The process of learning to live in sobriety takes longer than most people think. In fact, overcoming addiction to substance abuse often requires long-term drug and alcohol rehab followed by a transition to sober living and simultaneous or subsequent aftercare. This is all part of comprehensive extended care.
Why Extended Care is Important
Consider that addiction doesn’t occur overnight. It may be accelerated by the frequency of use, dosage or quantity of consumption, type of substance used, age, co-occurring mental health issues and/or other medical conditions. With some extremely dangerous substances, such as methamphetamine, addiction can occur at the first use.
While the common concept of addiction treatment is 30 days in an inpatient facility, or going to outpatient treatment following detox, the truth is that the longer1 the addicted individual remains in treatment, the greater the likelihood that he or she will maintain sobriety. Going back home too soon, re-entering the same environment that was associated with using, seeing the same alcohol- and drug-using friends, not having an adequate support system, being unprepared to cope with recurring cravings and urges all take a tremendous toll. Relapse2 in such situations is not only common, it’s almost predictable.
With extended care, no one who’s working to overcome addiction and live in sobriety is thrust back into the stressful everyday environment they left to get treatment. Instead, there’s a gradual transition: from 90-day or long-term residential treatment3 to sober homes to intensive outpatient programs and aftercare. Along the way, those participating in extended care programs have ongoing support, encouragement, access to continuing counseling, therapeutic programs and services, and live in a welcoming community of peers in recovery.
No wonder extended care is so highly recommended for the best recovery outcomes. Here are some of the specific benefits of extended care.
A Safe, Structured Environment
After completing treatment for drug and/or alcohol abuse and addiction, it’s often very difficult for the newly sober individual to find his or her way in early recovery. Not only is vulnerability at heightened levels, there’s also confusion, doubt, fear and insecurity. He or she simply isn’t ready to deal with everyday stressors, cravings4 and urges, encountering the people, places and things associated with addiction. It may not be a welcoming return home, but one that’s threatening, unsupportive and perilous. With extended care, however, those who are newly sober can continue to pursue their recovery in a safe and structured environment. If they need help, it’s always there.
Support from Like-Minded Sober Peers in Recovery
Figuring out how best to live a new life in sobriety isn’t an automatic response. Nor does it always come easily to the newly sober. The longer he or she can remain in a community of like-minded sober peers in recovery, the greater the likelihood of success in maintaining sobriety. Everyone has good and bad days. A key benefit of extended care in sober homes is the presence of peers who can be there to offer support and encouragement when things don’t go well, when there are fears, or temptation to use. Sober peers also benefit from each other’s successes and accomplishments. Such a support system may not be available to the newly sober individual at home, so it’s doubly important that they receive it while they’re still learning how to live in sobriety.
Access to and Participation in Continuing Therapy
Recovery is never a one-and-done process. Instead, it’s a lifelong journey. Rather than do a quick detox5 and cursory participation in a short drug or alcohol rehab, those who choose extended care can continue with their education on the disease of addiction, take part in ongoing counseling, learn and practice coping strategies and techniques, and participate in other types of therapy.
Resources and Assistance Prior to Transitioning Back Home
Educational opportunities, individual and group therapy, sober recreational activities, job training skills, learning relapse prevention6, creating long-term goals, beginning to build confidence in communicating effectively with others and fostering interpersonal relationships are highlights of extended care. The more educated the newly sober individual is about the disease of addiction, the less likely he or she is to relapse. Living in a therapeutic community7 with access to a wealth of resources and assistance is sound preparation prior to transitioning home.
Learning and Practicing Accountability
While in the throes of addiction, accountability is virtually nil. It’s hard to be accountable for actions when drug cravings compel the never-ending pursuit of substances of abuse. During extended care, along with overcoming the addiction that brought them there in the first place, individuals begin to reassert their levels of accountability. They must get and keep a job, perform required daily chores, and help as part of the tight-knit and supportive sober living community. This is not only good practice for returning to everyday life, it’s also highly motivating and helpful for overall well-being.
Longer Time to Heal
One month isn’t always enough to heal from drug and alcohol addiction. Before being thrust back into the real world, newly sober individuals who participate in extended care, including a several months’ stay in a transitional home, enjoy a longer time to heal, regain confidence in their abilities, learn how to deal with situations that previously caused them to use, find hope and a sense of purpose in sobriety. With 24/7 access to medical and psychological care, and surrounded by peers pursuing the same goal of sobriety, they can feel confident that they have a safety net for the time they need it to heal.