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Life After Addiction: Coping With Triggers And Temptation

Last Updated: December 23, 2021

Authored by Isaak Stotts, LP

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Completing treatment at a rehabilitation center for alcohol and drug abuse is a major achievement, but staying sober after recovery is lifelong. Individuals have to deal with triggers and temptation every step of their lives. For some people, life after rehab can be even more difficult than before, where they have to readjust their lives, change their jobs, make new friends, and create new lifestyles for themselves. This period of their life after addiction is difficult for them, but there are certain ways to cope with all these triggers and temptations.

Read along further to find information about what problems one faces after rehabilitation, how to stay sober after rehab, plan for aftercare, help an alcoholic after rehab, and what additional things one can do to stay sober and prevent relapse.

Issues Faced In Life After Addiction

Substance abuse and addiction treatment is a lengthy process, and the process of recovery is a lifelong one, not only for the patient but also for his loved ones. When returning home after rehab, they can’t be considered “cured” completely. They have to deal with triggers and stressors daily, and their loved ones have to support their struggles to maintain good emotional and psychological health. Research shows that the emotional support of families can have a very positive impact on the success of addiction and help prevent relapse. In addition, the patient faces many stressful situations and issues daily after rehab, which can affect their sobriety.

These are Discussed Below:

Stressful Work

Obviously, lifestyle stressors take the top spot here. For example, if an individual in recovery returns to a stressful job after completing inpatient rehab, one that they used drugs to deal with, they often find it doesn’t feel better. In fact, it feels even worse than before rehab. If this is the case, there are two options – try to minimize work-related stress or look for a different job. The more viable option depends on the type of person one’s boss is and coworkers.

Some people are more capable of empathy than others and will understand what one is going through. They will make efforts to limit the recovering person’s workload at first and help them with whatever they can. For example, a sympathetic boss will understand the role of stress in drug addiction and tailor tasks accordingly as one gets settled into life after addiction recovery. Alternatively, and unfortunately, one finds they have even more work after spending time in rehab and need to “make up.” If they start feeling overwhelmed, that’s a sign relapse may be impending, and it’s time to look for a new job.

An Unhealthy Lifestyle

As brain chemistry restores balance, it’s common to seek foods and drinks that give feelings similar to those drugs or alcohol once did: sweet and processed foods, candy, coffee, energy drinks, etc. These cravings need to be moderated. If that’s not possible, it is best to exclude these substances altogether. Not only do they have no nutritional value, but they can also trigger a relapse. Ideally, a recovering addict’s diet should include a lot of fruits and vegetables, healthy sources of protein, and lots of water.

Same Old Friends And Company

Suppose the person had friends before rehab who encouraged drinking or drug use and continues to be in their company even returning home after rehab. In that case, it can make him very vulnerable to relapsing. It may seem difficult for him to let go of his friends altogether, but being in their company will always cause him stress and may act as a trigger to start drug abuse again. Research shows that friends can greatly influence a person’s choice to start drinking or using drugs, and they even provide easy access to drugs and alcohol.

Lack Of A Structured Routine

When a person is in rehab, his daily routine and activities follow a structured pattern which helps greatly in his recovery. Through a structured routine, he has his day divided into activities, including meetings, sessions, recreational activities, meditation, meal times, and others. When he gets used to such a structured environment and comes back home, the lack of structure can become very stressful. And this stress can always become a trigger for relapse. A structured routine helps them successfully transition from rehab to home.

Alcohol Or Intoxicants/Stimulants At Home

When a person comes back from rehab, one cannot expect full control over his cravings. For example, suppose a person sees alcohol or any other intoxicant around in the home. In that case, that will surely put him in a vulnerable position and make it very difficult for him to practice control.

Friends Community Chill Out Together.

Rehab Aftercare: What Is It?

The secret of how to stay sober after rehab mainly includes good aftercare. Rehab aftercare is a necessary next step that must follow detox and any form of medical treatment received to help an individual get started on recovery. It can be thought of as a continuing treatment for substance addiction that helps one transition from rehab to home. The overarching goal of rehab aftercare is to help the patient continue living life in full sobriety and help prevent relapse.

An aftercare program is routinely recommended to provide continuing therapy and support to a recovering individual. Other than this, addiction aftercare programs also provide further education to patients and their families that can help prevent relapse and enhance the period and quality of recovery.

Based on estimates from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, relapse involving substance use disorders occurs up to 60% post-treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports a higher 80% relapse rate for people suffering from alcohol disorders. Staying on the road to full recovery takes more than just personal willingness to stay sober. The battle with substance misuse and disorder does not end once a person completes rehab.

