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Rehabilitation is one of the most important steps in the recovery process, but it’s only the first of many. Sobriety is something that needs to be worked on every day in the real world. Here’s how to help recovering addicts get back to their day-to-day life once their program is complete.
Understand that their treatment isn’t over yet.
The first few months after a patient leaves rehabilitation are extremely critical, and outpatient services will serve as an important resource. With these programs, recovering addicts can still turn to many of the same services they relied on in their residential program, from yoga and peer support groups to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication-assisted treatment, which will make transitioning back into the real world a little easier. Talk to the rehabilitation center to find out what kind of access they’ll have once they leave.
Patients should also plan to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or other support meetings every day for at least 90 days after they leave inpatient treatment. Doing so will not only help them establish a solid foundation in real world recovery, but it will also help them connect to a community in the outside world where they will find continued support, and where they can offer assistance to other people on their recovery journey. Do some research and find out where the meetings are held before they return home.
Be prepared to confront triggers head-on.
Inpatient treatment programs provide a safe space free of life’s stresses, like a hard day at work or a fight with a relative or spouse. It’s also a place free of easy access to substances. In the real world, that environment does not exist. There’s a liquor store on every block, a medicine cabinet in every home, and past dealers are just a quick phone call away. In a rehabilitation program, patients learn to detach themselves from associating those stresses with drugs or alcohol, but on the outside, they’ll be put to the test, and they’ll need your support and encouragement to make the right choices.
Help mend relationships.
Addiction can cause severe damage to personal relationships with family members, friends or romantic partners. Both sides may feel guilt and resentment over the addiction and its aftermath. The dynamics of the relationship will be different without the focus of the addiction. This may cause fear and misunderstanding. Fortunately, there are many support groups that can help everyone work through this rough patch. Al-Anon is a valuable resource. If possible, plan to attend several meetings before your loved one returns home.
Encourage new healthy friendships.
Support their desire to avoid people who encouraged their negative behavior before rehabilitation. Encourage them to replace past enablers with new, responsible friends who won’t encourage slip-ups, and to seek out activities that are fun without alcohol or drugs. However, early recovery is not the best time for new romantic relationships. This time is best spent focusing on a strong recovery foundation and support network.
Keep watch, but avoid overstepping boundaries.
By going to rehab, an addict has made a huge step in the right direction, but it may be years before they earn back the trust of those they’ve hurt. On the other hand, that trust is going to be important to their continued success. It’s OK to keep an eye out for warning signs, like if the person becomes withdrawn or starts spending time with their old crowd, but don’t jump to conclusions without talking about things openly first. Share your concerns with a counselor or doctor or Al-Anon support group so you know just when to step in.
Encourage them to stay active.
Exercise has innumerable benefits to physical and mental health, and it is often a major component of an inpatient treatment program. That doesn’t have to stop once they leave. Make a list of local yoga studios or rec centers that host the same fitness classes held in rehabilitation (these are also great places to meet new people in a substance-free space). A quick jog or workout is also good way to decompress after a day’s stresses, or try joining a sports league together or learning an entirely new sport—just say no to the post-game celebration at the nearby bar. On weekends, plan hikes together; it’s a fun, sober outing that everyone can enjoy.
Help them get back to work.
Work will help keep the recovering addict busy and their mind occupied, but it can also be a major source of stress. Unfortunately, addiction often affects a person’s job performance before they seek treatment, which may jeopardize their chances of returning to the position when they get out. If they hope to return to the same workplace, they’ll need to know their rights: Patients who were employed for at least a year prior to seeking treatment are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which covers 12 weeks of unpaid leave per calendar year for a medical absence. The patient is also entitled to privacy and doesn’t have to notify their co-workers about the reason for their previous absence. Still, honesty about addiction and rehabilitation can help explain past mistakes and encourage future good behavior. You can recommend that they tell their direct supervisor, but they don’t have to share their experience at the water cooler.
Returning to everyday life after rehab can be extremely challenging for recovering addicts, but with the right support from families and loved ones, they’re much more likely to succeed in their goals.