Can Recovery Be Successful Without Aftercare?


The battle with a debilitating drug addiction is a lifelong process despite rehabilitation only taking up a small slice of a person’s life. What better way to ensure a smooth transition into what lies ahead of addiction than undergoing aftercare with the same professionals that helped you when you were at your most vulnerable. The alternative is being thrust back into the same life that led to a drug habit in the first place and potential relapse. Don’t underestimate your addiction. You’ve worked hard to overcome it; now take the time to make sure it never comes back.

Gone For Good

Picture of an attractive woman making a salad in her kitchen. Completing a full recovery from a drug addiction is a huge achievement. Despite the monumental work behind a successful recovery, there is plenty of work to do yet. Whether you’ve beaten an addiction to a single substance or multiple substances, or your problems are more rooted in mental health than substance abuse, anyone who has gone through an effective drug treatment program can benefit from aftercare. This is the transitional period between graduating from rehabilitation and re-entering regular life.

Aftercare is much like the halfway houses provided to former drug addicts, prisoners and psychiatric patients so they can gradually become accustomed to life in general.[1] This integral step of a successful recovery offers a similar opportunity. Aftercare maintains many of the perks found in a professional drug rehabilitation center such as therapy and structure, while allowing patients to re-familiarize themselves with the regular challenges of day-to-day life at the pace that is best-suited to result in an enduring recovery.

Back So Soon?

Anyone who is currently in a drug recovery program, plans to be or has recently been discharged from one should consider aftercare. The statistics on relapse rates with or without aftercare regarding alcohol, cocaine, heroin and prescription pills are highly illuminating. Relapse is defined as the return to using a substance regularly and often uncontrollably abusing it. The lifetime relapse rates for various substances after treatment are:

Graph comparing the common relapse rates for alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth and heroin addiction.

The high rates of relapse among patients of almost all drug addictions can be disconcerting if you aren’t already familiar with how powerful addictions can be. Why would someone who went through such a traumatic, destructive experience return to their old ways, especially after undergoing lengthy treatment to achieve exactly the opposite? Substance abusers generally cited the same three causes for their relapse: anger/frustration, temptation or environmental pressure. There are several factors that are taken into account when the likelihood of a relapse for a given individual is analyzed:[4]

  • Age when addiction began
  • Years of consistent use
  • Concurrent mental illness
  • Societal pressures
  • Types of treatment received
  • Support systems

Although the longer a person in recovery goes without relapsing, the less likely he or she is to do so, that does not rule out the possibility of a relapse years or even decades after finishing their treatment. It’s more accurate to think of addiction as a disease, which should shed some light on why former substance abusers who have completed recovery end up right back where they started or worse. The comparable rates between various drugs indicate that addictive tendencies are all rooted in the same behavioral, biochemical and cognitive areas of the brain despite the addictive power of each substance.[2]

Aftercare Leads To A Successful Recovery

According to a study published in Addiction, patients who received treatment within 30 days of finishing detoxification were 10 times less likely to relapse, while those who forewent further treatment experienced rates of relapse between 50 and 80 percent.[3]

Graph showing the difference in addiction relapse rates with and without aftercare. Additionally, individuals who relapse after completing rehabilitation take on a much greater risk of overdosing depending on how long he or she has managed to stay clean. This is due to substance abusers defaulting to the amount of drugs they used to take in the past without accounting for tolerance dropping off during the period that he or she temporarily kicked the habit. After remaining sober for a certain period of time, a given user’s tolerance has fallen far out of line with his cravings, creating a dangerous situation in which an initial relapse following a completed recovery could end up being that user’s final rush.

This is not to say that relapse is tantamount to death or even failure. In most cases, relapse is a natural part of recovery. For instance, heroin users will often relapse 8 to 10 times before beating the addiction for good.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix for addiction. It maintains a powerful grip on substance abusers and, in some cases, the temptation to relapse due to the stress of regular life or pressure from “friends” can be too great. Any relapse, no matter how harmful to an individual’s body or mind, should never result in a substance abuser giving up and allowing the respective substance to dominate his life. As it is, help is only one phone call away.

A Way Out

Aftercare or not, if you or someone you know is currently abusing a substance, be it alcohol, cocaine, heroin, prescription pills, etc., please let him or her know that help is available. Furthermore, if you know someone who plans to, is, or has recently completed recovery, please inform them of the benefits of aftercare and urge them to look into aftercare on their own.

Unity Behavioral Health is a recovery center located in North Palm Beach, FL that specializes in treatment for all types of addiction as well as mental health illnesses. Now that you know how vital aftercare can be to a patient’s full, successful recovery, please don’t hesitate to pass on the information. Give us a call today at 561-708-5295

  1. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/halfway-house
  2. http://www.alcoholmd.com/alcoholrelapse.htm
  3. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/drug_free_housing_for_substance_abusers_leaving_detox_linked_to_fewer_relapses
  4. http://wwwdasis.samhsa.gov/teds04/tedsad2k4web.pdf