Aftercare Program Goals

An aftercare program is a set or series of steps one commits to follow after completing a drug or alcohol treatment program. In many cases, some of the vital components of an aftercare program are initiated while an individual is still undergoing medical treatment. These programs consist of a broad range of support services consisting of multidimensional activities designed to help improve the patient’s mind, body, and spirit.

Aftercare Programs Are Specifically Designed to Help an Individual Achieve One or More of the Following Goals:

  • Monitor and evaluate one’s physical health and mental condition regularly
  • Reinforce lessons learned during the treatment phase
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle and routines
  • Help an individual avoid, address, and stay protected from triggers
  • Help the patient control cravings and ignore the temptation
  • Link the patient with individuals who can serve as inspiration for an individual to continue on the path to recovery
  • Address the underlying issues for addiction
  • Enhance an individual’s coping strategies to life after rehab
  • Improve the quality of relationships
  • Become reintegrated into society, including finding a new job and moving to a new home
  • Help identify red flags for imminent deterioration
  • Lay out a plan in case withdrawal symptoms reemerge
  • Help patient set realistic self-improvement goals
Smiling Young Friends together.

Types Of Aftercare Programs

There are many types of aftercare programs when it comes to answering how to stay sober after rehab. Each one suits a patient depending on their specific needs and circumstances and personal goals. The critical factor in achieving sustainable recovery is a patient’s commitment, so making plans for any aftercare program must intricately involve the patient.

The Most Common Aftercare Programs for Life After Rehab Are Listed Below:

Intensive Aftercare Program

Many individuals who have just finished an intensive inpatient rehab program are recommended to be registered under this type of program. The main advantage of this program over others is that an individual continues to be monitored for 24 hours within a confined or structured environment.

Sober Living Homes

Also called halfway houses, these homes help individuals transition from rehab to home. It is an outpatient, residential program where an individual must abide by strict rules that include taking on household chores. However, the house rules are relatively more relaxed than under an Intensive Aftercare Program.

Facility-Based Programs

Drug recovery facilities typically provide aftercare facilities as well. Such programs usually include a combination of follow-up medical treatment, behavioral therapy, and alumni support groups.

Aftercare Therapy And Counseling

These are vital components of rehab and continue to be crucial during the recovery phase. Therapy and counseling have many benefits that include improving one’s self-awareness and discovery. These sessions also help bring to light the underlying causes of addiction.

Alumni Programs

Rehab centers run these programs for former clients so that they may continue to stay connected with treatment staff and others in rehab who are going through the same struggles. Staying in touch helps to stay motivated and strengthened by getting continued access to personal relationships they’ve built while in rehab.

Case Management

Under this type of aftercare program, interventions are highly individualized, depending on the needs and circumstances of an individual. A case manager, like a sober companion, serves as a patient’s confidant, counselor, cheerleader, advisor, and friend.

This Person Helps an Individual With the Following:

  • Link with services for aftercare nearby, including health and social services
  • Develop an aftercare plan
  • Monitor and gauge your level of recovery
  • Provide training on life skills
  • Provide referral to resources that can help an individual in sustaining sobriety

Benefits Of Aftercare In Life After Rehab

It is not unusual for patients recovering from substance abuse to be challenged by addiction for the rest of their lives. Aftercare helps an individual rise above that challenge and the period immediately following rehab is the most crucial.

This is supported by the results of a study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. The study showed that those who initiated aftercare treatment showed greater chances of staying free from substance than those who failed to initiate aftercare.

Aftercare Is Geared Towards Fostering Three Pillars a Patient Needs to Overcome Addiction and to Lead a More Fulfilling Life After Addiction:

  • First, aftercare develops responsibility and accountability. To successfully reintegrate into society, an individual must develop a genuine sense of being responsible for others. He must learn to become accountable for results – no matter if the results are good or bad.
  • Second, aftercare helps the patient mend and improves personal relationships. The patient needs to reestablish his support group, particularly people they care about and who also care about their welfare.
  • Third, it helps the patient become self-sufficient. A patient has better chances of successfully re-entering society if he can find a way to become financially independent.

Listed Below Are the Most Important Benefits That Can Be Realized With Rehab Aftercare:

  • Reinforcing the patient’s commitment to lifelong recovery and sobriety
  • Easing the patient back into society
  • Helping a patient link up with institutions and other community-based services that can support his long-term recovery as well as reintegration
  • Preparing the patient for challenges that can lead to deterioration
  • Helping the patient better cope with the stresses associated with reintegration into the community

Creating The Aftercare Plan For The Individual

Aftercare planning for substance abuse begins with the patient, but involving others who the patient trusts and who has the patient’s best interests at heart is the key to a successful recovery. Beyond aftercare programs, the patient is encouraged to undertake self-help measures.

