After going through detox and rehab, a recovering addict will go home to his or her ordinary surroundings – family, friends, and work if they were in inpatient rehab. Sometimes it is those very factors in one’s environment that caused addiction in the first place, so it is understandably difficult to return to this same environment in an attempt to “start over”. The people and events that are part of it can lead to temptation and cravings. Studies show that most relapses occur within six months of completing a rehab program. Recovering addicts can protect themselves by understanding their triggers.
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Frequent Post-Rehabilitation Issues
Obviously, lifestyle stressors take the top spot here. 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 on one’s coworkers. Some people are more capable of empathy than others and will be more understanding of what one is going through. They will make efforts to limit the recovering person’s workload at first and help him or her with whatever they can. A sympathetic boss will understand the role of stress in drug addiction and tailor tasks accordingly as one gets settled into life after 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.
Knowing Where to Start: Make a Plan
Some people leave treatment without addressing life stressors and other issues adequately, and are not aware of what led them to become addicted to drugs. Therapy and medication can help provide the tools to cope with common post-rehab struggles. Most rehab centers include therapy in treatment plans. However, it is up to the recovering individual to apply these tools. If they choose not to, relapse is very likely to occur when one finds oneself in a risky situation. Beneficial approaches include individual therapy, becoming part of a support group, regular checkups, and medication support. A professional therapist will recognize that addiction goes beyond chemical dependence. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective because it helps the patient grasp the underlying issues of addiction and address it holistically.
A recovering addict can choose to take part in 12-step meetings or alternative support groups. 12-step programs are available in drug-specific and general formats. They began with Alcoholics Anonymous, but have grown to encompass many other addictions. There are now Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous among other support groups. Statistics show that the probability of a relapse is lower in persons who have taken part in such programs. The 12-step method is spirituality-based – it revolves around admitting powerlessness and relying on a higher power. Individuals who aren’t inclined to do this may find alternative support groups more helpful. One such group is Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART), which is research-based and teaches people how to control urges and prevent relapse. Another option is a halfway house – a sober living home and therapeutic community focusing on recovery and successful social reintegration. Everyone in the home is a recovering substance user, united in their commitment to sober living. Being part of a community reduces urges to use in the period of recovery.
Outpatient groups are offered therapy and counseling, which can take place several times a week. Some people pursue outpatient treatment as their main recovery plan, while others sign up for it following a stay at an inpatient facility. It is highly recommendable to extend treatment beyond residential rehab to further develop coping mechanisms and build skills to resist temptation. Regardless of the type of support group one chooses, engagement with these crucial sources of aftercare has been linked with significantly lower rates of relapse for up to three years following formal treatment.
Medication may be necessary to help a former user post-rehab depending on his or her substance of choice. Heroin or opiate addicts may be prescribed naloxone or buprenorphine to help reduce cravings. In some cases, medication is required short-term after formal treatment. Other people will need a longer-term medication plan to help prevent relapse. The drug of choice and the person’s needs will determine the duration of medication use. Medication helps after rehab by reducing urges as it can mirror the drug’s effect. It also mitigates the long-term effects of the drug that was abused. What is more, it will reduce anxiety, depression, or other symptoms that may develop after an individual has stopped using drugs.
Support from Friends and Loved Ones
Admittedly, one may not always have this in the aftermath of drug use and 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. Helping a family member or friend during the difficult period after treatment is possible in a variety of ways.
Don’t Judge, Be Compassionate
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, compassionate hand will help, even if relapse happened.
It is of paramount importance to reduce potential temptations that might lead a friend or loved one to relapse. When they come home from inpatient 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. A supportive environment also includes looking for activities to engage in that exclude drug or alcohol use triggers. Recovery is a challenging process, and it needs to be as free of temptation as possible.
A drug addict is often not the only person who needs treatment. Those close to him or her feel the profound effects of substance abuse in many ways, especially if the user is very young. Sometimes, an addicted teen or young adult will leave their home under the pretext of attending rehab and not come back for days. His or her parents will go to the rehab facility to ask about them, only to find they aren’t there, and no one knows where they are. Parents or others who are close to a former user 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 successful completion of treatment. 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.
Withstanding Socially-Conditioned Temptation
The biggest recovery challenge may well be posed by one’s circle of friends. 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 take place 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 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 at least try to meet people who live sober and have useful, healthy hobbies like biking, hiking, swimming or other sports, or going to museums and cultural events.
Maintaining 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.
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
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. If a recovering addict is helping someone else get or stay sober, they’ll be less likely to be tempted into using again.
Making an effort to rise to the initial challenges of sober living will pay off – this lifestyle opens up opportunities and goals that once seemed impossible to achieve.
- Stephen A. Maisto, Kevin A. Hallgren, Corey R. Roos, Katie Witkiewitz, Course of remission from and relapse to heavy drinking following outpatient treatment of alcohol use disorder, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5959805/
- Stephen A. Maisto, Corey R. Roos, Kevin A. Hallgren, Dezarie Hutchison, Adam D. Wilson, Katie Witkiewitz, Do Alcohol Relapse Episodes During Treatment Predict Long-Term Outcomes?: Investigating the Validity of Existing Definitions of Alcohol Use Disorder Relapse, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5048537/
- Yuki Maehira, Ezazul Islam Chowdhury, Masud Reza, Ronald Drahozal, Tarun Kanti Gayen, Iqbal Masud, Sonia Afrin, Noboru Takamura, Tasnim Azim, Factors associated with relapse into drug use among male and female attendees of a three-month drug detoxification–rehabilitation programme in Dhaka, Bangladesh: a prospective cohort study, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3846454/