Formal drug treatment programs don’t last indefinitely. In fact, they might only last for a few months. It’s a time of intense work and profound learning, when a person picks up the skills that will be used in the long-term struggle for sobriety, but at some point, the person is expected to head back to the regular world once more. The work may continue for the rest of the person’s life, but the intense days spent in rehab will come to an end. Even though the surroundings might be familiar, the person has changed, and blending memories with current goals can be hard at first. These are seven steps people can take to make the transition a little less stressful.
1. Find Sober Friends.
Addictions often form through the influence of other people. Studies on teens, such one published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, clearly demonstrate that peer pressure is a powerful motivator for drug use, as those teens who spend time with pro-drug friends are more likely to use when compared to teens who spend time with sober friends. The same could be said for adults. Those who have friendships built on drugs may find it hard to go to parties, share meals, or otherwise interact and stay sober, as the temptation to use might grow and spread. Sober friends can be vital, as they may be willing to engage in fun activities that don’t involve substance abuse. Temptation levels might fade when people are surrounded by others who are sober.
2. Evaluate the Neighborhood, and Move if Needed.
For some people, the old neighborhood contains a plethora of reminders about substance use and abuse. They may be walking by their drug dealers on a daily basis, and the street corners, local bar fronts, and green parks might remind them of the times they spent getting drunk or getting high. These memories can be powerful triggers for addiction cravings, and they could be too much for people to resist. Other people may find that their homes are, similarly, unsafe. For example, a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse found that female heroin users often lived with a current user or a former user. When rehab is over, these people might return to homes filled with drugs, and a relapse might quickly follow.
Moving to a new neighborhood can push the reset button on cravings, providing the person with new vistas and new opportunities to explore. The neighborhood might be safer, with fewer available drugs, or it might just be different enough to push the old memories away. If the old neighborhood is unsafe or it’s too hard to live under the burden of memory, moving might be an apt choice.
3. Keep Follow-up Appointments.
Drug rehab programs sometimes work on a stair-step model, where the care provided becomes less and less intense until the person is handling sobriety alone, without assistance. Often, this means that people must head to appointments with counselors in the early days of recovery, even though the formal rehab program is over.
Therapy might help people to:
- Process feelings regarding work
- Deal with family transitions
- Handle relapse triggers
- Set goals for the future
- Strengthen skills
Life can get hectic and demands on time can build and build, but skipping follow-up appointments isn’t advisable. The work should continue, and each appointment should be considered vital to long-term success in sobriety.
4. Focus on Mental Health.
Returning to an old routine can bring stress and anxiety, especially if people are dealing with an intense craving for alcohol or drugs, and it can be easy to focus on the negativity. Sadness can build and build until a relapse seems not only possible but also certain. Finding a moment in each and every day to do something positive could be vital. A few moments of morning meditation could help the clouds of anxiety to part, for example, and that could bring the person the peace needed for the rest of the day.
Exercise might also play a key role. While researchers aren’t quite sure how mental health and physical activity are linked, the Mayo Clinic reports that depression and anxiety levels can lower when a person exercises regularly. Taking a walk with the dog, swimming a few laps in the pool or lifting weights in the basement could all provide a little boost to mood, and these actions could also help a person feel just a little stronger and a lot healthier.
5. Find a Support Group.
Drug rehab programs often utilize support groups, including Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, as programs like this can boost a feeling of affiliation and help people to achieve and maintain sobriety. When rehab is over, it can be tempting to skip meetings in favor of talking with family and friends on an informal basis, but attending support groups could provide benefits that casual talks cannot.
In a support group, people are still learning about addiction and they’re tapping into a network of people who have dealt with their own addiction issues. They have a robust roster of people to talk to, and a goal to work toward. The meetings can be inspirational, and they can allow the person to say things that the family simply might not understand. In other words, meetings shouldn’t be skipped. They’re a necessary part of the healing process.
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6. Help Someone Else.
In rehab, people spend a significant time talking about what they’ll need to do to improve their individual lives, but research suggests that helping someone else could be a vital part of the recovery process. For example, a study in the journal Addiction found that helping others achieve sobriety reduced the risk that recovering drinkers would binge drink. By helping others, they were able to share experiences and remember what it’s like to struggle for sobriety. This allows petty daily concerns to float away, and it might make the person work even harder to maintain the gains earned in drug rehab.
Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous make this kind of mentoring easy, as most programs ask senior members to take on younger members and counsel them in a one-on-one fashion. However, helping could take many forms. In fact, some forms of helping don’t have anything to do with addiction at all.
- Volunteer at an animal shelter
- Mentor a child in need
- Visit seniors in elder care facilities
- Participate in a community garden
Giving back and doing good makes the heart feel full and happy, and this could be just the sort of sensation a person needs in order to maintain sobriety when the rehab program is complete.
7. Stay Alert for Signs of Relapse.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic illness, and as a result, 40 to 60 percent of people who have an addiction relapse at least once. This doesn’t mean that addiction treatment isn’t effective, but it does mean that people with addictions will need to amend their lives and be on alert if they’d like to keep the problem from coming back full force. For starters, they might need to know where a relapse, for them, begins. For some, it’s a feeling of sadness or loss. For others, it’s a sensation of happiness or invincibility. These thoughts swirl and swirl, growing stronger and stronger, until a relapse takes place. Capturing and identifying the thought is the key to stopping the relapse. When those thoughts are in place, the person can go back to therapy, visit a sober friend, catch a meeting, or otherwise deal with the issue and stop the cycle.
Friends and family members might also be helpful here, as they might also know what a relapse looks like and how it typically starts. They can’t be expected to step in and stop a relapse from taking place, but they can speak up and speak out when they sense trouble, and this might be the prompt that pushes the person to find more intensive treatment.
At Michael’s House, we know that aftercare is vital to long-term success. We help our clients to develop robust relapse-prevention plans, and we keep in touch with clients through alumni programs, touch-up counseling and more. If you’d like to learn more about our approach, please call.