Below Are Key Milestones Which an Individual Can Aim for to Stay Sober Beyond Rehab:

Period Since Rehab Key Milestones To Target Tips For Consideration
Less than 1 Year Increased self-awareness. During this period, it will help if one can develop a better understanding of himself, including his strengths and weaknesses, what he is good at, and what he wants to achieve.

Enhanced self-confidence. This period of rediscovering oneself should help the patient surround himself with positivity and trust in his abilities.

Get started on healthier routines that enhance the mind, body, and spirit.

A sober living home can help to develop better-coping strategies before being exposed to the real world where he may be exposed to factors that may drive addiction.

Alumni Programs can help the patient retain his support group from rehab.

A patient must continue attending therapy, including group therapy, and counseling sessions.

A patient must develop new hobbies and engage in regular physical activities.

One must start mending broken relationships, and attend marital or parental counseling if necessary.

A patient must strive to become financially independent. He must be encouraged to look for a job, even learn a new skill.

Reading self-help literature and rendering volunteer work can help improve optimism, establish a better sense of responsibility and accountability for others.

Journaling will help establish new routines.

Prepare a relapse prevention plan to identify triggers and red flags early and enhance chances of successful recovery in their life after addiction.

Year 1 Stronger connection with vital relations.

Financial Independence.

Live in one’s own home.

Continue activities from the previous year, except to make sure that the patient is no longer living in a sober home.

One must recognize the benefits of staying sober from improved relations, improved health, and gaining financial independence.

Year 5 Establish a personal support group, including those directly involved in the patient’s recovery and those from his personal networks.

Establish healthier routines.

Establish long-term goals in all aspects of life after addiction, including family life.

Continue attending group therapy.

Continue nurturing human relationships by consistently finding time to bond with the people whom the patient cares about the most.

Year 10+ Sufficiency and satisfaction in all aspects of life after addiction. Attendance in group therapy should be considered to constantly remind the patient of the pain and difficulty of having to go through the process again.

At the same time, the patient may also be able to volunteer time and effort to become an inspiration to others who are undergoing the recovery process.

Continue to enhance personal and professional relationships.

Finding Aftercare Programs Nearby: What To Look For?

Aftercare programs vary widely. While addiction is not easy to cure, the quality of aftercare that the patient receives can greatly enhance full recovery and make life after addiction easy.

One can contact the various aftercare programs that are offered to see what they offer. When screening for aftercare, here are some criteria to look for. The aftercare program should provide:

  • A multidimensional approach to recovery that helps the patient to take steps to improve different aspects of his life after addiction:
    • physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health
    • relationships
    • education, career, and financial independence
    • sense of community
  • Aftercare program expands a patient’s self-awareness and develops a sense of purpose.
  • It enhances an individual’s self-confidence.
  • It helps a patient develop a better sense of accountability and responsibility.
  • The aftercare program uses a team approach that involves healthcare providers, social services, and the patient’s trusted family and friends.
  • It tailor fits the program components depending on the specific and unique needs to successfully transition from rehab to home.
  • The aftercare program provides 24/7 support for patients, their family, and friends.
  • Positive feedback and referrals from others.
  • SAMHSA accredits it.

What Else May Help to Stay Sober?

Managing one’s triggers and stressors is the key to staying sober after rehab. However, there are certain things that a person can be careful about if he wants to continue sobriety and prevent relapse.

These are Discussed Below:

Keep the True Friend and Make New Ones

One’s circle of friends may well pose the biggest recovery challenge after returning home after rehab. A recovering addict’s drinking and using friends will rarely adjust well to their efforts to stay sober. If they want to keep them in their lives, though, meetings shouldn’t occur in a bar or another place where a recovering addict may be tempted to relapse. Places like movie theaters and coffee shops are a better idea because there are no triggers there. At any rate, a real friend will stick around no matter what the circumstances are. A real friend will respect, if not understand, what a former user is going through and will not drink or do drugs in their presence. If they do, not only are they not real friends, but they will also cause harm, and they should not be in the recovering addict’s life at all. It’s definitely a good idea to find a new circle or try to meet people who live sober and have useful healthy hobbies.

Maintain Romantic Relationships

After completing rehab, it may be worth investing in couples’ therapy because both people in the relationship need to come to terms with how to move forward. A former user’s partner may struggle to adjust to sober living just like friends, and it can be particularly difficult if the partners live together. Recovering addicts who are not in a relationship should not rush into one out of loneliness, as this can be stressful, and the post-rehab period is hard enough as it is.

