Same-day admissions available. Call Now.

Life After Rehab: What To Expect

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Danielle McAvoy, RD, MSPH

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Editorial Policy

Last Updated - 12/29/2022

View our editorial policy
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling 888-648-0738 now.

Updated 12/29/2022

Life after rehab involves committing to lasting recovery, learning to manage your triggers and staying engaged with a relapse prevention plan.

Completing an addiction treatment program is an important first step in the recovery process, but finishing rehab does not mean that a person is suddenly “cured.” After rehab, it is important to stay engaged in recovery to reduce the risk of relapse and remain on the right track. Knowing what to expect after drug rehab, as well as learning strategies for rebuilding your life and preventing relapse, can help guide you throughout your recovery journey.

What Happens After Rehab?

Life after rehab will look a little different for everyone, as it depends on each person’s unique situation and the type of rehab program they completed. If you have completed an inpatient rehab program and are returning home, you can expect life to feel quite different from how it did while you were living on-site at a treatment center.

You may be happy that you have successfully finished rehab, but once you return home, you are likely to be faced with triggers. While attending an inpatient program, you did not have access to drugs, and you were not around the people you spent time with in active addiction. Faced with these triggers once again, you may feel anxious or experience some cravings. This is a normal part of the recovery process.

The Importance of Aftercare

Completing an inpatient or outpatient rehab program is only the first step in recovery. After finishing a program, it is critical that you stay engaged in recovery via aftercare programming to reduce your risk of relapse. Even with treatment, the risk of relapse remains due to the chronic nature of addiction.

Another reason that aftercare is important is that you may experience symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) after completing rehab. PAWS begins about four to six weeks after a person stops using drugs and can continue for several years. This is because it takes time for the brain to recalibrate after it has been thrown off balance by substance misuse. People who experience PAWS will have some or all of these common symptoms:

  • Problems regulating emotions
  • Sleep disturbances and fatigue
  • Trouble thinking
  • Increased sensitivity to stress
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Drug cravings

Since these symptoms can persist for quite some time after a person completes rehab, it is important to stay engaged in aftercare to help you maintain recovery.

Types of Aftercare Programs

Your post-rehab aftercare plan will vary depending on your unique needs. It may include services such as sober living environments, support group meetings, therapy, case management and more.

Sober Living Homes

Sober living homes are drug- and alcohol-free residences that allow people to live within the community after completing a rehab program. These homes are beneficial for those who do not have stable housing or who would be faced with triggers, such as family members who are still using substances, if they returned home.

Sober living homes typically have rules that residents must follow. These rules may include maintaining employment, submitting to drug screenings, attending support group meetings and performing household chores. They are often led by a house manager who provides support and enforces house rules.

Related Topic: Halfway Houses vs. Sober Homes

Support Groups

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can be a key component of your aftercare plan. These groups link you to others who are in recovery and allow you to establish social connections with people who are working toward the same goal of lifelong recovery.

Ongoing Therapy

Ongoing therapy or counseling can help you to stay committed to recovery. During therapy sessions, you can overcome the underlying issues that led to addiction and develop strategies for coping with stress or triggers.

Case Management

Case management can be an important part of life after rehab. A case manager oversees your treatment and can provide a range of invaluable services. Services can include helping you identify resources, linking you to needed services and ensuring that you are able to stay in treatment.

Alumni Programs

Some rehab centers offer alumni programs that keep you connected to the recovery community. These programs may offer support group meetings, online resources and local events like charity races or fundraisers.

Building a New Social Life After Rehab

One of the most important components of relapse prevention is avoiding the people, places and things associated with your addiction. People you spent time with while in active addiction and places you used to go to drink or use drugs can be triggers. This means you will likely need to develop a new social life.

You can do so by participating in support group meetings, exploring your hobbies or participating in activities that promote a healthy lifestyle. You might consider joining a local gym, taking up a hobby or volunteering at a community organization to make new social connections that do not center on drugs or alcohol.

Tips for Rebuilding Your Life After Rehab

The following strategies can be useful for navigating life post-rehab:

  • Take things slow and give yourself time to heal: Addiction recovery is a lifelong process, and you shouldn’t expect life to be perfect after rehab. Give yourself plenty of time to overcome the effects of addiction, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel your best right away.
  • Find new hobbies: When you’re caught up in active addiction, most of your time is spent seeking out and using drugs. In life after rehab, you will have free time to explore hobbies. Now is the time to try something new and discover what your interests are.
  • Create an exercise routine: Physical activity is included in many relapse prevention plans because it is so beneficial for those in recovery. Exercise has been shown to improve mood and cognitive functioning, and it reduces the relapse rate during addiction recovery.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Prioritizing proper nutrition is at the top of the list of what to do after rehab. Addiction often leads to poor nutrition and even nutritional deficiencies, so maintaining a healthy diet can help the body recover.
  • Get involved with your community: Life after addiction means building new habits that do not involve substance misuse. Getting involved in your community through volunteering and participating in local events allows you to fill your time with sober activities that support your recovery.
  • Recognize and learn to manage your triggers: Finishing a treatment program doesn’t mean you will never experience triggers for relapse again. Recognizing when you are triggered can help you avoid triggering situations and develop strategies for managing triggers when faced with them.
  • Learn stress management techniques: Stress is a common trigger for relapse, so it is important to include stress management techniques in a relapse prevention plan. Using relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or activities you simply enjoy can reduce your stress and keep you on track with your recovery.
  • Practice self-love: Taking time to care for yourself is perhaps the most important part of recovery. This means practicing self-love, both physically and emotionally, to reduce the risk of relapse. Self-care activities include proper sleep, good hygiene, setting aside time for yourself and simply being kind to yourself.

