel than during the first phase of treatment, and therefore approximates a more real-life situation of self-sufficiency and hard work in maintaining one’s own sobriety.
The transition between the first stage of treatment to self-sufficiency will in many cases be monitored several times a week, the hope being that this will serve as an incentive to the patient to avoid trigger situations and resist the urges to take drugs again. As part of the aftercare plan, monitoring also serves the purpose of detecting an upcoming or recent relapse and it allows for a reevaluation of the treatment plan, ultimately promoting patient health and safety.
Developing A Plan
A good inpatient rehab program will tailor a set of requirements and goals for each patient during aftercare, based on their specific needs and discharge evaluation. In some cases, such as a court-ordered treatment, participating in an aftercare program is mandatory and closely monitored. However, while they may sometimes be involuntary, treatment and aftercare are no less effective because of it.
Examples of some of the components involved in developing an aftercare plan include:
- Relapse prevention strategy developed and rehearsed before the end of the initial treatment.
- Prescription for consistent participation in addiction support or self-help groups (often times AA or NA meetings).
- Regularly scheduled outpatient follow-up appointments with a clinician or a counselor for continued therapy.
- Arrangements for a controlled living environment post-treatment, such as a halfway house.
- Recommended or required drug testing.
- Monitoring, which can be done during scheduled appointments, on the phone, or even via email. Technological advancements now allow for a variety of newer methods for continued patient care, including video calls, text messaging, and various other support and tracking apps.
Recovery isn’t easy and it’s sometimes a life-long process. Aftercare programs that involve sponsors or someone who is always available to talk are very important. They often involve family, group and individual therapy, and other protocols developed for a recovering patient’s individual needs.