Dive Into New Beginnings

A committed partner will be prepared for lifestyle changes. There are quite a few drug- and alcohol-free activities that can provide a healthy social outlet, including:

  • Signing up for a new class
  • Learning how to play an instrument
  • Watching movies
  • Doing sports
  • Attending conventions
  • Taking dance lessons
  • Volunteering at a local charity or other organization
  • Playing video games

Stick To A Structured Routine

Sticking to a schedule helps one eliminate the stress of the unknown. When all the daily activities are planned ahead, one can keep things straightforward. There would be no extra time for the person to think about anything that stresses him in this life after rehab, and he is able to stay away from triggers that can ultimately lead to a relapse. A structured routine helps one maintain good physical, emotional, and psychological health.

Avoid Places That Can Trigger

Any person or place where one feels the need to deal with the situation by drinking or using drugs should be avoided. Whether that is a bar, a party, a friend’s home, or any place which can act as a trigger or cause stress to the person, it should be avoided at all costs. This is especially important at the start of one’s recovery, where there is a high chance that they could relapse.

Create A Support System For Oneself

Creating a good support system around oneself can help greatly in the time after treatment. When one knows that there is support in the form of friends and families around him, he is less likely to feel lonely and will stay motivated. A support system also allows one to be held accountable, and just this notion creates enough psychological pressure on the patient to stay away from alcohol or drugs. Individuals can also look for peers in support groups who have also completed rehab treatment. This way, the persons can get inspiration and motivation from people who are going through similar situations as they are and help each prevent relapse.

Reflect, Process, And Meditate

Another tip that can help one stay sober after treatment is to reflect and process their thoughts to achieve mental clarity during this early phase of recovery. Meditation, yoga, and stretching are a few of the important ways that one can achieve this. Writing down one’s thoughts and emotions in a diary or journal can also help one to deal with the outburst of emotions that one may feel in the initial days in life after rehab. Journaling is an excellent way one can reduce stress.

Help Others

Helping others to quit drinking or using drugs is an excellent way that one can stay sober himself in his life after rehab. Someone who is motivating others to stop drinking and abusing drugs is very less likely to indulge in a similar act for which he is stopping others.

Helpful Tips for Friends and Loved Ones of Former Addict

How to help an alcoholic after rehab? Admittedly, one may not always have this in the aftermath of drug abuse, but post-rehab, it can be more important than ever. Beyond professional help, the support and encouragement from family members and friends can have a profound influence on a person’s recovery journey. Recovering addicts are likely to achieve long-term sobriety when they are equipped with both social support and professional aftercare.

Don’t Judge, Be Compassionate

To answer the question of how to help an alcoholic after rehab, don’t be judgemental! Being judgmental of a former user will not help them in any way whatsoever. Judgment can come in many forms, the most common ones manifesting in criticism of a person for having taken drugs in the first place and claiming recovery is as simple as just not taking drugs. This serves to isolate and alienate a person who may be trying their best to recover and undermines their chances of sobriety success.

Being compassionate will be much more helpful in a situation like this. Everyone deserves respect and appreciation for completing a rehab program in the first place. Addiction is a painful affliction, and the cravings are there months, sometimes even years, after the person has stopped using. Lending an understanding, a compassionate hand will help, even if a relapse happens.

Eliminate Temptations

It is of paramount importance to reduce potential temptations that might lead a friend or loved one to relapse. When returning home after rehab, make sure there are no drugs or alcohol in the house. Offering a drug- and paraphernalia-free environment is a great way to pledge support post-rehab, even if the person is just visiting.

Seek Professional Help if Something Goes Wrong

A drug addict is often not the only person who needs treatment. Parents and loved ones of a former addict may need therapy themselves in the aftermath of abuse and throughout the painful, arduous recovery process. Friends and family members can feel hopeless when faced with a loved one’s gradual decline. These effects may be present even after the successful completion of treatment. They can therefore contact a professional therapist or counselor and get the required help.

Personal counseling can be an invaluable source of strength and resolve if a friend or family member is struggling through recovery. Having the freedom to express all the feelings, one has throughout the recovery process without being judgmental of the person struggling to maintain abstinence is key to the latter’s success.

Looking for Answers: Learning from the Past

After leaving rehab, many people find they have a lot, maybe too much free time on their hands, time the addiction took up before. The sheer boredom can be crushing. Free time is a dangerous thing to have – sometimes it was boredom that triggered drug abuse in the first place – so it’s very important to keep busy. Apart from the ideas above, focusing on work and helping other people get sober are two very effective ways to prevent a relapse.

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Published on: May 31st, 2018

Updated on: December 23rd, 2021

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.