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Alcohol Relapse Prevention - The Necessity for Aftercare

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Every day, we work with people hoping to enrol in a residential alcohol recovery programme at a private clinic. Our clients will spend between three and 12 weeks in residential treatment, depending on the seriousness of their problems. Alcoholics with the worst problems will undergo up to 12 weeks of rehabilitative therapy combined with 12-step work, counselling, and other therapies that address their particular needs. But what happens after that? Alcohol relapse prevention gets under way.

Studies have consistently shown that alcoholics who relapse are most likely to do so within one year of completing a residential treatment programme. This is that which motivates private clinics to provide aftercare services to their clients. Aftercare picks up where residential treatment leaves off, significantly increasing the chances that clients will get past the first year without relapsing.

It should be noted that statistics also show recovering alcoholics who undergo appropriate aftercare are significantly less likely to relapse. The extra support and treatment they need during the first year carries them through the most difficult days of recovery to bring them to a point where they can stand on their own.

Why Aftercare so Necessary

The idea of aftercare is still relatively new within alcohol recovery. Consider the earliest days of alcohol treatment, days that led to the development of Alcoholics Anonymous in the late 1930s. Aftercare was not a concept back then because alcohol recovery was considered an ongoing, lifetime thing. Now that we know alcoholism can be permanently cured, we have a different way of looking at recovery.

The only real cure for alcoholism is total abstinence. Still, maintaining abstinence for the rest of one's life is easier said than done. This is why aftercare is so necessary. Consider the following circumstances that may come up during the first year of recovery:

  • Drinking with Old Friends – The average alcoholic who enters a residential treatment programme leaves behind a set of friends who are probably excessive drinkers as well. It is not uncommon for people to seek out those friends upon conclusion of the rehab programme, especially to celebrate recovery. But there's a catch: meeting up with those old friends carries with it the temptation to drink with them.
  • Exposure to Stress – A common complaint among alcoholics in rehab is that their lives are incredibly stressful. They use alcohol to deal with the stress. Unfortunately, stress does not simply disappear during rehab. All of those things that caused stress in the past are likely to do so in the future. Drinking may once again be a temptation for dealing with it.
  • Old Habits Realised Again – Excessive drinking is a habit as much as it is a physical and psychological condition. Therefore, being exposed to old habits in the days and weeks following rehab may include temptations to drink again. It takes a concerted effort to develop new habits that keep drinking at a safe distance.

We have presented you with just three circumstances that could lead a person to start drinking again. There are so many more. The point is this: as successful as alcohol detox and recovery are they do not eliminate the temptation to drink once treatment is complete. The average alcoholic in recovery experiences regular temptations through those first few weeks and months following treatment.

Aftercare services are designed to help recovering alcoholics deal with both the temptations and circumstances. As we said earlier, aftercare picks up where residential treatment leaves off. Supplying aftercare services is one way the private clinic can go the extra mile to ensure that clients do not relapse.

What Aftercare Looks Like

Alcohol relapse prevention is all about continuing to foster the personal growth that started during treatment. Some private clinics put together complete aftercare packages that clients are expected to participate in upon leaving the residential facility; others simply provide appropriate information and expect clients to pursue aftercare themselves.

Neither approach is necessarily better or worse than the other. Indeed, aftercare comes down to the same decision required for initial treatment. The individual who wants to stay sober will make a greater effort to be faithful to aftercare; another who is not interested in sobriety may not bother.

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What does aftercare look like? It can take the form of many different kinds of therapies and support initiatives although there are some types of services that are fairly universal to all aftercare arrangements. These are:

  • Support Group Participation – One the strongest forms of aftercare we know of is support group participation. Alcohol support groups have been the subject of plenty of ridicule over the years, but they remain effective as an alcohol relapse prevention tool. Participation helps those in recovery stay sober through counselling, activities, and mutual accountability.
  • Professional Counselling – Another form of aftercare is that of professional counselling. A counsellor may continue with the therapies presented in the residential setting, or he/she may prefer to utilise his/her own counselling strategies instead. One-on-one counselling is very beneficial in either case.
  • 12-Step Work – The classic 12-step programme developed by Alcoholics Anonymous is still one of the most effective ways to help individuals overcome drinking problems. Those who use the 12-steps in treatment will continue with them during aftercare. The 12-steps encourage each individual to take ownership of his or her future.
  • Medical Care – In some cases, ongoing medical care is still necessary during the aftercare process. This may include regular examinations from a doctor or nurse; it might also include prescription medications used to control cravings until those cravings subside.
  • Replacement Activities – Alcoholics learn to structure their entire lives around drinking. In fact, doing so is one of the symptoms of the condition. Preventing relapse means finding other activities that can replace drinking. Some people choose to exercise, others prefer art, and still others turned to things such as cooking, gardening, and even volunteering in the community.

The beauty of aftercare as an alcohol relapse prevention tool is that it is highly customisable. There does not need to be a set aftercare programme that every individual in recovery follows religiously. Aftercare can be uniquely customised to take advantage of a client's strengths and interests while staying away from weaknesses and other options client finds uninteresting.

Are you currently in alcohol recovery? If so, we hope you have plans in place to seek aftercare following the conclusion of your treatment. Remember that aftercare significantly reduces the chances of relapse within the first year after recovery. You owe it to yourself, your family, and everyone who loves you to participate in an aftercare programme for as long as it takes. Aftercare is your key to permanent sobriety.

For more information about alcohol relapse prevention, we invite you to contact us using our 24-hour helpline. Our trained counsellors can answer any questions you might have relating to residential alcohol treatment and aftercare options. The call is free to you and without obligation.

We are an independent advice and referral service offering alcoholics and their families a connection to treatment providers. Our independence allows us the freedom to work with a full range of service providers including private rehab clinics, private counsellors, alcohol support groups and charities, and NHS services.

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