An Aftercare Programme – Plan Ahead

Aftercare refers to the formal engagement with therapeutic resources or self-help activity following an episode of addiction treatment, whether that has been undertaken on an in-patient or out-patient basis.  The main idea is to identify ways the patient can sustain and build on any treatment gains.  To maintain momentum, a break in the process of recovery should be avoided. This can be addressed by ensuring an overlap between the treatment undergone and the aftercare programme that follows. The keys to success are continuity and consistency.

Draft plans for aftercare early in treatment

It is essential that an aftercare programme is not cobbled together almost as an afterthought shortly before the patient is discharged.  Given the relative brevity of most addiction treatment programmes, an outline of aftercare planning should start as soon as a comprehensive profile of the patient has been established in the admission process.  Of course the picture can change quite significantly over the course of a treatment episode as new perspectives emerge.  In drafting any aftercare programme such developments should be taken fully into account.

Collaboration between the patient and treatment provider is essential

It is best for an aftercare programme to be devised collaboratively with the patient and, wherever feasible, involve the family and employer. It should not simply be handed down as a prescription concocted by the treatment centre or practitioner. The patient will benefit from taking ownership of the plan and be more likely to feel motivated to follow through with the elements of the plan once they have left treatment.

The aftercare programme needs to take full account of the individual’s social circumstances, including family relationships, work life and leisure interests. While prioritising the practices that support the essential everyday commitment to recovery, it takes into consideration the realties confronting the person more broadly. It is important to ensure that the patient is not set up to fail.

12 things to consider in shaping an aftercare programme

  • Give thought to aftercare planning as soon as possible after admission
  • Draft an outline aftercare programme based on what is already known about the patient
  • Mid-treatment, patient and practitioner take a collaborative approach to developing the plan
  • Take full account of what emerges in treatment and be prepared to adjust the plan
  • Involve significant others wherever safe and feasible
  • Set realistic, incremental goals to reduce the risk of demotivation
  • Identify sources of support in the patient’s home community and make links before discharge
  • Build on personal and social resources available to support recovery
  • Identify something that is purposeful, meaningful and emotionally rewarding in which to engage
  • Include actions to address ongoing mental and physical health issues
  • Identify high risk factors for relapse
  • Identify actions in case of relapse

Recovering a life

The goal is for recovery to become integrated into everyday life. Planning the aftercare programme identifies approaches to enable this to happen so that recovery is sustainable. Integration means recovery becomes part of life and life becomes part of recovery.

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