How to Prevent Relapse Through Aftercare Monitoring

A man suffering from alcohol relapse holding his hand in front of his face
June 19, 2014
|   Updated:
August 13, 2023

One of the riskiest times for a person in recovery is immediately after an individual leaves treatment. In treatment, systems are in place to prohibit drinking. Without these restrictions, temptation can rear its head and preventing alcohol relapse can be difficult.

The opportunity arises to return to old “persons, places and things” including former drinking buddies, neighborhoods where parties are held, and beer displays at Safeway. Even for the person who doesn’t consciously want to drink, prior habits can trigger cravings. The brain still contains those old circuits.

To prevent relapse, and to encourage a healthier lifestyle, the recovering person is encouraged to start anew. “You only have to change one thing: everything,” is a common phrase in the recovery community. A complete lifestyle change can be overwhelming – even for someone who is not in recovery – making aftercare monitoring essential.

About Aftercare Monitoring

In broad terms, aftercare monitoring refers to a program designed to prevent relapse when a recovering person leaves treatment. Monitoring should not be thought of as a way to “police” client behavior, but as an important tool to ease the transition. Usually, monitoring lasts between six months and one year, but can take significantly longer.

Each individual develops an aftercare plan before her treatment “graduation.” Some must sign a contract committing to its completion before being released. This relapse prevention treatment plan will not look the same for everyone, instead focusing on specific needs the client expresses, such as finding safe and sober housing, employment or childcare – or gaining access to educational opportunities. Addressing these needs staves off hopelessness and helps provide structure for daily living.

Most aftercare plans also include support meetings, individual counseling sessions and/or peer mentoring. Some also include family therapy. The hope is to continue the work started in treatment and to satisfy legal supervision requirements, if needed. Through regular reflection, clients learn to recognize red flags before they lead to a return to the addiction and to develop alternative ways to cope with life’s stresses.

Monitoring can also include actually monitoring sobriety through UAs or breathalyzer tests. These alcohol relapse prevention tools can serve a two-fold purpose: to determine if the aftercare is effective or if the person needs to return to treatment, and to hold the person accountable for his own aftercare recovery process.

About the Author

Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.

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