Drug and alcohol treatment aftercare: What is standard?

Any good drug or alcohol treatment center offers extensive aftercare and follow up. But what kind of drug and alcohol treatment aftercare is standard? And what new ideas might treatment centers start to use? We talk about novel approaches to drug treatment aftercare and ask you if you think drug rehabs are measuring up.

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Aftercare & relapse prevention

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Technical Assistance Publication (TAP) Series 11 :

It is not unusual for addicts to relapse within one month following treatment, nor is it unusual for addicts to relapse 12 months after treatment; 47 percent will relapse within the first year after treatment (Simpson, Joe & Lehman 1986)….Although relapse can occur at any time, it is more likely earlier in the recovery process. At this stage, habits and attitudes needed for continued sobriety, skills required to replace substance use, and identity with positive peers are not firmly entrenched (Nowinski, 1990).

So what role does aftercare play in relapse prevention?

A good treatment center will first stabilize the medical condition of a person addicted to drugs and/or alcohol…and then educate an addict about the physical, mental and emotional cycle of addiction. The education that begins in treatment can be the basis for choosing different behaviors and outcomes after treatment. Relapse prevention techniques that are theory during residential treatment become practice in the real world. Therefore, it is the role of aftercare to support the new habits and attitudes which promote sobriety by keeping people accountable and encouraging positive ACTIONS in early recovery.

Drug rehabilitation and after care programme model

The process of social reintegration can be difficult after inpatient rehabilitation for drug or alcohol addiction. Those in early recovery face many challenges, especially in recurrent thoughts or physical cravings to use drugs or alcohol. Combined with social pressure, exposure to “high-risk situations”, curiosity for testing addiction, and a lack of skills to deal with conflict or negative emotions…aftercare programs are fighting an uphill battle to help addicts stay clean. However, successful drug and alcohol treatment aftercare programmes share some common practices. These can include:

  • creating an individualized relapse prevention plan for each client
  • encouraging involvement in community self-help groups
  • making weekly, bi-weekly or monthly follow up phone calls to track client progress
  • referring clients to psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioral,supportive, insight oriented, family therapy or a combination of therapies)
  • recommending a structured living environment (halfway, 3/4 way or sober houses)
  • recommending voluntary or mandatory drug screening (sometimes court ordered)

New ideas in after care

Treatment centers who are interested in going beyond the standard are finding new and novel ways to check in with patients after their initial “rehab”. These industry leaders are interested in continuing the process of 2-way communication with former patients, to both improve inpatient services and provide aftercare assistance. Some ideas include:

  • Initiating online video or audio meetings with former patients
  • Sending a series of reminder emails re: the personalized relapse prevention plan formulated during treatment
  • Texting clients on mobile phones to encourage recovery progress
  • Using iPhone apps to help clients track relapse triggers, emotions, meeting attendance, etc.
  • Moderating group discussions and/or forums online

Aftercare alcohol drug rehabilitation treatment review

In your experience, do drug and alcohol treatment center provide the standards for aftercare? Are they doing enough? Or are many lacking in follow up services for patients getting out of rehab? What should be the minimum standard a treatment center MUST follow? And what other ideas do you have for drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers looking to improve aftercare? Your input is welcomed here.

Reference sources: Tap Series 11
University of Washington Tech Report
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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