An Aftercare Plan is Important
Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex medical condition. Fortunately, medical science has given us the tools to effectively treat patients with SUD. Treatment is a long process that may involve both medication and various therapies. However, no treatment program can produce perfect lifelong outcomes. Estimates suggest between 20 to 50 percent of patients who get treatment will relapse at some point. This is why an aftercare plan is so important to help patients stay sober. Here, we will cover the following:
- Why is SUD so complicated to treat?
- What happens during treatment?
- What should aftercare look like?
Why Is SUD So Complicated To Treat?
Most people understand that SUD is caused by misuse of a substance. To a point, that is true. When patients use a substance for the first time, the brain will send out pleasure signals to reward use. This is the “rush” or “high” that patients describe. However, as time goes on, the substance essentially hijacks the brain. Instead of sending out reward signals for use, the brain will send out distress signals for lack of use. These distress signals are called withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal can include:
- Severe headaches
- Tremors in arms or legs
Left untreated, withdrawal can be uncomfortable at best, and in some cases it can be deadly. Patients attempting to simply quit using on their own often cannot physically do so. At the same time, many patients live with comorbidities like depression or anxiety. These mental conditions are more prominent in patients with SUD. In fact, researchers increasingly believe that these conditions may cause patients to be more susceptible to addiction. For addiction treatment to work, both the SUD itself and the underlying conditions must be treated at the same time.
What Happens During Treatment?
Treatment programs like ours build unique care plans for each individual patient. Generally speaking, most programs involve a medically supervised detox prior to long-term treatment. This process allows the patient’s body to clean out unwanted substances, while medical teams treat the withdrawal symptoms. By ensuring patient safety and comfort, medically supervised detox gives patients a better chance to complete treatment. Our outpatient detox program allows patients to stay overnight at a sober living house. There, they will have all of the comforts of home without the presence of illicit substances. This process lasts around 1-2 weeks.
Once detox is complete, patients will enter either a partial hospitalization (PHP) or intensive outpatient (IOP) program. There, patients continue to see medical staff for medication adjustments. They also meet with therapists in both individual and group sessions. Therapy sessions help patients identify use triggers and develop coping strategies for life after treatment. Family therapy is usually offered as well to help loved ones through their own healing journey. Patients may also take advantage of 12 step programs, and will continue in sober living arrangements.
What Should Aftercare Look Like?
The treatment process is an intense time for patients. Depending on the treatment program, patients may spend anywhere from 3-12 months away from their normal life. Most patients who finish treatment do not want to fall back into old patterns. Effective aftercare following treatment can be the difference between sober living and relapse. Aftercare should be part of your care plan from the beginning of treatment. Aftercare should involve plans for continued treatment of coexisting conditions, social support, and lifestyle adjustments.
Treatment For Coexisting Conditions
Patients with conditions like depression and anxiety should continue treatment long term. Your recovery center may be able to offer you a referral to a healthcare provider for this purpose. Depending on your situation, telehealth services and virtual meetings may be an option. Be sure your care plan includes this step before finishing outpatient treatment for SUD.
Developing a strong support network is key to sustained sobriety. If you have not been involved in a 12 step group during treatment, consider attending one post-treatment. Many people draw strength and hope from those who are on the recovery journey. Groups such as Al-Anon and Alateen can offer this same support to your close family. Be sure to spend as much time as possible around those who want to help you stay sober.
Many patients learn about changing “people, places and things” during treatment. Work with your therapists and support staff to plan for what that means in your life. If you spent most of your time at the bar previously, explore new hobbies to occupy your time. Perhaps take up yoga or art to creatively express yourself. Sober living can be as enriching as you want it to be. So don’t limit yourself; try something new!