Coping With Life After Addiction
Over the last century, the way we as a society view addiction and rehab has changed drastically. Once upon a time, addiction was looked at a moral failure caused by the addict’s choices. It was seen as finite and completely under the control of the person suffering. Today, we know the truth. Addiction is a disease, and sadly, not one that just goes away with treatment. Many people who struggle with addiction fight this battle for their whole adult lives. The majority of people addicted to drugs and alcohol have to seek addiction treatment more than once for their disease.
Since our understanding of addiction and rehab has evolved, so should our concept of what life after rehab should look like. Here, we discuss some of the key factors that control life after addiction and how addicts can manage their disease safely and effectively over a long period of time.
Addiction Can’t Be Cured
According to the Harvard Health Blog, the roots of addiction come from our natural tendency to escape discomfort and self-medicate. People abuse controlled substances and pleasurable activities as a way to derive pleasure and, eventually, the body can’t function without this learned behavior. Because of this deep-seated compulsion to perform the activity or use the substance to which we’re addicted, addiction isn’t something that can just be cured.
The same can be said for mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety. They fundamentally change the way the brain functions, so it isn’t as easy as having a bone fixed or a cyst removed.
This frames the way we think about addiction and mental health in the present and how even the treatment community gets into some bad habits when it comes to judging a person’s rehab by how “successful” it is. The fact is, the properties of success and failure just aren’t relevant when talking about chronic diseases.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) puts it best when discussing how differently we’ve traditionally viewed addiction compared to similar lifelong conditions like asthma and high blood pressure. The average relapse rates for the latter two conditions are actually higher than for substance abuse disorders, but we don’t say someone is “successfully managing” their addiction as we do with other chronic illnesses.
This does a disservice to people struggling with addiction or their mental health in society since it implies that these disorders can be cured. For that reason, when we say “life after rehab,” we mean that addiction and mental health can be lifelong battles.
So You Get Out of Rehab — Now What?
Ideally, when you undergo treatment for addiction or mental health issues, you don’t just get thrown back into society. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recommends a transition back into a general population as part of its industry-standard Continuum of Care. The majority of effective treatment programs will follow the continuum to some degree; if you enter a “rehab” setting that doesn’t, you should reconsider the value of the program.
What “the Transition” Entails
Most paths to recovery start with detox and then inpatient treatment, where you’re a resident at the treatment facility that’s administering your recovery process. Not all rehabs are the same, and they offer a wide variety of treatments and services, but this is the path we use at FHE Health because it’s a standard that’s accepted by the industry as the most effective treatment.
The first step when you get out of residential care is to get into a routine that includes contact with a consistent support system, especially in the first few years. The continuum involves programs like partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, where you’ll meet with your treatment staff, including counselors, therapists and addiction medicine specialists, for a set amount of time per week, usually before or after work.
After that, many rehabs have aftercare or some alumni involvement — for example, FHE Health strives to give “graduates” as many connections to their recovery as possible after treatment — but you’ll probably want to find one or more groups to get into a routine of meeting with.
The Importance of Support Groups
There are some well-known group meetings like NA and AA, and there are lesser-known local and regional meetings. The important part is that you find a support system that will give you the strength and accountability to stay strong, even in the face of temptation and adversity.
This is also where you’ll be warned: No matter how long it’s been since you last had a relapse, you should never become overconfident about your recovery.
This is why most 12-step groups abide by a step focused around humility and also why religion is a common theme in recovery support groups. It helps addicts stay on a path of lifelong power when they remember a higher power and remind themselves to stay humble. When you stop being humble, you start to take risks, and risks can turn into relapses.
This can turn some people in recovery off of groups like AA and NA, but the goal of the religious language in these steps isn’t to push religious theory on anyone; it’s to remind you that you need something to hold onto to provide strength in the hardest times in your recovery. As Alcoholics Anonymous (UK) states in its mission, “AA has only one requirement for membership, and that’s the desire to stop drinking.”
Get to Know Yourself
Depending on what your treatment program taught you, there are some tools you should be familiar with as you start out after receiving treatment for addiction or a mental health disorder.
Primarily, you should know who and what to avoid, and you should know who you are.
This is why many successful treatment programs emphasize self-reflection. You need to understand what behaviors and social interactions are most detrimental to your ability to keep yourself from using or relapsing in your recovery. These are your triggers. You should also know how to build new, healthier habits as part of a new lifestyle.
This personal growth will help guide you after rehab, and it won’t be easy. There will likely be reminders of your old life around every corner, and you may have to make amends to those you have hurt.
Ultimately, this is the way you should use rehab and, with the right program, how rehab should treat you. Rehab doesn’t exist to change “what’s wrong with you”; it should be to help you change yourself. Addiction involves being consumed by a negative habit, and it can happen to anyone. It’s how you respond that will decide how your addiction recovery goes when rehab is in the past.
Life After Rehab in Summary
Don’t get us wrong: There are countless lessons you’ll have to learn in life to stay strong and sober (or in the case of treatment for mental health, high-functioning) after rehab. Some of these include:
- Addiction isn’t curable, so don’t think of recovery as temporary.
- Find one or more support systems to use after rehab to remind you to stay strong, humble and accountable for your recovery.
- Leverage the time you get during treatment to drive lasting growth in yourself, improve your ability to make lasting changes in your life and either improve relationships or find new, positive bonds with new people.
At FHE Health, we set up patients with the services, tools, and treatments to build the foundation for lasting recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or mental health issues, contact us today and learn more about how we can help you make positive changes in your life before, during and especially after treatment.