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The Importance of Aftercare Treatment for Addiction


Making it to the end of an addiction recovery program is a huge feat. If you or a friend or loved one has made it to graduation, you know the work it takes to get clean. It can be a long, challenging process.

Though the end of a recovery program for drug or alcohol addiction is an exciting moment, the process of staying clean is only beginning. Statistics show that 50 to 90 percent of people go back to their former habits, or “relapse,” at some point after treatment ends. But the good news is this can be prevented. The best way to prevent yourself, or a loved one, from relapsing is to plan an aftercare treatment program.

There are many reasons why relapse can happen. Below you’ll learn common reasons recovering addicts relapse, types of aftercare treatment available, and why aftercare treatment is so important in preventing a relapse.

Common Reasons for a Relapse Following Treatment

Many recovering addicts believe they can leave a treatment program and return to their normal life as a new, clean person. However, it does not usually work out that way. In fact, the first year of recovery is when an addict is most at risk for relapse.

The reason for the high risk of relapse during the year following treatment is there are a variety of triggers in the recovering addict’s environment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines “triggers” as events or circumstances that can lead to uncomfortable feelings, such as anxiety, anger, or despair. These reactions create a neurochemical response which makes the person crave drugs used in the past.

There are three different kinds of triggers to be aware of: environmental, re-exposure, and stress triggers. Let’s take a look at the differences between each one.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers are social events or circumstances that were once associated with drugs or drinking.

Examples of environmental triggers include:

  • Going to parties with friends
  • Watching sports games with friends
  • Participating in a favorite sports league

Returning to the activities and friends once associated with drug or alcohol use can put a recovering addict at risk for relapse.

Re-exposure Triggers

If an addict is near other people who are drinking or getting high, it can cause them to fall back into their old behaviors. This typically happens because the person hasn’t cut ties with “drug friends.”

Examples of re-exposure triggers are:

  • Hanging out with friends who are using
  • Continuing to go out to bars and expecting not to drink
  • Expecting to go to parties and not drink or use drugs

There’s an old saying that goes “if you play with fire, expect to get burned.” This couldn’t be truer in these circumstances. Someone trying to stay sober should avoid situations where they’re tempted to join in “for old time’s sake.”

Stress Triggers

Even after treatment, emotions can run high for a recovering addict and their family. It’s a time when the person has to start putting the pieces of their life back together. Family, careers, jobs, finances, and other areas of the addict’s life all need attention. It can be overwhelming.

Drug or alcohol use at this stage can be a way to deal with the following:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Overwhelm
  • Loneliness

These emotions increase a recovering addict’s stress level, and therefore put them at risk for relapse.

There are many ways to prevent these triggers from affecting a recovering addict’s life. Learn what types of aftercare treatment are available, below.

Types of Aftercare Treatment Following a Substance Abuse Program

The best way to prevent a relapse from affecting you or a loved one is to be proactive. Find a program and start it as soon as the recovery program is complete. There are many to choose from, such as:

  • Family Therapy—an addict and their family likely have many issues that need to be worked out, and this type of therapy provides them with a safe, unbiased environment to talk.
  • Individual Therapy—a recovering addict should maintain a relationship with their psychiatrist or another counselor post-treatment, so they have someone to talk with about day-to-day issues.
  • Therapeutic Drug Monitoring—medications can be used to prevent withdrawal, relapse, and treat co-existing conditions, by optimizing dosages at certain levels.
  • Self-Help Support Groups—groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are very effective programs for recovering addicts.
  • Partial Hospitalization—a partial hospitalization program (PHP) is an excellent way to transition from an inpatient program, and it provides more intense group therapy sessions on a daily basis.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs—an intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a more flexible alternative to a PHP, and often provides programs specifically for women and adolescents that meet during the evening.
  • Sober Living Homes—sober living homes are a great way for a recovering addict to get the support they need, and prevent environmental or re-exposure triggers from affecting them.

Why Aftercare Programs and Treatment are Important for a Recovering Addict

The weeks, months, and years following a drug or alcohol rehab program are a critical time for the recovering addict. For many people, staying clean is a lifelong battle. This is why aftercare programs and treatments are important, and should be pursued.

Group, family, and individual therapies provide much-needed support for a recovering addict. After the 24/7 care of an inpatient program, many can become lonely and feel as though they’re on their own. The community and support of other recovering addicts, as well as the loving support of their family, make a big difference in helping a person move on from their addiction.

In addition, aftercare programs educate the recovering addict about triggers and help them identify their own. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help addicts develop coping strategies that help them prevent a relapse. The recovering addict learns how to consider negative consequences of their actions, and how to avoid situations that may trigger them to use. They get the chance to improve upon the skills they learned during their initial treatment.

Above all, aftercare treatment programs can keep the recovering addict motivated to continue living a sober life.


Aftercare treatment programs are a critical link between an addict’s recovery program and their new, sober lifestyle. Without them, the risk for relapse is alarmingly high due to the environmental, re-exposure, and stress triggers recovering addicts face. Planning for family or individual therapy, self-help support groups, or a PHP or IOP program is important for their continued success.

Looking for an addiction treatment program for yourself or a loved one? Chicago Lakeshore Hospital has a variety of different programs to help you. Contact us today at (773) 878-9700 or visit our facility for a free, confidential assessment.