The decision to seek treatment for a substance use disorder can be the most difficult decision a person ever makes. Treating an addiction can be a challenging experiences but it is well worth the effort, since most people begin to see major improvements in their lives after only a few weeks. If you have finished your addiction treatment program, congratulations! Your life after addiction treatment is likely unrecognizable compared to how it was before.
However, it is important to recognize that even after finishing rehab, there are often significant challenges. People who are graduating from drug and alcohol rehab often face conflicting emotions.
Beginning a new life after drug rehab treatment without substances can be exciting, but many people graduating rehab have understandable fears of relapsing. They may wonder how they can stay sober without the structure and support that their rehab provided. They may find themselves in potentially triggering situations that make them want to turn to substances. Quality rehabs can help people prepare for these situations.
Finishing rehab is a huge accomplishment, but it does not mean that a person’s substance use disorder is “cured.” In fact, substance use disorders are chronic conditions that can never be fully eradicated. Rehabs provide people with the skills and tools they need to continually treat their addictions to keep them in check. Making use of these tools can allow people to live without cravings, much as taking high blood pressure medication can prevent people from experiencing the symptoms of high blood pressure.
After finishing a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program, recovering addicts return to their normal lives. They will associate with friends and family, go to work, and engage in hobbies and recreational activities. While these are all positive things, all of these people and activities can trigger a return of cravings if people do not do essential work to maintain their sobriety.
The vast majority of relapses occur during the first few months after a person finishes rehab. During this vulnerable transitional period, it is essential to have a strong plan in place to ensure that sobriety is maintained. No one wants all of their hard work in rehab going to waste!
Common Relapse Triggers
Part of preventing a relapse means keeping on the lookout for common warning signs. One of the most common causes of relapse is stress. The following stress-related triggers can be a sign of an approaching relapse, and they indicate that it is important to reach out for help and make use of recovery tools:
- Seeing old friends with whom one used to drink or do drugs
- Visiting a place where one used to engage in substance abuse
- Beginning or ending a romantic relationship
- Spending too much time alone
- Experiencing feelings of pride or overconfidence
- Losing a job
- Financial insecurity
- Poor self-care (eating or sleeping badly)
- Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)
Aftercare services are programs designed to help people stay sober after having finished an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. The vast majority of rehabs help people devise aftercare plans that address their own unique individual needs. Most aftercare plans make use of a wide variety of different elements to help people feel supported.
Most people receive some degree of individual therapy in their treatment center. Beginning or continuing individual therapy after rehab is generally a good idea. A therapist can help a person work through the underlying problems that may have motivated their substance abuse in the first place. This can be especially helpful for dual diagnosis individuals who suffer from comorbid conditions like anxiety or depression. Individual therapists can also help people develop plans for dealing with potentially triggering situations. Moreover, they are an essential source of emotional support while people face the inevitable challenges of early sobriety.
12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or Cocaine Anonymous (CA) are excellent resources for people who have graduated from an outpatient program. Many people begin attending AA or other 12-step meetings while going to rehab. Continuing to do so afterwards is a powerful way of staying in touch with one’s recovery and extending one’s sober social support network. AA and other 12-step meetings are opportunities to hear and share experiences, strength, and hope. Meetings are available at all hours of the day in every city in the world, and they are entirely free to attend.
Alternative Support Groups
Some people prefer support groups that do not follow the 12-step model, or they may want additional support outside of their AA or NA meetings. SMART Recovery meetings are a popular secular support group. SMART’s recovery program is based on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy, a research-backed treatment modality that helps people take control of their addiction. Most SMART Recovery meetings are conveniently held online, though they are also held in-person sporadically in most major cities.
Check-Ins With Your Rehab
Many outpatient programs encourage alumni to stay in touch. They may hold regular check-up meetings for alumni to stay in touch. This helps people stay accountable and provides them with an essential source of support. Certain rehabs even provide alumni with opportunities to help current rehab attendees. Research shows that helping other addicts is one of the best ways for a person to stay sober.
Building a New Life
Making use of recovery tools is essential for staying sober, but it is important to keep in mind why you wanted to get sober in the first place. More likely than not, you were miserable, unhappy, and lonely during active addiction. One of the best ways of staying sober is to make your sober life as joyful as possible. After all, you deserve it!
Sobriety gives you an opportunity to pursue new possibilities and goals that at one point may have seemed impossible. For some, that means going back to school or beginning a new career.
For others, it means being able to care for someone in a romantic relationship. It’s best not to have expectations or assume that your life will be wonderful right away, and it’s also important to recognize that there are ups and downs in sobriety — bad things happen, and it’s normal to feel sad at times. Chances are, though, that your worst day in sobriety will be better than your best day in active addiction. Given enough time, it is possible to build a new sober life for yourself that is happy, joyous, and free. Just remember to always put your sobriety first.