A drug rehab program is a safe environment where an addict or alcoholic can focus on beginning the process of addiction recovery free of distractions. While they are at a rehab center the client’s daily needs are all taken care of for them. This creates a suitable environment where the addict can focus on developing the skills necessary to maintain sobriety after they return to the real world.

While in a rehab the addict is kept as comfortable as can be expected. The rehab itself is a closed community where substances such as drugs or alcohol aren’t available, and there are relatively no high stress situations to deal with. In the beginning adjusting to abstinence can be very uncomfortable, but over time clients may start to feel that staying off drugs if much easier than it actually is.

As they leave the rehab program they will often experience a shock as they realize that all of life’s problems are still outside waiting for them when they get home. They will also face situations that they aren’t used to dealing with without relying on drugs or alcohol, and situations they were kept away from while they were patients.

An aftercare program can help addicts through the transition period they experience when they leave a rehab center. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can persist for several months into abstinence and can be tricky to deal with outside of treatment. Their onset is much more difficult outside of the supportive environment of the rehab center itself.

The Long-Term Nature of Addiction Recovery

People don’t develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs right away. Dependence is a condition which takes time to develop, and takes over a person’s life slowly. In the same way handling addiction takes time, and the user experiences ups and downs that require professional help to get through. Many alcoholics and addicts look for help through detoxes and rehabilitation programs simply to quit using the substance that is causing them problems. When they finish a drug treatment program they often find out later that staying clean is a life-long process that involves more than just quitting their drug of choice.

Understanding how addiction affects the addict is the first step in understanding rehabilitation. If addicts were able to walk away from their substance of choice based on the negative consequences they experience as a result of their use, there would be no rehabilitation industry. Since addiction touches every part of a substance abuser’s life, the majority of them would eventually stop using drugs and alcohol when things got bad enough.

The reality of addiction is that several physiological changes occur which keep the addict stuck in a cycle of continued use. The following are the signs that dependency or addiction have started to take over and diminished the addict’s ability to quit on their own:

  • Tolerance – The user needs to take more of their substance of choice to experience the same pleasurable effects that they used to get from it.
  • Obsession – They spend all of their time using, acquiring, or recovering from using their substance of choice. They think about the substance constantly.
  • Loss of control – The addict finds themselves using at inappropriate times, at times when they had planned to abstain, or find that they can’t stop using once they’ve started.
  • Craving – The user has strong urges and compulsions to use the substance when they are not intoxicated.
  • Withdrawal – Uncomfortable symptoms that occur shortly after the user stops taking their substance of choice. These symptoms are the result of physical or psychological dependence, and are most intense in early days of recovery. Latent withdrawal symptoms are milder, but can persist for several months into sobriety.

Persistent cravings and withdrawal symptoms can affect an addict in abstinence for several months. As mentioned these cravings and symptoms are most intense in the first few weeks of sobriety, but they are also known to come out of nowhere later in the process to give the user problems. These lingering symptoms lead many addicts to relapse on their substance of choice before they know what has happened. These symptoms require specialized relapse prevention skills to deal with, and the continued support in aftercare can be a safety net for addicts as they learn to apply them.

Aftercare is an extension of a rehab program that addicts follow up with to help transition from the intensive phase of treatment. It is designed to address the issues they will be confronted with after they return home, and offers a support system that aids clients in a variety of ways. Drug treatment can be viewed as a multi-step process, with aftercare being the last phase.

The first step in the process is detoxification as recovery can’t begin until the user’s drug of choice is cleared from their body. After detox the second step is the rehabilitation program itself, the time the addict spends inside a facility developing the skills necessary to begin a drug-free life. Aptly named, aftercare is the stage of recovery that follows immediately after the rehab step is complete which can be equally as vital as the other two steps in terms of long-term success.

The Components of Effective Aftercare

An effective aftercare program provides continuing support for the addict or alcoholic, and teaches relapse-prevention skills that they can use to remain successful after treatment. Research shows that people who don’t participate in aftercare are more likely to relapse, and for this reason follow up care is an essential piece of the recovery puzzle.

Addicts may believe that they are cured once they have achieved abstinence for a period of time inside the rehab center. An effective aftercare program prepares addicts for the trials that they don’t see coming, and is there to help them out if things don’t go as planned.
The concept of relapse comes from the situation where a person can experience recovery from a condition for a period of time, but due to its long-term nature and symptoms, revert in their progress at a later time. An example of this could be explained as someone who suffers an injury. The immediate symptoms related to the injury can be addressed at the emergency room, but physical therapy may also be necessary for the patient to achieve a full recovery.

Although the patient has experienced relief in the short-term as the immediate side effects of their injury have been addressed, negative symptoms and set-backs can develop later to undo their progress. While the symptoms related to recovery from an addiction are different than what you would expect from a physical injury, addicts relapse if they aren’t prepared to do the long-term work necessary to fully recover from their condition.

Preparation and education of what is necessary to manage the transition after rehab comes from aftercare treatment. While relapse-prevention skills are taught during the rehab phase, there is no way to understand their application in the real world. These ideas can seem easy to use when read in a book or discussed in a group, but there is no way to tell how each individual will respond to situations until they are actually back in their own environment. Being involved in an aftercare program provides clients time to develop these skills with the assurance that help and support are there if they need it.