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Why Transitional Care Matters for Addiction Recovery

Completing a quality addiction treatment program is a great start to recovery. You get away from the stress and bad influences of your regular life, you work with a therapist, you get a chance to recover your health, and you establish new habits in a supportive environment.

You can accomplish quite a bit in a relatively short time during an intensive program. However, it’s also important to have a smooth transition back to regular life.

The protective, supportive environment of inpatient treatment is great for healing but it doesn’t much resemble real life. Too often, people who do well during treatment have trouble once they leave.

An estimated 40 to 60 percent of people who get treatment for a substance use disorder relapse within the first year of completing treatment. Transitional care can help you get back to your normal life with less risk of relapse. Here are some common ways people get tripped up and how to get past them.




Perhaps the biggest difference between being in treatment and being home is the lack of support. When you’re in inpatient treatment, everyone around you is either trying to help you stay sober or trying to stay sober themselves.

The staff works hard to make sure there are no drugs or alcohol in the facility, that you’re relatively comfortable, that you have the emotional support you need, and that you’re living a relatively healthy lifestyle. 


When you get home, things may be much different. The people around you may not know how to support you. Unlike treatment staff and other people in recovery, they may not really understand what addiction and recovery are like.

Since people in recovery are often encouraged to distance themselves from friends who drink and use drugs, they often feel lonely at first. You may not feel like you have someone you can talk to when things get hard. 


For most people, the best way to cope with this lower level of support will be to attend mutual aid meetings, such as a 12-Step group. It’s fairly common for people to attend meetings every day—at least for a while—after leaving treatment.

Another good option, especially for people who have had difficulty transitioning in the past, is to step down to a lower level of care. So, for example, if you have just completed a month of inpatient treatment, you might enter an intensive outpatient program so you can start getting back to normal life while retaining much of the continuity and support of treatment.




One thing you can’t help but notice in inpatient treatment is that everything happens on schedule. There’s a time you get up, times for meals, times for therapy, times for activities, and so on.

While this certainly makes it easier to coordinate everyone’s activity, it also serves a therapeutic purpose. When you have a healthy routine, it’s easier to make healthy choices. You are more likely to get enough quality sleep, eat at regular times, exercise, and do other things that promote recovery. 


Unfortunately, a month in treatment is typically not long enough to make this routine stick. Research indicates that it takes an average of two months—and often much longer—to make a new behavior automatic.

By the end of the month, you may be pretty used to your regular schedule and so you may suddenly feel pretty adrift when you go home and no one cares what time you get up or do anything else.


One thing you can do is to preserve your treatment routine as much as possible. Although it may not be automatic yet, it should be relatively easy if you make a deliberate effort.

Having some firm commitments, such as daily 12-Step meetings or intensive outpatient sessions will also help give some structure to your days. If you’re worried about being at loose ends after leaving inpatient treatment, one option is to enter a sober-living environment.

You will live with other sober people and have less structure than inpatient treatment but more structure than living at home. Typically, residents have a curfew, are required to work or look for work, are assigned chores, and participate in 12-Step meetings.


Applying Skills to Real Life


Finally, it’s important to remember that there is a huge difference between applying cognitive and behavioral strategies in a safe, controlled environment like inpatient treatment and applying them out in the world when there are real stakes. The hypotheticals and past situations you deal with in treatment aren’t always the same as the challenges you face in real life.

Real life is endlessly inventive when it comes to creating problems and you will inevitably have to face some challenges you didn’t prepare for. 


Some of the solutions already mentioned will certainly help with this. Attending 12-Step meetings, participating in intensive outpatient treatment, and living in a sober residence all give you opportunities to discuss new problems with people who have been there.

Many treatment programs also offer follow-up counseling for just this purpose. 


Another good idea is to get a therapist who you can see regularly. Most people with substance use disorders have co-occurring mental health issues, such as major depression, anxiety disorders, and others that typically require ongoing, or at least intermittent, support.

A therapist with experience treating addiction and co-occurring disorders can help you manage any mental health issues while also applying your recovery skills to whatever challenges you’re currently facing. 


Going from the structured, supportive environment of inpatient treatment to the chaotic indifference of real life is too often overwhelming for people new to recovery. Recovering from addiction is a long process that entails mastering new skills, thinking in different ways, and making healthy lifestyle changes, all of which takes time and support. 

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that treatment is just the beginning of recovery and we support our clients with follow-up care, including sober living options. For more information, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.

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