The path an individual must take to regain his authentic self once in the grip of addiction is not an easy one. Such a life is complex and challenging, and many reasons may be found to why a substance use disorder developed in the first place – not to mention the complications that may stem from this condition to further muddy this individual’s circumstances.

But there is always hope – hope that there can be a future without the chains of addiction. Choices must be made… commitments too. While well-intended promises may be hard to always keep along the way, let’s look at some steps that can – and should – be taken to stay the course of recovery following detoxification and alcohol or drug rehabilitation treatment.

The goals of aftercare are typically sustaining abstinence, continuing recovery, mastering community living, developing vocational skills, obtaining gainful employment, deepening psychological understanding, increasing assumption of responsibility, resolving family difficulties, and consolidating changes in values and identity. The key services are life skills education, relapse prevention, 12-Step or double trouble groups, case management (especially for housing), and vocational training and employment.

If the individual comes from a residential (inpatient) treatment program, discharge planning should have involved several additional considerations:

  • Discharge planning should have begun upon entry into the program.
  • The latter phases of residential placement should have been devoted to developing with the client a specific discharge plan, with initiation of some of its features.
  • Discharge planning usually introduces a loosened regimen of ongoing treatment as part of continuity of care.
  • Obtaining housing, where needed, should be an integral part of discharge planning.1

In late‐stage treatment, clients begin to learn to engage in life. As they begin to manage their emotional states and cognitive processes more effectively, they can face situations that involve conflict or cause emotion. A process‐oriented group may become appropriate for some clients who are finally able to confront painful realities, such as being an abused child or abusive parent. Other clients may need groups to help them build a healthier marriage, communicate more effectively, or become a better parent. Some may want to develop new job skills to increase employability.

Some clients may need to explore existential concerns or issues stemming from their family of origin. These emphases do not deny the continued importance of universality, hope, group cohesion and other therapeutic factors. Instead it implies that as group members become more and more stable, they can begin to probe deeper into the relational past. The group can be used in the here and now to settle difficult and painful old business.2

Find a Way to Remind Yourself of Your Addiction and Turning Point

As the recovering individual’s stability increases, the stakes get higher: one of the most important single prognostic variables associated with remission from addiction is having something to lose (e.g., friends, health, job, or freedom) if substance use continues or resumes. Reminders of what’s at stake usually strengthens the individual’s commitment to continue a life of abstinence.3

In leaving treatment, you may want to try a strategy such as this one to keep you focused. Find yourself a marble. Clutch in your hand and say to yourself, “I’m now beginning a new stage in my recovery. I am going to keep this marble with me always – in my pocket or purse. It will be kept where I will see and feel it often to remind me of how hard my addiction was on me and my family and friends. More important, it will remind me of how firm and resolved I must be in my commitment to stay clean and work on a healthy recovery program.”4

As time goes on following the more difficult stages of recovery, there is a risk of believing that the recovery is complete. The recovering individual may delude herself into thinking she should test herself by having “just one” substance use episode – to prove the success of her recovery. While some individuals in recovery may be able to return to controlled substance use, many – if not most – cannot weather this temptation to return to their old habits and lifestyle.3

As time goes on following the more difficult stages of recovery, there is a risk of believing that the recovery is complete.

In considering the concept of “recovery,” one of the more controversial issues is whether it is a process (with no specific endpoint) or a state (i.e., whether one is ever completely recovered). This question has potentially critical ramifications, especially in terms of how recovery is perceived by the public and, indirectly, in terms of stigma and discrimination (e.g., prospective employers who view recovery as a lifelong process may be more likely to steer away from hiring a prospective worker in recovery for fear he will relapse or be unreliable).

The general public has been found to define recovery as an attempt to stop using drugs and alcohol, suggesting that full recovery may not be attainable. So, while maintaining recovery may be a lifelong process (e.g., maintaining certain practices), it is important to determine whether or not the process is lived as having an end (being recovered). In the US, the view of addiction as a chronic disorder, paired with the strong 12-Step influence (“once an addict, always an addict”) would suggest that recovery is a never-ending process. As one recovering addict put it, “I don’t think you ever recover from it. You simply must learn how to manage it, stay abstinent and become a productive member of society. You’re never fully recovered; I mean, it’s always gonna be back there. There really isn’t a complete cure…but there is hope of a life apart from alcohol and drugs.”5

Tips for Staying the Course of Recovery

Recognizing that the life of recovery after a substance use disorder is one that must include safeguards, here are 15 suggestions that should help in that regard6:

Be honest with yourself – You were addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and could be again, if you’re not careful.

Continue complete abstinence – This isn’t a matter of moderation, of self-control, or adherence most of the time. Recovery calls for a commitment to total abstinence every waking moment.

Prevent relapse – While minor lapses may occur (you’re not perfect, but you’re determined), you must never let down your guard to surrender your power, your identity, to substances ever again. Lapses and relapses are a normal part of the recovery process; the journey will get easier over time, as your mind slowly frees itself – chemically and emotionally – from the damaging chemicals and new dreams take shape for your future. Naturally, people are more vulnerable to rash action when hungry, angry, lonely or tired (commonly referred to as H.A.L.T.); recognize the risk and be ready to cope positively.

