Life after Rehab: What Happens Next and How to Stay Sober, Part 1

Recovery and life after treatment is about making right choices, getting the support we need, dealing with our stresses. Those thigs help put us on a positive track and make a relapse a lot less likely.”

~ Kathleen Parrish, Co-Author of The Essence of Resilience: Stories of Triumph over Trauma

If you have recently completed a substance abuse rehab program, you are to be congratulated. Making it this far took a lot of commitment and hard work. You are now in a place where you never thought you could be when you were actively addicted.

Now your REAL work begins.

Many newly-sober people who “graduate” from a drug or alcohol rehab program  find it hard to readjust to everyday life. Without the structure provided by the facility, exposure to old triggers, stresses, and temptations can slow or even reverse the progress made during treatment.

In fact, between 37% and 56% of people who successfully complete a residential rehab program will experience the slip or relapse within the first year.

But knowing what to expect from your life after rehab can help you avoid the mistakes that can jeopardize your hard-won sobriety and sabotage your successful recovery.  Here, we will discuss some of the challenges typically faced by people in early recovery, as well as practical strategies and resources that can be used to support your lifelong sober journey.

Challenges after Rehab

According to a study published in the December 2016 issue of Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, recently-discharged residential program patients frequently struggle with:

  • Basic needs (a job, a place to live, other financial concerns)—63% of those interviewed
  • Lack of/Limited personal support—47%
  • Strained relationships with loved ones—44%
  • Family and friends who still use drugs—41%
  • Lack of housing options that accept substance abusers—34%
  • Stressful neighborhoods (drugs, crime, poverty, etc.)—31%

Let’s take a look at some possible solutions to each of these challenges.

Meeting Basic Needs

Established, reputable rehab programs will be able to connect  clients with local resources available to people in recovery.  For example, they may have a list of companies that hire recovering addicts and alcoholics.  These firms also usually are willing to hire individuals with criminal records, the common problem to many people in recovery.

If living completely on your own or with your family is not an immediate option, a halfway house or sober living arrangements may be appropriate.  Often, the structure and requirements of these establishments allow you to transition back into society at a slower, a safer place.

Finding Support

No person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone.  There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.”

~ Adrienne Rich, Sources

Having a strong support system is of crucial importance during recovery.  There will be times when you are overwhelmed, tempted, and stressed to the point that you want to drink and use again.  Those are EXACTLY the moments when you need the support of others.  Luckily, you can find that support in more places than you might realize:

  • KNOWLEDGE—From your counselors and from recovery literature
  • INSPIRATION—From your peers in recovery (12-Step fellowship, group therapy, etc.)
  • ACCOUNTABILITY—From your recovery sponsor
  • MOTIVATION—From your family, friends, and peers who are in successful recovery

Everyone needs a helping hand now and then, and if you honestly work your personal recovery plan, you will be happily surprised at how many people are in your corner.

Repairing Relationships

An undeniable consequence of active addiction is the damage it does to the relationships you have with your family and friends.  By a major goal of recovery is to make amends for the harms that you have done to others.  While this cannot erase the past, it can demonstrate your commitment to a better future.

  • Becoming a better listener—In their own way, each of your loved ones will tell you what they need from you.
  • Respect the feelings of others—Forgiveness will come when they are ready, not on your schedule.
  • Look forward, not backward—Acknowledge your past mistakes, but do not let them define your future. You are no longer that person.
  • Walk the walk—Don’t just talk about how you have changed for the better, live your life in a way that shows your commitment to sobriety and recovery.
  • Practicing acceptance—Unfortunately, some relationships cannot be repaired. Do your best, respect their decision, and move forward.

Here’s the best news—your friends and family have been hoping and praying for years for you to get better.  Give them time to see you are sincere this time, and most of them will welcome the new you with open arms.

Avoiding Triggers

If you can be one step ahead of those triggers—meaning that you’re able to recognize when the emotions are coming on, before they’re full-blown and driving you in two relapse mode—you can stay ahead in your recovery, preventing a relapse before the triggering events can lead you there.”

~ Dr. Suzette Glasner-Edwards, PhD, The Addiction Recovery Skills Workbook

One of the first and most important lessons learned in rehab is the need to avoid “triggers” that can put you back on the path to relapse into active drinking and drug use.  Triggers can be almost anything, as long as they either remind you of substance abuse or put you in the negative emotions state that precedes substance use.

  • People—Former drinking and drug buddies who are still using, family members and friends who get drunk or high around you, negative people, etc.
  • Places—Liquor stores, bars, head shops, dispensaries, places where you used to buy or use drugs
  • Things—Pipes, rolling papers, roach clips, needles, other drug paraphernalia, empty liquor bottles or beer cans, advertisements, certain movie or TV scenes
  • Activities—Going to nightclubs, backyard barbecues, “partying” on the weekend,
  • Emotions—Self-pity, resentment, unresolved trauma, anger, shame
  • Times—Times of day when you would regularly drink or use drugs
  • Dates—Birthdays, anniversaries, New Year’s Day, etc.

Now obviously, it is not possible to completely avoid EVERYTHING that has the potential to trigger cravings.  But what you can do is first, limit your exposure, and second, come up with safer alternatives or modifications.

For example, you might avoid your favorite bar by taking a different route home from work.  Or, you and a sober friend might clean out your home to completely remove any past evidence of your addiction. You may even need to go as far as making new friends whose lives don’t revolve around alcohol and drugs.

Here’s the thing—every positive change you make, however small, can pay off in a big way.

In Part 2, we will continue talking about what you can expect from a life after rehab.

Premium Substance Abuse Treatment in Orange County

Since 1978, Chapman House Treatment Centers has been the top alcohol and drug rehab program in Orange County, California.  By providing the services you need the most—detoxification, an intensive outpatient program, residential rehab, dual diagnosis treatment, and long-term aftercare and support, Chapman House can help you and your loved ones safely and successfully recover from the terrible disease of addiction.

If you or someone you care about needs help, contact Chapman House TODAY.

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