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Individuals who complete the very early stages of a treatment program for a substance use disorder are often very tempted to make the determination that their struggle is over.
This is particularly true of individuals who complete a detox program. Detox simply assists a person in negotiating the withdrawal process and avoiding relapse during this very acute recovery stage. Detox must be followed by more intensive therapy, but even this is not enough. The majority of professional sources indicate that some type of aftercare is necessary following the acute stage of recovery in order for an individual to be successful on a long-term basis.
The term aftercare in the context of substance use disorder treatment refers to additional treatment that an individual participates in once they complete a formal program. Aftercare is needed for those who participate in either inpatient or outpatient treatment programs.
The basic elements of an aftercare program include the following:
Discussion of aftercare include any of the above approaches or combinations of any of the above.
The vast majority of sources, both older and more recent, such as information provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), indicate that overall relapse within the first year to two years following initial recovery occurs in nearly 50 percent of all individuals trying to recover from substance use disorders.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that relapse rates for substance use disorders are similar to the relapse rates observed for other medical conditions that have a significant behavioral component to them (e.g., hypertension or diabetes). Again, these relapse rates are generally around 40-50 percent. Thus, many sources suggest that relapse is often part of the process of getting better, and individuals learn from relapses and move on to become stronger in their recovery. However, the goal of substance use disorder aftercare treatment is to avoid relapse.
A number of research studies support the notion that being the engaged in an aftercare program can significantly reduce the risk of relapse for individuals in recovery and can also be extremely important in guiding individuals who do relapse to get back on track in the recovery program. The long-term success rate for individuals who engage in an aftercare program compared to those who do not indicates that being in an aftercare program is advantageous to long-term recovery.
Thus, consistent with the claims of all of the major organizations involved in the research and treatment of substance use disorders, aftercare programs significantly increase the chances of recovery.
A 2011 study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse suggested that individuals who are satisfied with their withdrawal management treatment and who have been in withdrawal management treatments for longer periods of time are more likely to engage in aftercare than individuals who do not remain in these programs long enough to sufficiently go through the withdrawal process and/or are not satisfied with their acute rehab treatment. Thus, one key to getting an individual into a needed aftercare program is to ensure that their residential withdrawal management program is satisfactory and lengthy enough to develop a foundation for recovery.
Finally, SAMHSA reports that four specific factors are also associated with successful long-term recovery from a substance use disorder:
Based on the research evidence, it is clear that participation in aftercare programs significantly increases the probability that one will be successful over the long-term in recovery from a substance use disorder. Substance use disorders are considered to be chronic disorders and as such require longer participation in treatment.