How To Maintain Sobriety After Rehab

Maintaining sobriety after rehab requires an ongoing commitment to recovery. You can maintain sobriety by continuing with aftercare services like counseling and support groups, as well as developing hobbies that do not involve drug or alcohol use.

We are here when you are ready.

Speak with a Recovery Advocate today to talk about your treatment options.

Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

Having a strong relapse prevention plan is also critical for staying sober post-rehab. You may develop a relapse prevention plan with a counselor during the aftercare process, or your rehab center may develop a relapse prevention plan with you prior to your discharge.

Your relapse prevention plan should include a list of triggers that you expect to increase your risk of relapse, as this helps you become aware of what situations to avoid. The plan should also detail what you will do when faced with an unexpected trigger. Finally, a relapse prevention plan will include routine activities like practicing self-care, taking time for exercise and attending support group meetings.

What To Do if You Relapse

Some people believe that relapse means that they have failed or that treatment was ineffective, but this cannot be further from the truth. Addiction is a chronic disease; as such, it can involve relapse as a normal part of the recovery process. If you relapse, you should begin by being kind to yourself and recognizing that relapse does happen.

Next, it is important to reach out for support and return to your relapse prevention plan, if appropriate. In some cases, relapse may mean that it’s time to return to treatment, which may involve re-enrolling in an intensive outpatient program. In other cases, you might decide that you need to increase the intensity of your aftercare services to provide you with additional support.

For Family and Friends

If your loved one is exiting rehab and returning home, they will need your support. Having people to turn to during times of stress is incredibly important in the post-rehab phase. These tips can be helpful if a friend or family member has just completed rehab.

What To Expect When Your Loved One Gets Back From Rehab

When your loved one returns from rehab, you can expect them to go through an adjustment period. They may struggle with maintaining sobriety while living at home, especially if they have just completed an inpatient program that did not have the triggers they are exposed to within the community. They will need your support more than ever, and they might experience drug cravings, mood swings and even mental health symptoms like depression.

How To Support a Loved One After Rehab

You can offer your support to a loved one by being available to talk but also respecting their boundaries. There may be times when they want to talk with you about their struggles. Other times, they may want to be alone to practice self-care and engage in a drug-free hobby that they enjoy. Take time to be present for your loved one and provide them with the support they need.

How To Recognize the Signs of Relapse

Relapse can be a part of the addiction recovery process. If your loved one has completed rehab, it is helpful to be aware of the signs of relapse. This can help you support them in getting back on track with their recovery if they experience a setback.

Some early signs that suggest a person is at high risk of relapse include isolating from others, failing to attend support group meetings and practicing poor sleeping and eating habits. When a person is seriously considering using substances again or already has, they will show signs like lying and glamorizing their past substance use. They may also begin spending time with people they used to use substances with, and they may start claiming that they can have just one drink or control their use.

What To Do When a Loved One Relapses

If your loved one relapses, the best thing you can do is continue to be supportive and compassionate. Do not berate them, scold them or tell them that they have failed. Instead, reassure them that relapses happen and they can get back on track. Suggest that they contact their counselor to discuss the relapse and make a plan for recommitting to recovery.

How To Convince Your Loved One To Go Back to Rehab

Convincing your loved one to go back to rehab isn’t always easy, but you’ll be more effective if you come from a place of care and concern. Express to your loved one that you are there to support them in maintaining their sobriety. You may even remind them that you understand addiction and know that just like any other chronic health condition, there may be a need to return to treatment when the condition worsens.

It can also be helpful to discuss specific behaviors that concern you. You may say you’ve noticed that they have stopped caring for themselves, started skipping work or returned to friends who are still using substances.

Get Addiction Treatment in Florida

If you’re looking for addiction treatment services for yourself or a loved one, The Recovery Village is here to help. We offer a full range of treatment services, including medical detox, medication-assisted treatment, inpatient rehab and outpatient programs.

When you’re ready to transition out of rehab, our staff will work with you on a long-term aftercare plan, which can include referrals to local support groups to help you maintain your sobriety. Contact us today to learn more about our Florida-based treatment services or begin the admissions process.

View Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is drug addiction?” July 13, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2022. 

Alsheikh, Mona. “Post-acute withdrawal syndrome: The major cause of relapse among psychoactive substances addicted users.” Archives of Pharmacy Practice, 2021. Accessed July 31, 2022. 

Polcin, Douglas; Mahoney, Elizabeth; Mericle, Amy. “House manager roles in sober living houses.” Journal of Substance Use, 2021. Accessed July 31, 2022. 

Melemis, Steven. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 3, 2015. Accessed July 31, 2022. 

Vanderplasschen, Wouter; Rapp, Richard; De Maeyer, Jessica; Van Den Noortgate, Wim. “A meta-analysis of the efficacy of case management for substance use disorders: A recovery perspective.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2019. Accessed July 31, 2022. 

Huang, Junhao; Zheng, Yuqing; Gao, Dongdong; Hu, Min; Yuan, Tifei. “Effects of Exercise on Depression, Anxiety, Cognitive Control, Craving, Physical Fitness and Quality of Life in Methamphetamine-Dependent Patients.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2020. Accessed July 31, 2022. 

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Substance use recovery and diet.” MedlinePlus, May 10, 2020. Accessed July 31, 2022. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment and Recovery.” July, 2020. Accessed July 31, 2022.