There are many different phases of addiction treatment and recovery and each one is crucial for different reasons. For example, recovery can only begin once someone accepts they have a problem.
While this is a crucial step, it doesn’t guarantee they will agree to enter treatment. That’s a whole step in itself. It’s tempting to believe that once someone does enter treatment and completes the program, that things will definitely turn around.
While completing a quality addiction treatment program is a great start to recovery, it’s only a start. Making the transition from treatment back to regular life is a lot trickier than most people realize.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people who have completed a treatment program relapse within the first year. The first year sober can be a particularly dangerous time.
Not only is it terribly disappointing to relapse after several months of progress, but people who relapse after a period of sobriety are at much higher risk for overdose. The following are some reasons the transition out of treatment is often challenging and some ways to improve your chances of long-term success in recovery.
Imagine you’ve been in a serious accident. You might be in terrible pain. Perhaps you’re unconscious. The EMTs show up, stabilize you, then get you to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Over the course of days, weeks, or months, your injuries are treated and you begin to heal. Then, you may have to go through the difficult ordeal of regaining your prior functions.
What’s important to notice in this scenario is that your level of involvement changes with each phase of treatment. When the EMTs show up, you’re completely helpless and they have to do everything for you.
When you’re in the hospital, maybe you can tell your doctor where it hurts and what you need. When rehabbing your injuries, you have to exert quite a bit of effort and will to push through the pain and regain your prior abilities.
Recovery from addiction is not so different. At first, you’re in a state of crisis and your family does whatever they can to get you into treatment.
Then, you enter treatment and participate in a structured program of healing. However, gradually, you will have to take more and more responsibility for your recovery.
The real aim of treatment is not to keep you sober but to give you the strength and determination to stay sober on your own.
When you enter an intensive inpatient treatment program, you’ll notice that the whole thing is very structured. Most of your daily and weekly activities are on a strict schedule. You get up at a certain time, eat meals at certain times, go to therapy at certain times, exercise at certain times, and so on.
This is partly a practical matter, to help coordinate care for many people at once–after all, you can’t have people showing up to group therapy at random times. However, there is another, more important reason as well.
Having a regular routine adds structure to your day. It makes sure you accomplish certain priorities and gives you a sense of purpose. It bolsters your conscientiousness, which is a major protective factor against substance use.
However, if you leave intensive inpatient treatment and go straight home, you’re going immediately from a highly structured environment to an environment with no structure. It’s great if you can keep the routine from treatment going, but often that’s not possible and for many people, the typical 30 days of inpatient treatment is just not enough time to make habits automatic, especially when you’re suddenly trying to keep a schedule on your own.
Another major change when you leave treatment is that the people around you change. In treatment, everyone you see daily is either trying to help you stay sober or trying to stay sober themselves.
Back in your regular life, the picture is much different. Most people don’t care at all whether you stay sober and some people will actively pressure you to use drugs and alcohol.
People new to recovery are always advised to avoid old friends who drink and use drugs but one challenge of this is that many people feel suddenly isolated whereas they were always surrounded by friends during treatment. Therefore, loneliness is another common challenge during this transition.
During addiction treatment, you will learn many new skills to help you stay sober. These will include skills to help you regulate emotions, think more clearly, make better decisions, avoid temptation, and resolve conflict, among other things.
While all of this is useful, there’s a huge difference between learning these skills in therapy or group therapy and actually applying them when there are real stakes. For this reason, it often helps to have coaching or therapy that continues for a while to help you actually apply these skills to real-life situations.
While these are real problems that affect many people, they are solvable problems. Step-down care and sober living environments are two common solutions.
Step-down care is just going from one level of care down to the next. So, for example, instead of going from the structured and protected environment of intensive inpatient treatment straight home with no assistance, you might step down to an intensive outpatient program that allows you to continue to receive support and guidance while working and living at home. Or you might go from intensive outpatient to outpatient.
Another option for some people will be to go from an inpatient program to a sober living environment. These are structured living environments where all residents are sober and are required to follow certain rules, such as attending 12-Step meetings, doing chores, and working or looking for work.
This gives people starting out in recovery a chance to get back into regular life without completely giving up the support of treatment. This is an especially good option for people who don’t have a place to stay or who don’t have family that supports their recovery.
Treatment is a great start to recovery. You have the opportunity to detox and spend a solid block of time learning essential recovery skills in a caring, supportive environment. It can take some time to learn to apply these skills in the real world.
That’s why The Kimberly Center emphasizes the importance of transitional care for our clients. We offer intensive inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient, outpatient, and sober living to help our clients make a smooth transition back to normal life. To learn more, call us today at 855-452-3683.