Guest post by Ben Kaneaiakala, Founder and CEO, Phoenix Rising Behavioral Healthcare Services

You know what happens when you eat undercooked chicken or pork, right? Most likely you will end up with serious gastrointestinal distress because the meat was not thoroughly cooked. Half-baked chicken is a good analogy when considering addiction treatment without planning for continuing care — both result in unpleasant and undesirable consequences.

Planning for recovery should take into account the three-fold process, including detoxification, treatment and aftercare. Neglecting any one of those aspects of the recovery process can result in the failure to sustain abstinence from the drug or alcohol. Skipping any of these phases suggests a lack of understanding of the addiction process and its significant impact on brain chemistry.

Too many people, anxious to check addiction treatment off their to-do list, fail to plan for what could be the most important part of the recovery journey, the continuing care component. It is understandable, for sure, that individuals who have invested in detoxification and rehabilitation are excited to return back to their normal life and resume daily activities. Neglecting the continuing care aspect, however, can rapidly expose one’s vulnerability in those early months of recovery.

Under Construction in Early Recovery

Soccer game tactical diagramThink of the continuing care segment as scaffolding that encases the individual in the early phase of addiction recovery, stabilizing and supporting them while they are still under construction. It’s true, the brain is literally under construction as it slowly begins to normalize and reset its chemistry. For years, the brain had likely stopped producing its own dopamine, leaning on the synthetic version of the same bombing the system multiple times each and every day. After a long period of working hard to keep up and compensate for the high levels of dopamine, the brain just got tired and gave up in this role.

The mind is also under construction. Using the coping skills and new thought and behavior patterns learned in treatment, the individual is on training wheels for a period as these new behaviors become ingrained healthy habits. This process takes time, and until the new healthy responses become honed instinctually, the individual in early recovery will be susceptible to falling back into old habits and self-destructive behaviors the minute a stressor appears on the scene.

As the brain and mind are under construction, so is the body. Restoring physical health is an essential part of the recovery process, as most people enter rehab physically weak, depleted and malnourished. The brain must be fed the proper nutrition to regain its healthy functioning, and the body needs to rebuild strength and stamina through regular cardio activity. All of this takes time and patience.

Why Continuing Care Is Important

When someone sustains a physical injury, say a broken bone or a torn ligament, they will be told by their physician to access physical therapy for a few months to slowly build up mobility and strength before returning to their regular activities. You wouldn’t jump right into a 10K after getting your stitches out from knee surgery, right? The same can be said for the need for continuing care, sometimes referred to as aftercare, following residential rehab. You need time to build up strength before jumping back into your old life.

The best time to make the aftercare plan is while you are still in rehab. Addiction programs typically spend a good deal of time preparing the clients for potential triggers that could potentially trip them up once they leave the highly structured residential treatment center. Careful attention is given to developing a relapse prevention plan, which looks great on paper. But once you step out with your discharge papers, the hard work of recovery can be undone very quickly.

By including some continuing care planning while still in treatment, you can access important resources and contacts that can be instrumental in helping you shore up recovery in those first few months. When you’ve invested so much time and treasure into getting clean and sober, acknowledging the importance of an aftercare plan honors the good, hard work you’ve done. Whether it involves sober living, hiring a sober coach or companion, daily AA meetings or biweekly therapy sessions, planning continuing care ahead of time will pay off in the long term.

What Does Continuing Care Consist Of?

Continuing care includes a variety of options that can offer significant help in recovery, especially in the first three to six months. These might include:

  • Outpatient therapy. Ongoing outpatient treatment and therapy offers clients who are new in recovery a sounding board, people who can help the client through the initial transition to a sober lifestyle. Everyone encounters obstacles and challenges in recovery, so having a trusted therapist or group who can offer advice and support is critical in the early days.
  • Sober living. Leaving rehab only to return to a home where recovery might not be supported can quickly undo all the effort made in treatment. Sober living offers a drug and alcohol-free living space that offers peer support, structure and accountability while the client becomes stable in their new sober lifestyle.
  • AA or NA meetings. Active participation in a recovery community offers a feeling of social support, as well as an antidote to feelings of loneliness that can occur in early recovery. Finding new sober friends who are on the same mission for sustained sobriety is important in building healthy relationships in recovery
  • Medication management. Medication-assisted treatment involves the use of certain drugs, such as naltrexone or Suboxone, that may have been prescribed in rehab. These drugs have the potential for abuse, so must be monitored carefully. Medication management helps monitor the use of these drugs, and can help plan a tapering program to wean the client off of the drug at a certain point.

Recovery treatment planning should never be a half-baked effort. For the best long-term treatment outcome, continuing care should be an intrinsic component of addiction recovery planning.

About the Author

Benjamin Kaneaiakala has been working in the alcohol and drug addiction industry for over 27 years. He has been mentored to learn and work most positions in the industry. Grateful for the guidance throughout his career, Benjamin has opened his own drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in California. Phoenix Rising Behavioral Health Care Services provides substance abuse treatment services to men and women suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction and dual diagnosis. Benjamin believes the good is the enemy of the better, and looks to help those struggling rise from their past to a new and brighter future.