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Coming Down From the Rehab High: Safeguarding Your Sobriety Long Term

By Jack Gilbert, LCSW, Clinical Director at The Ranch PA Recovery from drugs and alcohol doesn’t begin and end in residential addiction treatment. It’s a lifelong journey that takes persistence and hard work. It’s one that doesn’t typically follow a straight line, but zigs and zags, curves, meanders and sometimes changes directions.

Life After Addiction Treatment

When you leave drug rehab, you might feel like many people: nervous, but also invigorated and optimistic. Perhaps you’ve been off drugs and alcohol successfully for several weeks. You’ve been taking care of yourself, eating and sleeping well and exercising —maybe for the first time in years. You’ve had time and space to focus on yourself and getting better with the guidance of mental health professionals and the support of sober peers. Because of the hard work you’ve done, you feel great, and you’re enthusiastic about this new, promising life in recovery that awaits outside the door.  At this point, it is not uncommon for some people to make the mistake of prematurely disengaging from treatment. I like to remind people new to recovery that it’s difficult work. However, it is also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling work, and your ability to remain sober depends on it. It’s not uncommon to relapse—even more than once—and that can be part of the process for some people. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be excited and confident about your newfound sobriety, or that despite your best intentions, you’ll relapse. Many people don’t. But your chances for success are better if you’re realistic about the challenges you’ll face and plan for them. This way, the proverbial rug won’t be pulled out from under you if life after drug rehab treatment doesn’t unfold as you’d expected.

5 Things to Remember When You Leave Drug Rehab

1. Drug rehab is the first step.

Let’s begin by dispelling a myth about completing drug rehab. Finishing a stay at an addiction treatment center means you’re currently sober and have started your recovery. You’re not “fixed,” and you’re not “cured.” You’ve begun the process of getting well, and hopefully staying that way. There’s still much work to do.

2. Addiction is a disease.

A substance use disorder by definition is an incurable disease. Relapse rates hover between 40-60%, similar to other chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Addiction can be kept in remission through continued diligence to remain sober, but it’s not curable. The type of support needed and the time spent working on recovery in order to keep symptoms at bay varies from person to person.

3. Underlying issues are complex.

Depending upon your length of stay in drug rehab and ability to engage in the treatment process, you’ll develop insight into some of the reasons you’ve abused drugs and alcohol. Because addiction is a complex disease with multiple causative factors, it’s not possible to address and heal from all of your issues during a finite period of time in treatment. That’s why it’s extremely important to continue attending support groups and participating in an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP) and therapy following drug rehab. Some people require additional support, such as sober living programs.

4. You need the support of loved ones.

Families are complicated, especially when substance abuse is involved. They’re also an important part of a successful recovery. In fact, research has shown that people in recovery who feel they have the support of their loved ones are less likely to relapse. It’s important that your loved ones are part of your support network by becoming educated about substance use disorders, how best to support you in recovery, as well as how to take care of themselves while helping you.

5. Recovery is difficult, not impossible.

People do get better and go on to live fulfilling lives free of drugs and alcohol. I’ve seen it happen countless times in my work. There are an estimated 23 million Americans in recovery from substance use disorders. You can be one of them. Make sure you have a plan in place before leaving treatment. Set up regular appointments with a therapist. Attend family or couples therapy. Know where you can regularly participate in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Refuge Recovery or SMART Recovery. If possible, ease the transition back into everyday life by taking part in an outpatient program or living in a sober-living residence with others in recovery. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. But also be intentional and tireless in your recovery work, especially in the first critical year of sobriety when the risk of relapse is at its highest. Recovery isn’t easy, but it’s well worth it.

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