Blog | Alcoholism Treatment

What Is the Role of Aftercare in Addiction Treatment?

For individuals completing a stay in residential treatment, the idea of tackling “what’s next” in sobriety can seem overwhelming. After 30 or even 60 days of immersive treatment, the recovering person’s world suddenly opens up, brimming with possibility — and an inundation of choices.

During residential treatment, much of an individual’s experience revolves around a daily schedule of therapies and wellness-related activities. After completing this process, the individual has spent a significant amount of time reconnecting with herself, as well as physically recovering from the effects of active addiction and substance withdrawal.

Upon graduating from residential treatment, the client must become reacquainted with responsibilities, such as attending school or finding employment. When a client does not pursue aftercare services or outpatient programming, this fragile period of sobriety can often lead to relapse.

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) aims to bridge the gap between residential treatment and independent sober living.1 Often, an intensive outpatient program will be paired with supervised sober housing, allowing the client to recover in a safe and comfortable environment surrounded by sober support.

Intensive Outpatient Programming

Happy woman in group therapyAny major life transition is bound to create doubt within an individual. Leaving a treatment program and transitioning toward independent living can be most successful when facilitated by a team of professionals at an intensive outpatient program.

A team of primary therapists, case managers and behavioral health technicians work together in an IOP to mirror the structure of a higher level of care, while also introducing renewed commitments and responsibilities into clients’ lives, such as paying rent and obtaining meaningful employment.

With relapse rates as high as 40-60 percent in the first year of sobriety, an IOP aims to provide plentiful therapeutic resources to the client that will further her recovery journey, which began with detox and continued into comprehensive treatment.2

A client in an IOP will typically attend four to five days of programming per week, which will include individual therapy sessions, group therapy sessions and special wellness programs, such as equine therapy or yoga. All aspects of this model are designed to support the complexities that individuals in early recovery face on a daily, evolving basis — physically, mentally and emotionally.

Meeting the client’s needs requires a strong commitment, both from the client and her assigned team of clinicians. Clinicians in this space are specially trained to accommodate the unique issues presented by this stage of recovery and will assist the client in transitioning toward independence through job counseling, facilitation of family communication and continued progress in therapy.3

When a client settles into a regular schedule of attending IOP and working and attending 12-Step meetings, a renewed commitment to sobriety emerges. This phase of addiction treatment is crucial to the client, as it reintroduces the individual to the possibilities they have the capability to create — without the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The time spent in an IOP varies from client to client, though those who attend programming for a minimum of 30-60 days tend to experience the most success. The sober living aspect of the program can allow clients to create community and share in responsibilities with others on a similar path. Maintaining and upholding responsibility is a key aspect of sober living, as it encourages positive associations with self, particularly the renewed perception of self in sobriety.

Finding the Right Balance

Group of happy women outdoorsCreating balance within one’s life is never easy. No matter what we are facing in life, life will always require us to make sacrifices in some regard. After completing residential addiction treatment, the individual may struggle to create balance between newfound responsibilities and the continued work involved with staying sober. This struggle is completely normal and is the reason programs like IOPs exist.

Upon beginning an IOP, the client will be assigned a primary therapist, whom she will typically meet with on a weekly basis. The client’s therapist will cater the client’s therapy to address specific needs, such as past trauma or family issues.

Next Steps

Staying connected with an alumni program can make all the difference to an individual in her first year of sobriety. Creating relationships with peers in recovery can serve as a tremendous support to the individual and encourage her on the path to long-term wellness.

Alumni programs can even introduce current intensive outpatient program clients to those who have already completed the program and have maintained success. Alumni events can foster camaraderie and reassure current clients that recovery is possible and that, while everyone’s journey toward success is different, the goal of sobriety is a unifying force.

By Kate Mills, RECO Intensive


1Intensive Outpatient.” Reco Intensive, July 2016.

2Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2014.

3 McCarty, Dennis, PhD, et al. “Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence.” Psychiatric Services, June 2014.