Does Skipping Aftercare Increase Risk for Relapse?

March 13, 2024

4 mins

Jackie Rosu


Successful SUD recovery plans are typically created with the idea of a continuum of care at the forefront.

It is a commonly held misconception that after successfully achieving sobriety or going through a rehab program, the treatment process for your substance abuse disorder (SUD) is complete, and the disease is cured.

In reality, however, substance use disorder is not something that can ever be “cured” fully or completely disappear from your life. Substance use disorder is most similar to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis in the sense that a successful recovery plan lasts a lifetime and is focused on proactive management rather than a cure.

Successful SUD recovery plans are typically created with the idea of a continuum of care at the forefront. Aftercare falls within the continuum of care and refers to the steps taken to continue maintaining sobriety after completing a rehab program.

Avoiding aftercare is one of the most harmful choices an individual can make and places them at an increased risk of relapse. Today’s article will explore the importance of aftercare in recovery and how it plays an integral role in reducing the risk of relapse post-rehab.

What Is Aftercare for Substance Use Disorder?

In the simplest terms, aftercare refers to everything that comes after the traditional care that comes to mind when you think of rehabilitation. This stage of recovery is much longer than the initial rehabilitation phase and plays a major role in reducing the likelihood of slipping back into old harmful habits or relapsing.

Key Components of Aftercare

Aftercare consists of many interconnected parts that come together to create a holistic plan designed to promote long-lasting sobriety and overall wellness.

These components range from individual counseling, family counseling, group work, psychiatric treatment, and even rehabilitation activities designed to successfully reintroduce those in recovery to the workforce.

Due to the varied nature of the disease, every individual participating in aftercare will gravitate toward different components, but it is generally advisable to try incorporating at least elements of each into your aftercare plan to ensure that you are getting everything that you need to continue living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Creating an Aftercare Plan

While understanding the importance of aftercare in recovery is an excellent first step, this knowledge must then be applied practically as a core piece of your plan toward finding long-lasting recovery and leading a well-balanced life.

According to a report published by the United Nations Drug Control Programme, there are four key elements to consider when creating an aftercare plan. These elements include the following:

  • Aftercare should be a planned part of your recovery plan from the beginning and remain in the forefront of your mind throughout the process.
  • Aftercare should include specific training, exercises, and activities designed to reduce the likelihood of rehab or other harmful crises.
  • It should focus on achieving Whole Person Recovery (becoming a drug-free, crime-free, and gainfully employed individual) and contain several thorough reviews and internal audits to ensure you remain on track.
  • Include elements that teach you actionable skills and tools, such as overcoming stigmas, forging new relationships, and finding alternative hobbies and activities to aid the recovery process.

Additionally, as aftercare is by far the longest portion of recovery and has no finite endpoint, it is important to make sure the actions you decide to take are both effective and manageable within your regular life.

It has to consist of actions that you could realistically see yourself doing for the rest of your life as you continue to manage newfound ongoing sobriety rather than being too ambitious early on and setting unrealistic goals for yourself that are impossible to maintain long-term.

Understanding the Various Types of Aftercare

Failing to incorporate aftercare into your post-rehab plan places you at an increased risk of relapse. A study conducted by James R. McKay, a professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, found a significant relationship between continual aftercare and positive recovery results.

One of the main blockers preventing people from incorporating aftercare into their new life post-rehab is a simple lack of knowledge of the options available to them. It can feel daunting trying to figure out what to do or where to look.

Luckily,  many programs exist for those in recovery and provide both in-person and online options that are completely free of charge. Depending on the constraints of your life and unique set of circumstances, you can adjust the type of aftercare you seek out and find a solution that works best for you.

12-Step Programs and Online Support Groups

Long established such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide excellent, free options for aftercare post rehab. Additionally, in the increasingly digital world, fully online support groups have emerged as great alternatives for those not comfortable or unable to attend in-person meetings.

While these groups don’t provide the individualized care that many in recovery need, they do provide a sense of community and companionship through a set of shared experiences that can significantly boost morale, reduce the internal stigma you may feel, and help you feel like you're not alone.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

These are typically much more intensive than 12-step programs and designed for individuals who need additional support and resources that other programs can’t or weren't designed to offer.

Outpatient treatment programs usually work best for individuals who have recently exited an inpatient rehabilitation facility and need focused, one-on-one care to help them remain sober long-term.

Plan Your Aftercare With Never Alone Recovery

If you or your loved one is struggling to navigate their recovery journey and understand the aftercare options available to them, call us today at 844-365-4445. 

Never Alone Recovery has a team of addiction recovery consultants and provides free drug rehab placement services that handle the stress of finding high-quality care. Our core mission is to offer unyielding support and provide a compassionate environment for those suffering from substance use disorder, as well as their loved ones.

In addition to this article, we have a library of online resources and a 100% free online support group that meets weekly. No matter where you are in your recovery journey, always remember that you’re never alone.

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