Life After Drug Treatment, Then What?

For someone who is leaving treatment and newly sober, a discharge plan from the treatment center is critical.

  • Addiction is a chronic disease and needs long-term attention.
  • If someone leaves treatment without a plan for additional treatment, relapse is imminent.
  • The first 90 days after treatment can be a struggle without the right environment.

A newly sober male who has six months clean seems to have it together. He was in a treatment center for 90 days and has been out for an equal amount of time.

He doesn’t want to drink.

One day he goes out to lunch with an old best friend. His old friend has started making his own beer and he brings a bottle he had just made. The best friend doesn’t understand the recovered addict’s condition.

The young male who went to treatment because he could not control his drinking takes the bottle and drinks the beer.

The young alcoholic who wants to recover cannot believe what he just did.

Without a Plan, It’s Hard to Stop

A misconception about drug addiction and alcoholism has continued to seep into society since before Alcoholics Anonymous was created in the 1930s.

The misconception: addicts and alcoholics can just stop using after 30 or 90 days of treatment without additional care. Life after rehab will be completely different.

We’ve even heard slogans like, “Just don’t drink” in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately, for a real alcoholic or addict, this is not an option.

If someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol  — especially if they are a chronic relapser — it takes more than 30 days to be in a place of long-term recovery.

A great short-term treatment center — like Renewal Lodge — can get someone off to a good start and on to the road to recovery.  The role of a short-term treatment center is to get someone back on the right path and give them an opportunity for life after drug rehab.

However, if a client who is a true alcoholic or addict leaves without enacting a treatment plan for relapse prevention from the rehab, then the likelihood of relapse is very probable.

In the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, the founders of A.A. saw that alcoholics are defenseless against the first drink and it’s nearly impossible to avoid relapse.

What usually happens is an alcoholic or addict goes on a spree. Something — usually a consequence like divorce, unemployment, jail, or an overdose — temporarily brings them out of their binge.

They emerge remorsefully and promise to never do it again. But more often than not, it is not enough to stay sober.

“The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.” Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 24.

Why is Substance Use Disorder Such a Problem?

The reason treatment programs won’t “fix” an addict for a lifetime is because addiction is a chronic disease, not an unwillingness to stay stopped and not use alcohol or drugs.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine deemed addiction as a disease because it can prevent the body from functioning normally. Addiction is like Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.” ASAM, 2019

Addiction disrupts parts of the brain that regulate reward and motivation. According to the Center of Addiction, once addictive behaviors change the brain, “willpower becomes impaired.”

As the book, Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We are without defense against the first drink.”

Re-entering Society Can Be Tough

Daniel Ragaette, the co-founder of an upscale sober living facility called Harmony House in Austin Texas, said that life can be tough on people leaving a rehab program.

It takes 12-step programs, support groups and evidence-based treatments to ensure a newly recovered person has the right mental health during the recovery process.

“You don’t undo how many years of drinking and partying you did in three months,” Daniel said. “When someone comes out of treatment, they have to deal with the shame from what they did, the stigma of being an addict and they have an identity crisis.”

Recovered addicts fresh out of treatment must learn a new way of life. Living in recovery is different and unknown.

To help people coming out of treatment, Harmony House ensures people feel connected and has plenty of structure and accountability.

And accountability is what it takes to stay sober for some chronic relapsers.

“We basically are providing the environment and the rules,” Daniel said. “The guys are submerging themselves in the recovery.”

The goal is to help Harmony House clients enact the tools they learned in treatment and to enact the treatment plan they were given at discharge.

Cleaning Up Wreckage in the First 90 Days After Treatment

Leah McIlrath, the founder of Grace Recovery in Austin, said that success rates for women can really depend on what the first 90 days after short-term treatment looks like.

“The purpose of good sober living is to help build on the foundation of recovery they learned in treatment,” Leah said.

For someone serious about recovery, they are cleaning up the wreckage of their addiction, which is something that is not easy to do. On top of cleaning up the past, some sober living homes make their clients get jobs within under a week.

The stress that comes with it can be daunting and without the right foundation, it can lead to relapse.

“I don’t think a lot of women are prepared for what is on their plate for the first 90 days,” Leah said. “The goal is to get their recovery and mental health down before they are catapulted into the real world.”

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