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February 5, 2016

Long Term: What to Expect When You Leave the Facility

Attending a rehabilitation program is a critical first step in addiction treatment, but it is just that—a first step. True recovery from addiction is a life-long process, and the longest part of that journey begins at the end of your rehab stay.

Rehab provides a safe haven, where you are tucked away from everyday pressures and triggers for your addiction. It is a place you can focus solely on getting well. When you leave, all the conditions that supported your substance abuse may still be there, and you will have to deal with those stressors in a whole new way.

The good news is, depending on where you go for rehab, much of your program is likely to focus on the transition back home. To help you prepare, here are some of the most important factors to consider when you leave the rehab facility.

It’s OK to be nervous.

Just like an athlete before a big game, most recovering addicts feel some trepidation as they prepare to move from the facility back to their home life. Feeling nervous is a good sign—it indicates you are taking the transition seriously, and you are ready to take on the challenge of a substance-free life.

Family members may or may not show support.

Depending on the individual dynamics within your family and the personalities of your family members, you may get different reactions when you get home from rehab. Some people may be supportive, some may be cynical, and some may be doubtful. Perhaps the most dangerous reaction will come from family members or friends who themselves have substance abuse problems—these people may try to sabotage your ongoing efforts to stay clean.

You may have to face the music.

In many cases, addicts enter rehab after hitting a low point in their lives, or “rock bottom,” as some people call it. Re-entering your pre-rehab life may mean dealing with ramifications of the bad behavior that led you to a recovery program in the first place. Get ready to face these consequences head on.

You may experience mood swings.

Many people experience symptoms of depression during the first year of recovery. These may be persistant or may alternate between sadness and periods of elation. Symptoms of “the blues” are normal, but if you feel your sadness worsening or you experience long bouts of depression, contact your doctor or,therapist right away. Any suicidal thoughts should be shared with your therapist or doctor immediately. Or, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

You may need to avoid some of your old friends.

There is a saying in AA: “If you spend enough time at the barber shop, you will eventually get your hair cut.” Similarly, if you hang around your drinking or drug buddies upon leaving rehab, you will be much more likely to slide back into your old partying ways.

New coping skills will be in order.

In the past, you may have used the stresses of your everyday life as an excuse to use drugs or alcohol. “If my boss only listened to me or my kids did better in school, I wouldn’t have to drink…” Post-rehab, you will have to face life stresses without that substance as a crutch. Finding new ways to deal with stress, such as exercise, meditation or yoga, will help.

You will be at high risk for relapse.

People are most likely to relapse in the year immediately following rehab, with the highest risk in the first few months. Staying mindful of this risk will help you stay vigilant and do what’s necessary to maintain your sobriety.

Twelve-step groups can help keep you on track.

As you adjust to your new drug or alcohol-free life, you may feel confused, disoriented, unsure of yourself and generally “lost.” Attending 12-step meetings on a daily basis will make you accountable and help you get through the crucial first few weeks as you face sobriety on your own. You can find 12-step meetings in almost any city or town in the country, and if you can’t physically get to one, there are a number of support groups online.

A sponsor can also help.

A sponsor can support you in your transition from rehab by providing a sounding board when cravings strike. Usually a person who has successfully overcome an addiction him or herself, a sponsor can offer an empathetic ear as well as practical advice on how to overcome urges and adjust to a sober life.

You will need to stay the course.

If your transition back home from rehab goes fairly well and you survive the first few sober months, you may be tempted to grab a drink with your old party buddies—just once. But remember, although the idea of “just one” is appealing, for addicts and alchoholics one is almost never enough. That one drink will quickly lead back to the same place you were prior to rehab. You have entered into a new life in recovery, and your drinking or drug-using days are permanently a thing of the past.

As you leave the rehab facility and embark on your transition, remember to rejoice in your recovery and live in the present. Resolve to stay sober just for the day, and then the next day, and then the next. Recovery from drug or alcohol abuse is a continuous process that requires strength, determination and the help of a greater power every single day—one day at a time.

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