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Aftercare Strategies: How to Sustain Recovery When Rehab Ends

Completing an addiction treatment program is a great achievement. But recovery is a long-term process that continues long after you finish a formal detox or rehab program. You will most likely find yourself facing cravings and stressors at work, school, and in the community that can increase your risk of relapse after rehab. This is why aftercare programs for substance abuse are often an essential part of what happens after rehab.

What Is Aftercare in Recovery?

Aftercare is a term that describes ongoing recovery efforts after an initial period of addiction treatment, such as residential intensive outpatient (IOP) rehab.2 Because the concept of “aftercare” suggests that there may be an endpoint to care, professionals often now refer to this post-treatment phase of recovery as “continuing care” or “follow-up care.”2,3 An effective aftercare plan for addiction recovery may include one or more of the following elements:1,2

  • Individual and group counseling offers additional skills training and support as you adjust to returning home after rehab and integrating back into your usual routine.
  • 12-step or other mutual support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or SMART Recovery can help you build a sober support network and learn how to stay sober after rehab.
  • Regular treatment or follow-up visits at a doctor’s office, where your care team offers you tailored medical care during short appointments, checks your progress, and gives prescription medicine if needed.
  • Prescription medicines, which can help reduce cravings and manage other medical and mental health issues.
  • Telehealth, where you check in with a member of your care team by phone call, text, or online.
  • Treatment center alumni programs offer a safe group environment to meet with and support other people who have completed the program.
  • Sober living homes can offer a safe and stable location for you during early recovery.

Benefits of Aftercare for Recovery

Aftercare programs for addiction recovery can do more than help prevent relapse. They offer resources for participants to either regain or achieve control over their lives, as well as make it easier to adjust to life after rehab. What to expect from aftercare treatment for addiction depends on your needs and the program. This may include:2,3

  • Helping you form a social support network of sober peers by attending group counseling, mutual support meetings, or alumni groups.
  • Coaching and goal setting.
  • Regular drug and alcohol testing to encourage ongoing abstinence (not using drugs or alcohol).
  • Case management to help you identify and access services that you qualify for.
  • Financial planning to address any financial issues that you may have and help you learn how to manage your money effectively.
  • Legal advice and support.

Types of Aftercare

Effective aftercare planning for substance abuse should be tailored to each person’s unique recovery needs and circumstances, to better prepare you for what to do after rehab to maintain sobriety.1 There are many different types of aftercare, and they can be combined as needed to best meet your needs.

Individual and Group Therapy

Continuing therapy can be especially helpful during addiction recovery. In addition to helping you maintain abstinence, therapy can also address other areas that you struggle with, such as relationships with family or friends, job or legal issues, physical or mental health, or managing cravings.1 This can be done through individual or group counseling, or a combination of both.1 Some common therapy types that are used in aftercare include:1,2,3

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a technique that helps you identify issues and develop skills to cope with them effectively. This is especially helpful for preventing relapse in high-risk situations and replacing negative thought patterns.
  • Contingency management (CM), which offers rewards for meeting treatment goals, such as abstinence. Rewards may include things like cash prizes or vouchers that can be used for movie tickets, food, or other goods.
  • Family therapy, which can help families resolve issues together. This can help the family learn how to be more supportive, and provide a safe setting for everyone to air out any issues.
  • Couples therapy, where a counselor helps couples work together to resolve issues.

Support Groups

Active participation with peer support groups, such as 12-step meetings and SMART Recovery is a common element of aftercare for many people in recovery.3 An aftercare plan that includes regular attendance at support groups can help reinforce what you learn in treatment and reduce your risk of relapse.1,4 Self-help meetings are not clinical treatment, but rather involve mutual support from people within the recovery community. 5,6 This social network can help you strengthen the skills you need to stay sober.5,6

One study showed that people who attend one or more AA meetings per week after completing a residential treatment program have better recovery outcomes, with about 73% of people staying sober after 6 months.3 Other benefits of the peer support of such programs can include better social relationships, better mental health, as well as being better able to manage stress and cravings.5,7

Treatment Center Alumni Programs

Even when treatment ends, many treatment centers offer continued support through alumni programs. Attending these alumni programs allows you to socialize and get additional support as you transition back into your life. Treatment center alumni programs may include:2,6

  • Weekly or monthly sober events, such as meetings, activities, or group outings.
  • Ongoing telephone check-ins and motivation by counselors or peers, to keep you encouraged in your recovery.
  • Invitations for family or friends to get involved in your recovery.
  • Online support groups if you can’t get to in-person groups or meetings.

American Addiction Centers offers a wide range of alumni programs for their graduates to promote ongoing sobriety through social supports.

Sober Living Homes

When planning for aftercare, rehab centers often ask about your living situation. If your living environment is unsafe or unstable or includes people who are using drugs and alcohol, you may consider a sober living home. These are substance-free living environments that are often managed by peers in recovery.5,8 Sober houses can offer additional support and structure while you learn to manage your triggers. 2,8 They often ask you to take part in daily chores and other home responsibilities, and may have other rules, such as attending other forms of aftercare, such as 12-step meetings.2,8 Your treatment team can refer you to a sober house.2


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Following an Aftercare Plan

Before you finish treatment, staff will help you make an aftercare plan tailored to your personal recovery needs. Your treatment center, doctor, or therapist can refer you to various aftercare programs. You can also find aftercare options by searching online for local 12-step groups or by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline. Some things to keep in mind when choosing a program for your recovery needs include:

  • Whether you need housing, and where you will be living.
  • How you can get to these appointments or meetings.
  • If the facility can manage other needs that you may have, such as physical or mental health concerns, or legal issues.
  • Whether you want family to be involved.

What Happens if I Relapse During Aftercare?

Relapse is a common part of recovery, but it doesn’t mean that treatment or aftercare has failed. Rather, it is a sign that your treatment may not be meeting your needs and should be reassessed and possibly changed to work better for you.1,9 It can also give you the opportunity to examine the relapse and understand what happened to avoid it in the future.10

As a leading provider of detox and rehab, American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers evidence-based addiction treatment and alumni programs. Call one of our admissions navigators 24/7 at or text us to find out more about how we can assist you on your journey to long-term recovery.



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