Supporting Long-Term Recovery from Addiction
Aftercare and the Abstinence Stage of Recovery
An article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine identifies three stages of recovery. The first stage is abstinence, which begins when use of substances stops and lasts somewhere between one and two years. The second stage is the repair stage, during which there is a refocusing on restoring life and honing the strategies, skills and lifestyle needed for long-term abstinence. This takes another few years. And the third stage is the growth stage, which is a lifelong endeavor that involves refining skills and striving toward authenticity and authentic happiness. Aftercare is designed to help throughout the first stage of recovery once treatment is complete. Aftercare also helps develop the urgent, critical skills needed to maintain abstinence outside of the highly supportive treatment setting.
During the abstinence stage, the focus is on coping with cravings and staying sober. This stage involves working on a number of important tasks:
Typical Components of an Aftercare Plan
During treatment, a variety of issues and faulty thought and behavior patterns that led to abuse drugs or alcohol are identified. Therapy begins working to resolve issues and develop healthier patterns of thinking and behaving.
These are all very complex issues, and the time spent in treatment typically isn’t enough time to thoroughly explore and create change around them. That’s why ongoing therapy in some form is usually part of the aftercare plan. People who complete an inpatient program will typically be referred to an intensive outpatient or outpatient program that provides considerably more freedom but still offers a high level of structure and support. For those completing an outpatient program, ongoing individual therapy is often recommended.
Aftercare Helps Prevent Relapse
The overarching goal of aftercare is to prevent relapse, which is a recurrence of an addiction after a period of recovery, characterized once again by compulsive use despite negative consequences. A single instance of using can quickly lead to a relapse of the addiction if it’s not addressed swiftly. The whole point of treatment -and the focus of early recovery- is to develop and practice essential coping skills and strategies and create a healthy lifestyle that promotes and fosters abstinence.
However, relapses can and do happen despite following the aftercare plan. It’s important to note that relapse is considered to be a normal part of recovery and an opportunity to develop missing skills. Approaching a relapse with a positive attitude is important for getting back on track quickly -and stronger and more motivated than ever.
Following an aftercare plan is the best way to help ensure abstinence during the first, challenging stage of recovery. The aftercare plan is designed just for you, and following it reduces your risk of relapse and improves your chances of enjoying successful recovery for the long-haul.
In treatment, strive for complete honesty, and keep an open mind. You’ll be rewarded with astonishing and life-changing revelations about yourself that will drive your recovery and improve your quality of life and sense of wellbeing for a happier, healthier future.
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