What Happens After Rehab?

What Happens After Rehab?

Man jogging with his dog through grass, early in the morningRehab is just one step on the journey toward lasting recovery. Inpatient treatment can help stabilize symptoms of substance abuse or mental health isues but is rarely enough on its own. People leaving rehab also leave behind consistent support and a stable environment. 

“Recovery really starts once you leave rehab because that’s when real life happens. Recovery is a lifelong process of finding health, happiness, and balance,” says Cynthia Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC. Turner is an Ashburn, Virginia, therapist who specializes in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction

What to Expect After Rehab: The Challenges of Recovery 

Leaving behind family, friends, or a career can be challenging, yet many people in recovery find the challenges of rehab far less daunting than those of life after rehab. Rehab may provide a break from conflict with loved ones or the stress of a career. People recovering from addiction may be tempted to use again when they spend time with old friends. Stress, boredom, and familiar settings can all be triggering, so recovery demands a comprehensive strategy that extends beyond the walls of rehab. 

Recovery After Rehab: Continuing Treatment 

People who leave rehab need continued support. Mental health or substance abuse treatment makes the transition easier, and can reduce the risk of a relapse. Some options include:

  • Attending support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Some rehab facilities offer support groups for former residents. These groups can provide a sense of continuity and stability. 
  • Enrolling in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy builds upon the work of rehab, and can help people in recovery cultivate healthy lifestyles. 
  • Addressing underlying physical health problems. Mental and physical health are inextricably linked. For example, some people with chronic pain become addicted to prescription opioids. 
  • Considering virtual support. A wide range of apps can monitor mood, support recovery, and offer tips for leading a healthy lifestyle.

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No single approach works for everyone. Most facilities help residents design a long-term recovery program before they leave. Assessing your needs, lifestyle, and financial constraints can point toward the right combination of treatment. 

Remaining Healthy After Rehab: Lifestyle Strategies 

A healthy lifestyle supports long-term recovery in two ways. First, it improves overall health. Second, it offers a distraction from cravings or painful emotions.
 
Effective lifestyle strategies that can support recovery after rehab include:

  • Getting plenty of exercise. Exercise can increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of motivation and pleasure. 
  • Adopting a healthy sleep schedule.
  • Spending time with loved ones who support and understand your recovery. 
  • Adopting a new hobby. For people abstaining from drugs or alcohol, a new hobby offers a healthy alternative to substance abuse. 
  • Avoiding habits that you associate with substance abuse. For example, if you used to drink at a certain bar, try meeting people at a new location. 
  • Managing stress through meditation, therapy, journaling, talking to a friend, or visualization. 

References:

  1. Gordon, A. J., & Zrull, M. (1991). Social networks and recovery: One year after inpatient treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 8(3), 143-152. doi:10.1016/0740-5472(91)90005-u
  2. Gossop, M., Stewart, D., & Marsden, J. (2008). Attendance at Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, frequency of attendance and substance use outcomes after residential treatment for drug dependence: A 5-year follow-up study. Addiction,103(1), 119-125. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.02050.x
  3. Gustafson, D. H., Mctavish, F. M., Chih, M., Atwood, A. K., Johnson, R. A., Boyle, M. G., . . . Shah, D. (2014). A smartphone application to support recovery from alcoholism. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(5), 566. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.4642
  4. Sutoo, D., & Akiyama, K. (2003). Regulation of brain function by exercise. Neurobiology of Disease, 13(1), 1-14. doi:10.1016/s0969-9961(03)00030-5
     

Last Update: 12-11-2017

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