Aftercare vs. Continuing Care

Often in dealing with addiction many people have a misconception of the severity of the disease, and what it takes to recover from it. Before being able to understand the importance of continuing care compared to aftercare when it comes to the successful treatment of addiction it is vital to understand the acuteness of addiction.

Addiction is a disease, meaning it is fatal, progressive, and chronic. It is not difficult to understand the fatality of addiction, with the media outpouring stories about the opiate epidemic, and 5 Americans dying every hour from opiate overdoses. 1 in 3 Americans are touched by addiction in some shape or form, either you know, are related to, or are someone addicted to alcohol or drugs. Being that close, one can easily see the progressiveness. Ask any addict where it started and where they are now. The illness makes their use, their life, constantly getting worse and never getting better without help. When one is addicted to alcohol the allergy, or abnormal reaction, to that substance will be the same for varying substances. The same goes if someone is a cocaine addict and has this illness, their bodies and minds will react the same (abnormally) if using alcohol or other mind-altering substances. The fact that addiction is chronic means that it is lifelong, a person addicted will not be able to normally use substances again in their life. In short, if one is addicted they will always be an addict, untreated their addiction will continue to get worse and will lead to death.

If addiction is a fatal, acute, illness it should be treated as such. Completing a treatment program alone is insufficient. A lot of programs offer aftercare, which in its nature puts most, if not all, of the responsibility onto the former client. There may be an alumni meeting or aftercare group, but that is about it. Most programs, while the client is in treatment, will attempt to set the client up with a discharge plan. A discharge plan outlines a continuing care plan for that individual – this is what’s vital. Most people aren’t aware of the importance of this step and direction. At this point they feel that they have completed treatment and are there for ready to go back into society and can succeed on their own from there. We are dealing with alcoholism and addiction, a disease that is chronic and fatal – 30, 60, or 90 days of treatment is not enough! If someone had diabetes, a chronic and fatal illness, they aren’t treated solely for 90 days or less. Addiction is deadlier than diabetes, yet we are treating it with less time. Follow through of a discharge plan and stepping down from higher levels of care to other professional driven levels of care is crucial for long-term recovery. That is what continuing care is, and it helps allow professionals to stay involved and give the sufferer support, structure, accountability, and guidance.

Continuing care comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There is sober living, which presents the client to have a safe, sober environment to live in straight out of treatment. Most sober living programs have structure and accountability through rules and meetings that help ease the addict back in to the real world. It allows and motivates the addict to build a support network and get involved in their local recovery groups. There is intensive outpatient (IOP), which provides less treatment than inpatient or residential, where the addict attends individual therapy and process groups for 3-4 days a week. One can find an addict an individual therapist to see on a regular basis for some time, along with these other continuing care options. Recently there has been a new wave of continuing care, Recovery Coaching. Recovery coaching provides individualize support for the addict. A recovery coach will meet regularly with the addict looking at what that individual is struggling with on their recovery journey and use tools to help motivate them to overcome their personal difficulties. They hold the addict accountable to what has been proven to work while monitoring their progress. Of course, someone straight out of treatment might just pick one and can just pick one of these continuing care options, but why sell yourself short? All of these options, along with participating in your aftercare, work together beautifully and add the maximum chance for an addict to overcome their illness. If faced with a different fatal and chronic illness, would one really tell the doctor they weren’t going to try everything recommended?

Written by Katie Barr – Director of Recovery Services