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Loved one leaving residential rehab? Here’s why aftercare matters.

By Tim Woodley

It’s easy to think of drug and alcohol residential treatment as a ‘one and done’ affair. You push through your programme and hey, guess what: you’re fixed. The truth, sadly, is more than a little different.

Sobriety and a drug-free state is a journey that lasts a lifetime. 60% of people that leave residential rehabilitation, which can cost as much as £25,000, relapse within the first year if they do not have a comprehensive continuing care plan. For someone suffering from the disease of addiction, a life free from the substances that cripple them so harshly means nothing less than a new structure, a new purpose and constant vigilance.

If you know a loved one who is going through rehab or has just finished their programme, you can – and should – support them as they adjust to their new life without drug and alcohol abuse. This ongoing support is vital for a less intensely addicted or physically dependent user of drugs or alcohol just as it is for someone that has had addiction problems for many years.


What it’s like to leave rehab

Residential rehab programmes are challenging but effective. They provide a vital role for many people and have several benefits:

  • You receive 24-hour supervision by trained staff and therapists; you are never alone while battling your addiction
  • You are part of a community. Other residents in the facility are also overcoming their addictions
  • You are in a programme that provides an intense level of care
  • Being in a residential setting, more time each day is focused on recovery, through group and individual therapy and other treatment exercises
  • You are in a structured environment that dictates when you get up in the morning, when you eat, when you have group or 1:1 and when you have free time
  • You do not have the distractions of daily life activities/worries while in treatment

Once a person has worked through their treatment and is ready to finish, they are motivated and focused. Also for some, there are added benefits if your residential treatment is overseas in the sunny climates of Thailand, Spain, the Caribbean and more – an ideal escape from the previously grey weather of the UK!

However, there are also drawbacks of residential treatment and leaving. There are consequences to having been in a protective bubble for the last 28 days:

  • You now no longer have 24-hour supervision and support of trained staff
  • You may now find yourself alone back at home
  • Your day is no longer structured for you
  • There are bills and other worries common to day to day life
  • You may be going back to work with all its stresses and strains, as well as possibly enquiring eyes as to where you have been for the last month

The programme ends, and the individual returns to real life. It’s a little colder, a little less motivating and reality hits like a train. The same town and streets they struggled in are walked once more, and the simple truth that they must now live a sober and drug-free life in the same area they were once dependent on substances is a hard pill to swallow. The perverse ‘honeymoon’ period of finishing their programme is over, and the fact of a different life ahead is inescapable and immediate.

Chris Cordell*, Help Me Stops General Manager says “I’ve spent over 20 years working with clients with drug and alcohol problems, 10 of those as a Hospital Director in residential treatment. A key mission through this time was to highlight the importance to all individuals of aftercare before starting treatment and as they approach the end. Some listen, but for those that don’t it is not long before they are sadly back at the front door again. For many, they could avoid this if they put as much time and effort into their aftercare as they did their primary treatment.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behaviour becomes automatic. This can vary drastically depending on the person and their circumstances; In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. Predicting how long is hard and there’s no right or wrong timeline. The only timeline that matters is the one where you start to make changes."


Why aftercare matters

So, a loved one of yours is leaving treatment. You want to help, and you aren’t sure how.

The first thing you should keep in mind is simply how profoundly important the ‘aftercare’ stage of recovery is for someone who has just completed their core treatment. Aftercare refers to any support or intervention that follows treatment or a programme, and the friends and family that a recovering person may be fortunate to have around them are of tremendous importance as they adjust to their new life.

The highest risk of relapsing comes within the first sixty days of completing a treatment programme. This heightened risk continues for most for up to five years after their recovery, with the likelihood of relapsing into drug or alcohol consumption generally tapering off after that point – although never disappearing entirely.


Professional support after rehab

Knowing the dangers of relapse and the benefits of aftercare is vital for long term recovery.

Help Me Stop’s Digital Dayhab and non-residential Dayhab programmes are ideally placed to support individuals leaving treatment without intensive aftercare treatment in place. Based in London, our non-residential face to face programme offers 160 hours of group therapy and 1:1 sessions spread across 5 to 10 weeks. These include alcohol and drug testing. For those that are not able to get to West London, our online service offers 68 hours of group and 1:1 therapy over 4 weeks.

We’re also careful to provide support to families and friends who live alongside someone struggling with drug and alcohol use through our family programmes. Furthermore, phone calls and in-person sessions can be requested and negotiated on demand, and our therapists place great importance on educating the families and friends of those going through our programmes. By doing so, an informed and supportive support network is developed around the individual, helping them to adjust to life after rehabilitation – and to avoid relapsing back into drug and alcohol misuse.


How to reach out to us

Even if you just want an informal chat about your concerns for yourself or a loved one who has just entered treatment or is just about to leave, we’re right here and happy to do so. You can call the team on 0208 191 8920 or get in touch via our interactive text chat or contact form.


*Chris is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, and a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.


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