Once a person has successfully completed a substance use disorder treatment program, the person has met all the goals of the program and the active phase of treatment is finished. Completing a formal substance use disorder treatment program is a major life accomplishment of which you should be proud; however, the work completed in the program is not over. What exactly do individuals who have completed substance abuse treatment programs have to do next? The answer to that question is ongoing aftercare.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse and the American Association of Addiction Medicine suggest that the reality of recovery is that:

  • The greatest vulnerability for relapse actually occurs within the first 90 days following completion of a treatment program.
  • A quarter to slightly over a third of individuals completing addiction treatment will be back in treatment within a year. Over half of all people who complete addiction treatment programs will be back in another addiction treatment program within five years.
  • Recovery cannot be considered to be fully stabilized until an individual has achieved five years of sustained recovery.

Of course, people just completing a detox program and then going on without any type of follow-up care are at even greater risk for relapse.


stop relapse with aftercare
An aftercare program is a program that is designed to prevent relapse. This program is implemented once you have completed a formal substance use treatment process. While aftercare is designed to maintain a recovery program, it is also an opportunity for growth.

Aftercare should be thought of as a set of activities that are designed to maintain gains achieved in the earlier phases of treatment as well as opportunities to promote new learning. You should view an aftercare program as a phase for long-term recovery in the ongoing process where you continue to engage in activities to improve overall wellbeing.

The primary goal of aftercare is the prevention of relapse, but it is also an opportunity to continue to learn and grow in recovery and in life.

Because the potential for relapse is very real, the aftercare program should be planned while you are actively involved in treatment. The best way to do this is for the individual to work with their therapist or counselor and devise a long-term plan that involves the following steps:

  • Formally write out as much of the plan as possible.
  • Identify potential family members and friends who can be counted on for support following formal treatment. Continuing to develop new relationships and meet new friends who are committed to long-term recovery can be especially helpful.
  • Develop a strategy to effectively deal with former associates, such as “drinking buddies” or others who are still using, and who will inevitably try and make contact.
  • Identify some type of ongoing active participation in a focused long-term recovery program. This can be ongoing participation in a group counseling situation or ongoing participation in a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, another 12-Step group, or another support group. Many of these groups can be found online or through local hospitals and community health centers. In addition, referrals are often available from addiction treatment programs. Many therapists specializing in substance use disorder treatment also have ongoing group meetings.
  • During treatment, one should have addressed the types of triggers that sparked substance abuse. Recognizing and identifying new triggers should not end with formal treatment. Common triggers for relapse include boredom, frustration, self-pity, anger, complacency, cockiness, and impatience with certain aspects of life. It is important to learn to recognize these signs and act accordingly.
  • As part of a self-improvement program, attempt to initiate an exercise program, such as walking or another activity to maintain physical fitness. Keeping active is a very important component of the recovery program.
  • Get involved in meditation, or employ stress reduction techniques.
  • Continue reading on the subject of recovery. In addition, maintaining and keeping in recovery journal, and periodically reviewing what has been written in it, can help to remember where you’ve come from, stimulate new problem-solving skills, develop a sense of accomplishment, and build self-esteem.
  • Giving back to others can also be an important aid in an aftercare program. This can include doing some volunteer work or participating in local social support groups, such as 12-Step meetings.
  • Finally, attempt to better yourself in other areas. Get a new job, return to school, engage in specialized training for work, or participate in other activities designed at self-enhancement.

Some Final Recommendations

CSRI  Recommendations
It is important to remember that the planning for successful aftercare program begins while still in treatment. This should be a component of the discharge process from formal substance use disorder treatment. However, once you leave formal treatment, you will have a lot of freedom regarding how you approach aftercare. Here are some other recommendations to follow:

  • Work with therapists to create as thorough a plan as possible. Try to anticipate as many different aspects of life after formal treatment as possible and plan for them.
  • Be sure and incorporate the advice of your therapist. Creating your aftercare plan should be a collaborative process.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself.
  • Attend social support groups where there are members with decades of successful recovery. Their stories can help in your own development of an aftercare plan.
  • While the goal of the plan is to have a targeted approach, it is also important to remember that nothing is set in stone. Be flexible, and make necessary adjustments.
  • Set regular dates for assessing progress and reevaluating the aftercare plan. This can be done with your therapist, and these regular meetings can be part of the ongoing aftercare program.
  • If relapse occurs, it is important to remember that relapse does not represent failure, but it represents an opportunity to learn, grow stronger, and move forward. Sometimes, this means starting all over from square one, and sometimes, this means simply adjusting the components of the aftercare program that weren’t quite working right. Do not be afraid to ask for advice, get help, or start over.


In order to develop a successful aftercare program, remember to:

  • Seek assistance from therapists, friends, and support groups.
  • Document aspects of the plan, such as writing out the aftercare program and keeping a recovery journal.
  • Specifically define how you will prevent relapse.
  • Stay active and involved in the aftercare program.

summary of aftercare