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What Happens after Rehab? A Look at Aftercare

Aftercare planning is important for preventing relapse after rehab, especially since about 40-60% of people relapse after substance use treatment.1,2 Having a plan in place can help you feel more confident about what happens after rehab and how to maintain your recovery through this transition.1

In this article:

What is Aftercare Planning?

Having a treatment center help you create a realistic aftercare plan can be key to long-term recovery.3 The professionals you work with in treatment will help you create an aftercare plan potential that works for you.

An aftercare plan is an individualized strategy for how you will maintain your progress after residential treatment. Research shows that these plans help prevent relapse, even for people who are at high risk.1

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) says recovery is “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full.” 4

Recovery is a three-phase process.5 The beginning phase is about abstaining from substance use or at least limiting the amount of alcohol or drugs you are using.5 For this reason, aftercare plans after rehab tend to focus on the skills and services you need to prevent relapse.

What is Included in an Aftercare Plan after Rehab?

A treatment provider in rehab can help you identify risk factors for relapse, develop appropriate coping skills, and provide you with referrals to other supportive services like sober living or ongoing therapy. Having a plan can help you feel confident about what to expect after rehab.

Relapse Prevention Techniques

Relapse prevention techniques are strategies to support you and prevent relapse. The treatment team in rehab might ask you to identify what triggered you to use drugs or alcohol before treatment. This can be different for each person, but common triggers are:6

  • Mental health symptoms, like depression, anxiety, or insecurity
  • Challenging social situations, such as conflict
  • Pressure from others to use substances

Identifying your triggers can help you become aware of certain situations and emotions that may cause you to want to use substances. Once you know what triggers you, you can figure out what skills you can use to cope with that trigger. For example, if you know that feeling sad will make you want to use substances, then finding ways to cope with sadness can help you tolerate cravings and avoid the substance use.

Sober Living

Depending on your situation, sober living may be a good way to transition into what happens after rehab. The structure, safety, and encouragement sober living provides can be highly beneficial to continuing recovery.7 There are different types of sober living, but your treatment team in rehab might be able to identify certain sober living homes that would be a good fit for you.

Sober living homes are temporary living situations. They not only offer stability and safety but may also provide support and other recovery-related services. For example, some sober livings have 12-step meetings onsite. These residencies tend to be somewhat structured and have certain requirements in order to live there. These residencies tend to be somewhat structured and have certain requirements in order to live there, which may include: 7

  • Attending 12-step meetings
  • Following curfew
  • Completing regular drug tests

Ongoing Therapy or Treatment

Aftercare referrals may also include recommendations for ongoing therapy or treatment. There are different treatment options available after rehab. These are:8

  • Intensive outpatient programs: Intensive outpatient programs are centers that provide intensive services several hours per day, several days per week. These programs tend to offer therapy, peer support groups, and other supportive services like medication management. These programs allow someone to work and live offsite.
  • Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment is provided at regularly scheduled intervals, such as once a week, every other week, or once a month. You may see a therapist, doctor, or psychiatrist in outpatient treatment.
  • Peer support groups: Referrals to support groups like 12-step meetings might be included in your care plan.

Ongoing support can help you continue to make progress in your recovery.5

How Can I Use an Aftercare Plan to Support My Recovery?

An aftercare plan functions to support you in maintaining the progress you made in rehab. However, recovery is about more than stopping or limiting the amount of substances you use.9 Lifestyle changes are necessary to support stable recovery.9 Relapse prevention techniques and supportive services (i.e., sober living, ongoing therapy) help create the foundation for your recovered life.

Your aftercare plan can support you in moving through the final phases of recovery. These phases are:5

  • Repair: This stage focuses on repairing the damage the addiction caused. It can also mean repairing any unresolved trauma or emotional pain that contributed to you developing an addiction.
  • Growth: This phase is when your focus shifts to developing skills or positive life experiences that you weren’t able to have while in ­rehab.

This process will take time. An aftercare plan can also include strategies that help you during these phases of addiction recovery. In order to achieve recovery, an aftercare plan should focus on four main categories of recovery:4

  1. Health: Prioritizing your health means being willing to manage health conditions and symptoms. This also can look like making informed choices that support your overall well-being.
  2. Home: Home is a stable and safe place to live.
  3. Purpose: Purpose comes from having a sense of meaning in your day-to-day life. This can come from having independence, income, and the ability to participate in society in a meaningful, authentic way.
  4. Community: Having a community provides support and a sense of belonging. Community comes from relationships and social connections that offer support, friendship, love, and hope.

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Lifestyle Changes

Including things into your care plan after rehab that help you prioritize these four pillars of recovery can help you create a balanced, recovered lifestyle. Here are some suggestions for other things you can include in your aftercare plan:5,9

  • Make healthy decisions: This will look different for everyone depending on your unique health needs. However, some basic healthy lifestyle tips include getting enough sleep, eating the right amount of food for your body, and incorporating exercise in a sustainable way. Staying consistent with medication is another way to show your body some care.
  • Have fun: Enjoyment is part of a meaningful life. One of the consequences of substance misuse is losing touch with the things that bring you joy. Reconnecting with enjoyable hobbies or finding new ones is a good way to bring some pleasure and fun back into your life.
  • Build a support system: Connection and community are necessary for recovery. You can receive support from peers in your 12-step or recovery groups. Therapists and treatment providers are also a source of support. Connection with supportive friends and family is also important. Your relationships may have been damaged as a result of substance use. If this is true for you, then it might be helpful to attend family therapy or couples therapy to improve your relationships.
  • Consider educational or career goals: Substance use can get in the way of educational and career goals. However, it’s never too late to pursue your goals; a treatment provider or peer may be able to refer you to educational or career counseling. These counselors can help you figure out what path is right for you and help you create a plan to get there. This can add meaning to your life.

Aftercare following rehab can include anything that helps you continue working toward recovery. Creating an aftercare plan can benefit your recovery in big ways.1

If you feel that you could benefit from addiction treatment, please contact 866-470-3561 (Who Answers?) to speak with a treatment specialist.


  1. Manuel, J., Yuan, Y., Herman, D., Svikis, D., Nicholas, O., Palmer, E., & Deren, S. (2017). Barriers and facilitators to successful transition from long-term residential substance abuse treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 74, 16-22.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Treatment and Recovery.
  3. Patton, D. and McDowell, T. Substance Abuse Aftercare Treatment. Arizona State University, Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Recovery and Recovery Support.
  5. Guenzel, N. & McCharge, D. Addiction Relapse Prevention.
  6. Gonzales, R., Douglas, A.M., Beattie, R., Ong, C.A., Glik, D.C. (2012) Understanding Recovery Barriers: Youth Perceptions About Substance Use Relapse. American Journal of Health Behavior, 36(5), 602-614.
  7. Polcin, D.L., Korcha, R., Bond, J., Galloway, G. (2010). What did we learn from our study on sober living houses and where do we go from here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425-433.
  8. National Institutes of Health. Types of Treatment Programs.
  9. Melemis, S.M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88, 325-332.

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