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Programs for Recovering Alcoholics in Aftercare

People with moderate to severe alcohol use disorders as diagnosed by the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 will often initially become involved in an acute rehabilitation program. Such a program may consist of initial withdrawal management, and very structured and supervised inpatient treatment, residential treatment, or intensive outpatient treatment. Withdrawal management programs and other inpatient or residential rehabilitation programs can last 30, 90, or 120 days, or longer. Even individuals participating in residential treatment programs for more than 120 days need to become involved in aftercare programs once their structured rehabilitation program has been completed.
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The Importance of Alcohol Aftercare

People who simply go through withdrawal management and complete a rehab program for an alcohol use disorder or any substance use disorder are not “cured.” Instead, they have simply completed the initial stages of their recovery. There is no cure for alcoholism or any addiction. The goal of the rehabilitation program is to give clients tools to help them engage in abstinence and recovery on a long-term basis.

Once an individual leaves an acute rehabilitation program, they will face numerous challenges and temptations, and they will experience various personal setbacks that can lead to relapse. Aftercare programs are designed to give individuals ongoing assistance and continued instruction, and to provide support to enhance their chances of experiencing a successful long-term recovery.

Despite all the tools available for individuals who are being treated for substance use disorders like an alcohol use disorder, the probability that an individual will engage in a successful program of recovery without a relapse is actually less than 50 percent in many cases. For instance, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that relapse rates for individuals who are in active treatment programs is actually relatively high (nearly 40-60 percent in most cases).

NIDA and other sources, such as the American Association of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), report that individuals who simply complete acute rehabilitation programs without engaging in aftercare programs relapse at rates that are nearly 100 percent. These observations have led to the notion that relapse is part of recovery, and individuals who are in active recovery programs and suffer a relapse have a far better chance of dealing with the relapse, getting back on their recovery program, and moving forward with a decreased probability of additional relapses than individuals who are not in an active recovery program, such as an aftercare program.

Many treatment programs now use an individual’s experience of a relapse as a chance to help the individual learn to become stronger, even though the goal of the program is to avoid relapse. Thus, becoming involved in an active aftercare program following completion of an acute rehabilitation program for an alcohol use disorder is an essential component to ensuring one will have a solid chance at long-term recovery.

What Type of Rehab Aftercare Programs Are Available?

According to professional sources, such as the textbook Treating Substance Use Disorders: Theory and Technique, an aftercare program is a long-term program of continued treatment that is used following completion of an acute phase of treatment for a substance use disorder. As mentioned above, these programs allow individuals to get past many of the setbacks, including relapses, that occur once they complete acute rehabilitation programs; however, NIDA reports that less than 50 percent of individuals with substance use disorders who complete acute rehabilitation programs follow up with competent aftercare programs.

outpatient care

residential alcohol treatment programs

What to Look for in an Aftercare Program

The major organizations mentioned in this article, such as NIDA, APA, and ASAM, have also identified factors that are crucial to the success of an aftercare program.

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