Aftercare Program: A Necessary Component For Successful Recovery

Last Updated: July 6, 2020

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

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 occur 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.

Rehab Aftercare: What Is It?

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. The overarching goal of rehab aftercare is to help the patient continue living life in full sobriety and help prevent relapse.

guy reading about aftercare programs

What Is Aftercare Treatment?

These programs consist of a broad range of support services consisting of multi-dimensional activities that are designed to help improve the patient’s mind, body, and spirit.

Aftercare Program Goals

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 on a regular basis
  • 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

Types Of Aftercare Programs

There are many types of aftercare programs, each one suits a patient depending on his or her 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.

patient discussing aftercare options
The most common aftercare programs 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 type of 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 transition recovering individuals after rehab. It is an outpatient residential program where an individual must abide by strict rules, that includes taking on responsibilities doing household chores. Although 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.
Unlike during rehab, however, therapy and counseling sessions are less frequent in aftercare. The frequency is further decreased over time.

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.

rehab alumni join hands in park

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 an individual in sustaining sobriety

Benefits Of Aftercare

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 Disease. The study showed that those who initiated aftercare treatment showed greater chances of staying free from substance compared to those who failed to initiate aftercare.

reintegrating into society
Aftercare is geared towards fostering three pillars a patient needs to overcome addiction and to lead a more fulfilling life:

  • First, aftercare develops responsibility and accountability. To become successfully reintegrated 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 comprised of people he cares about and who also care about him and his 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:

  • Aftercare reinforces the patient’s commitment to lifelong recovery and sobriety
  • Aftercare helps ease the patient back into society
  • Aftercare helps a patient link up with institutions and other community-based services that can support his long-term recovery as well as reintegration
  • Aftercare prepares the patient for challenges that can lead to deterioration
  • Aftercare helps the patient better cope with the stresses associated with reintegration in 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 best interests of the patients 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.
Year 1 Stronger connection with vital relations.
Financial Independence.
Live in 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, including family life.
Continue attending group therapy.

Continue nurturing human relationships b 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. Attendance to 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.

Meeting Of Rehab Aftercare Group
When screening for aftercare, here are some criteria to look for. The aftercare program should provide:

  • A multi-dimensional approach to recovery that helps the patient to take steps to improve different aspects of his life:
    • 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.
  • 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 of a patient to transition successfully.
  • Aftercare program provides 24/7 support for patients, their family and friends.
  • Positive feedback and referrals from others.
  • It is accredited by SAMHSA.

The patient needs support every step of the way so that trust in himself, in significant others and in the community may be re-established. These are vital prerequisites to full recovery because the patient cannot do it alone. Overcoming addiction is not easy. It may take years, perhaps an entire lifetime, to beat addiction, but no doubt it is worth doing.


Page Sources

  1. McLellan AT, Lewis DC, O'Brien CP, Kleber, Drug dependence, a chronic medical illness: implications for treatment, insurance, and outcomes evaluation, DOI: 10.1001/jama.284.13.1689
  2. Lynne M. Frydrych, MS, Benjamin J. Greene, BS, Richard D. Blondell, MD, Christopher H. Purdy, Self-help program components and linkage to aftercare following inpatient detoxification, J Addict Dis. 2009;28(1):21-7, doi: 10.1080/10550880802544799
  3. Steven M. Melemis, Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery” Yale J Biol Med. 2015 Sep; 88(3): 325–332.,Published online 2015 Sep 3, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/

Published on: November 5th, 2019

Updated on: July 6th, 2020

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

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.

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