Rehab Aftercare: How Rehab Alumni Programs Improve Long-Term Treatment OutcomesAnna Ciulla
Lacking follow-up treatment or post-discharge aftercare services contributes to a high rate of relapse in the first year after treatment. Yet, as research has found, enhanced post-treatment care, such as rehab aftercare and rehab alumni programs, is critical to improve quality of life and long-term treatment outcomes of those with substance use disorder.
WHAT IS REHAB AFTERCARE?
Following treatment for substance abuse and/or a co-occurring mental health disorder, either at a residential drug and alcohol abuse treatment center or after an intensive outpatient program, continuing care may be offered or provided by the treating facility. Such ongoing care is known by several names, including aftercare, rehab aftercare, continuing care, continuum of care and others. It may be of short- or long-term duration. There are many potential components of rehab aftercare, depending on the facility, type of diagnosis and treatment plan, personal preference and other factors. Rehab aftercare generally involves several of the following:
- Individual counseling
- Group meetings
- Ongoing addiction education
- Access to continuing evidence-based therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and other treatment modalities for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health disorders
- Social activities
- Individual and group recreational activities
- Skills training
- Communications and personal interface training
- Seminars and discussions, including how to recognize triggers and cope with cravings, dealing with stress, relapse prevention
- Alumni programs
HOW REHAB AFTERCARE AND REHAB ALUMNI PROGRAMS BENEFIT TREATMENT AND RECOVERY
Just because someone completes treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, dual diagnosis of a substance use disorder and mental health disorder, polydrug use, and/or behavioral addictions does not mean they’re on solid ground when it comes to effectively managing their recovery going forward. There are still many challenges that will occur daily, often serious enough to precipitate relapse.
Indeed, relapse rates are high during the first year following completion of residential treatment, ranging from 37 to 56 percent. For addiction to opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic and natural opiates, the relapse rates nearly double to 90 percent, according to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Recognizing this common phenomenon, addiction treatment professionals at some residential treatment facilities began incorporating continuing care programs, called rehab aftercare or aftercare programs, to help former clients make a smoother transition from treatment to recovery and to improve the likelihood of long-term sobriety.
Indeed, rehab aftercare is a key component of effective recovery. Rehab alumni programs, offered through some drug and alcohol treatment facilities, provide the kind of safety net that newly sober individuals need as they venture into their first year of sobriety post-treatment. This is the time they’re most vulnerable and most in need of reassurance, connection and belonging. Entering a life of sobriety filled with passion and a sense of purpose is an important predictor of successful recovery. Activities and social support provided with alumni services, along with continuing structure, are evidence-based, therapeutic and fun. For example, leisure activities may include paddle boarding, beach volleyball and more.
In addition to regular meetings of alumni, such rehab alumni programs provide ongoing access to peer support, celebration of recovery milestones and progress toward life goals, and an extensive referral network across the nation whenever there are needs for clinician and/or family therapist follow-ups. Opportunities for giving back are another important part of rehab alumni programs, such as the chance to help sick and injured sea turtles undergoing therapy. Giving back is a component of spiritual awakening, a quality that many in recovery have never known or thought they’d given up long ago.
IMPROVE LONG-TERM TREATMENT OUTCOMES
Exactly how do rehab aftercare and alumni rehab programs improve long-term treatment outcomes? The continuity of care is an important part of the healing process, being an extension of what the client received during inpatient treatment. In addition, having the assurance of ongoing access to evidence-based treatment, assistance with meeting basic needs and programs and counseling to better manage and cope with addiction are crucial to achieving a level of self-confidence that is necessary to successfully maintaining sobriety and working toward long-term goals.
One of the basics in effective recovery is continued attendance and participation in 12-Step and self-help support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s important that the individual in recovery interact with others who both understand what the now-sober newcomer is going through and can help support and encourage his or her efforts to maintain this hard-won sobriety. Recovery doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and no one recovers alone. Community, shared goals, access to sober functions, recovery literature, online recovery forums and more are prominent aspects of these support groups. They are even more important for those in recovery who lack support or have little of it outside of the support groups.
The spirituality aspect of 12-Step group participation becomes an integral part of the motivation and enthusiasm for continuing sobriety, even in the face of continual or unexpected challenges that might otherwise derail recovery, thus, improving the rate of recovery. Spirituality, in both treatment and in 12-Step or other self-help support groups, has been shown during research to be a beneficial influence on long-term sobriety. Other research found that spiritual transcendence, especially “Universality and Connectedness,” play a significant role in recovery from substance abuse.
Pardini et al. (2000) found that overall mental health outcomes in individuals in recovery from substance abuse are improved when religious faith and spiritualty are involved, even if individual self-report as more spiritual than religious.
Since triggers, such as stress, and cravings and urges can activate unexpectedly and precipitate relapse, even months and years after treatment and effective long-term sobriety, having a well-planned strategy to cope can be immensely beneficial. This includes access to resources, referrals and links to counseling and evidence-based treatment modalities, and a strong and supportive network offered through rehab aftercare and rehab alumni programs. These not only serve as a measure of personal reassurance, they enhance the ability to live a productive, joyful life in recovery.