What Happens After Inpatient Treatment?
I remember distinctly the first thought I had after successfully completing the ninety-day inpatient treatment. The treatment I had received was to deal with my addiction to alcohol, opiates, and benzodiazepines.
I’m done. Great! I did it!
But then I spoke with my counselor, an addiction professional named Bob.
“We think you should probably have aftercare, Dan. Your case is pretty hardcore,” he said.
This bothered me. Why?! I . . . I was done with treatment. Wasn’t I?
I said, “But I have to find a new job. I have to get back to my family. I’m all ‘rehabbed’ out!”
“We know what we’re doing, Dan. In your case, you’ll have a way better chance at remaining sober if you do aftercare and you live in a sober living environment for a while,” he said.
I had an idea of what aftercare was, but not the other thing he mentioned.
“What’s a ‘sober living environment’?” I asked.
“It’s just a house where you’ll live. Probably with a bunch of other guys trying to get sober too. They have requirements—you gotta stay sober, obviously. But there are other requirements too.”
To be honest, I was scared. It sounded like treatment . . . again. And with a bunch of new people I didn’t really care to get to know. “How long will I have to stay there?” I asked.
Bob smiled and answered without a beat, “As long as it takes.”
So, I went to live in a sober house in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I resided there for a little over seven months. My family was still living in western North Dakota, my wife putting together our belongings for the move to Minnesota.
And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. It was even fun sometimes.
The question addicts and alcoholics inevitably will ask themselves after finishing an inpatient or outpatient treatment program for addiction is: what now?
The question is a natural one, and not unfair. However, another inevitability is the answer most people new in recovery find for themselves:
I’ve got so much to do. I have to get back to my family, my job . . . my life!
Unfortunately, usually this answer isn’t the right one.
For most people, you didn’t become addicted to drugs or alcohol overnight. And it will usually take more than thirty days to not only get sober, but also find sobriety.
That’s where aftercare and a sober living environment come in. Statistically, your chances of finding long-term recovery are much better if you opt to put your life on hold for a while, and you continue to take the advice that professionals will give you. Ironically, you won’t be giving up all that much, but you’ll be gaining so much more of your life than you realize.
However, just what—exactly—are aftercare and sober living environments?
Sober Living Environment
A sober living environment (or sober house, halfway house, or three-quarters house) is a residential living facility for alcoholics and addicts, most of them newly in the process of recovery from drugs and alcohol. Most of these homes are privately owned or operated by a charitable organization. All of them will have rules that residents must follow; often, the rules differ depending on the organization’s philosophy or modality of recovery they subscribe to. Although many homes allow participants in their programs to live at their facilities who come from a non-institutional setting, the vast majority of residents are usually those who have recently completed a rehabilitation program.
In my case, I opted to live at a home run by a privately owned and operated firm. The company owns over a dozen sober living environments in Saint Paul, Minnesota and the surrounding area. I went directly from inpatient treatment to live in a small home in a quiet neighborhood. The requirements weren’t all that difficult to follow.
In the group home I was at, we had weekly, random drug and alcohol monitoring. If a resident refused the urine analysis, he or she would have to vacate immediately from the premises with his or her belongings. The same rule applied if a resident failed the test. Fortunately for me, I never used, so I never failed the tests I was given.
Another requirement for me was that I had to attend at least four support groups in the area per week. Since I followed the Twelve Step model, I attended both AA and NA groups. In addition to attendance of support groups, my sober house required that I be either looking for, or holding a position at a job for at least 30 hours per week.
The other residents knew that a few of the other guys living with us in our sober house were lying about their attendance to the support groups. In their cases, each of them eventually ended up failing a drug screening, and they were asked to leave. According to the company who owns and operates the facilities, nearly 80% of the residents successfully complete their stay without relapsing.
As I recall the time I spent in the home, I remember it was generally an enjoyable experience. I made some lifelong friends and living in the home definitely was the right choice for me.
One point that bears mentioning is the terminology used for the different types of homes. A halfway house is similar to a sober house, but it has stricter requirements for coming and going and checking in. A three-quarters house is one step less strict than a halfway house. A sober house is just a group home with the least requirements.
Aftercare, simply put, is continued care that a patient will receive after a more intensive treatment in detox, in an inpatient rehabilitation facility, or an outpatient facility.
Sometimes, a patient in an inpatient facility will transition to a less-intensive program, but still attend “treatment,” such as a daily outpatient program. In my case, this is what was recommended to me, and I took the advice and followed through. I did this directly after I had completed my 90-day program at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s facility in Center City, Minnesota.
In my case, I directly went into a sober living home while simultaneously attending a daily intensive outpatient program. I did this for an additional thirty days after I had completed my 90-day program in the inpatient facility.
Aftercare is also a term to describe ongoing care programs such as: Peer Recovery Support Centers, Recovery High Schools or Colleges, Supportive Case Management, or Community-Based Case Management.
The rationale behind both aftercare and a sober living environment is to give the person seeking long-term recovery ongoing, positive habits to abstain. The continued care essentially “rewires” the brain to live without the chemicals, and allows the person to live a more fulfilling life.
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer openly living in long-term recovery. He is the author of Sobriety: A Graphic Novel, a Hazelden Publishing, youth and young adult resource. Daniel is currently working on his fourth book, which covers the topic of resiliency. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.