Test for other mental health conditions – Many people with substance use disorders also have other health issues; those other conditions may be contributing to or resulting from your substance use disorder. If there are, this is referred to as having co-occurring disorders, and you should be treated for a “dual diagnosis.”

Seek and maintain a strong social support system – To stay the course of recovery, you need to have a positive, drug-free social network. This may involve: a) restoring family relationships that have been damaged when the substance use disorder ran your life (but safe boundaries should be established if other family members also struggle with alcohol or drugs); b) continuation and nurturing of individual/peer or therapist relationships developed during treatment; or c) re-establishing trust with your work and friendship groups – again, it may be necessary to establish boundaries or even pursuit of new vocational skills or new friends, if temptation to relapse exists in those old, familiar settings.

Find drug-free environments – It’s worth stating again: precautions must be taken to ensure your living and working situations feel safe to you, not luring you back into a life of addiction.

Form a new, healthy lifestyle – Naturally, with alcohol and drugs out of your life, and not preoccupying you and dictating so much of your life, new patterns of healthy living need to be practiced until they become your new habit. This will take time, and it may feel very awkward or uncomfortable at first. But it can be done intentionally and successfully.

Submit to post-treatment monitoring – As a person with a history of substance use disorder (and possibly other complicating conditions), you should remain humble in recognizing the power of addiction and fight daily for freedom from its grip. Another step you can take in that direction is to submit to a practice of accountability with someone trustworthy and, of course, committed to being drug-free. In such ongoing relationship, you should also receive praise for accomplishments and encouragement to stay the course, as well as wise guidance.

Don’t overcompensate – With treatment hopefully behind you for good, you may have feelings of shame, guilt and sorrow for all that has been lost or damaged: friendships, trust, time, opportunity, and indeed life. However, as you seek forgiveness and try to put your past transgressions behind you, resist the temptation to overreact by setting unrealistic expectations on yourself or overwork yourself; this might only lead to more frustration, anxiety and stress, which could pull you back into that old, familiar routine involving alcohol and/or drugs. After grieving the damage or losses you created in the past, move on, choosing to forgive and love yourself once again. Be patient with yourself as you move in a whole new way of life.

Improve your attitude – By reflecting on where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished and the hopeful path you are now traveling, take time to realize and appreciate all that you should be thankful for. Being intentional about feeling and expressing your gratitude will help to not only repair bridges that have been damaged, but it will also help to shape a healthy mindset and a positive attitude.

Give more of yourself to others – The adage “more blessed to give than to receive” may capture the benefits gained for yourself by giving money, possessions, and time to others – particularly those in need, which could include peer involvement in self-help or 12-Step groups which offer plenty of opportunity to give testimony, encouragement and advice. By getting your mind off yourself, you may gain the fulfilling satisfaction of giving useful service to others and, in return, receiving thanks, kindness and encouragement to faithfully continue your own journey.

Educate yourself and loved ones – By assisting and encouraging family or other significant people in your life to join you in learning more about addictions and the behavior patterns that are characteristic of substance use disorders and mental health conditions, you will help everyone involved. In fact, family therapy is a strategic course of action proven to help bring healing and unity to each individual member within the family system. Families are always working toward homeostasis (sense of order), whether there’s addiction in the family or not. In some cases, unhealthy order or roles must be recognized and released, and new, healthy roles formed in order for the entire family to operate in a happy, functional manner. More training in parenting skills might be an appropriate measure to take as well.

Maintain hope and resilience – While, as an addict in recovery – not to mention, as a human, perfection will never be attained, a happy, normal life can certainly be achieved. You are a work in progress. The lure to relapse into old habits will always be out there; just hold your ground.

Embrace community and spirituality – Consider expanding your sense of meaning and purpose in life by being an active part of a local community or religious organization.

Make wellness a priority – Maintaining an overall quality of life (well-being) and pursuing optimal physical, emotional and mental health is simply good advice for everyone.

Recovery from addiction, a lingering, relapse-prone disease, is a lifelong, dynamic process; a process that, under knowledgeable, experienced guidance, can help an individual return to her authentic self. Found to be a highly reputable facility for such guidance and service by more than ten federally funded studies comparing addiction treatment programs, Skywood Recovery stands out from the plethora of options available to you today. We take great satisfaction in sharing our proven approach to treating the whole person, one person at a time.

1 “Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons with Co-Occurring Disorders”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64182/ .

2 “Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64208/ , (2005).

3 “Pathways to Long-Term Recovery”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1852519/ , (April 17, 2007).

4 “Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64101/ .

5 “What Does Recovery Mean to You? Lessons from the Recovery Experience for Research and Practice”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2083562/ , (October 2007).

6 “Treatments for Substance Use Disorders”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/substance-use-disorders , (October 19, 2015).