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What Is Continuing Care in Addiction Treatment?

Continuing care models play an important role when treating substance use disorders that result in long-term recovery.

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What Is Continuing Care?

There is little disagreement in the medical world that addiction is a chronic or relapsing condition for many clients. Consequently, many health care systems and clinicians are beginning to recognize that chronic or relapsing addiction requires continuing, long-term care. Incorporating some form of lower intensity continuing care services after the primary, more intensive treatment phase appears to be a likely requisite for positive outcomes.

Continuing Care Definition

Continuing care is a period of lower-intensity treatment, such as residential care or an intensive outpatient program, conducted after an initial intensive treatment period. Continuing care offers help for individuals who need long-term support for addiction treatment. It is often an appropriate next step after initial detoxification and rehabilitation for those recovering from a substance use disorder.

The needs of people with addiction change over time, so this type of treatment provides ongoing support and care via services like counseling sessions, relapse prevention plans, and sober homes. Continuing care has been shown to improve outcomes by reducing the risk for relapse.

Furthermore, continuing care involves moving people between various levels of care that differ in intensity as the clients’ symptoms worsen or improve. For example, a person who successfully completes residential treatment can begin to receive Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) services.

Why Is Continuing Care Important?

Addiction is a chronic condition that requires long-term management and care. The treatment process typically starts with detoxification, which removes all drugs or alcohol from the body. Once detoxification has taken place, the individual needs to continue their treatment beyond the withdrawal period. Addiction is a complex brain disease that causes changes to how the brain works, and these changes can last for years after detoxification. These changes make it difficult for individuals to manage withdrawal symptoms independently or resist relapse without continued care.

Continuing Care and Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment generally includes two phases. The initial phase can consist of treatment options such as detoxification, residential treatment, and in some cases, intensive-outpatient treatment and standard outpatient treatment services. Depending on the client’s initial level of care, the second phase of treatment typically includes some form of less intensive and tapped care such as sober homes, self-help group sessions, relapse prevention, and individual or group counseling sessions.

As a rule of thumb, the first phase of the treatment program always involves more high-intensity levels of care, while the second phase involves lower-intensity care. Most individuals begin addiction treatment with medically managed residential treatments, step down to IOT care, then move to standard outpatient treatment.

If the client begins treatment with IOT care, they will transfer to a lower intensity outpatient care (e.g., self-help groups) once they complete the first phase of treatment. The initial treatment phase and the second level of care can vary depending on the individual’s addiction severity.

Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are another form of continuing care for addiction treatment.

Why It Matters in Addiction Treatment

There are several reasons why continued care is so critical in addiction treatment. To begin with, transitions in care level, such as discharge from residential treatment, are high-risk time periods.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 90% of people with alcoholism relapse within four years after completing alcohol dependence treatment.1 Moreover, recent drug relapse statistics show that over 60% of individuals who do not seek continuing care relapse and return to drug use.2

The second reason why continued care matters in addiction treatment has to do with its high success rate. Research shows that continuing healthcare improves outcomes by 50%.3

More specifically, 73% of people who attended one or more AA meetings per week during the first six months after completing the first phase of treatment remained abstinent throughout that entire six-month period. People attending meetings only once per month experienced lower abstinence rates (45%). Only one-third of individuals who did not attend any AA meetings throughout the first six months after completing the initial phase of treatment remained abstinent at the six-month mark.4

In other words, the frequency of continuing healthcare attendance during the first 12 months after the initial phase of treatment has been shown to increase the likelihood of abstinence.4

Importance of Continuing Care Model

As mentioned earlier, transitions between care levels are high-risk time periods. For example, a client may receive inpatient hospitalization and wait weeks or months before starting a rehabilitation program. A lot can happen during those weeks or months when they are not receiving any type of treatment, such as relapse, jail, or worse, like an overdose.

What Makes the Model of Continuing Care Effective?

Continuing care for addiction recovery means clients transition from one type of treatment to the next, depending on how they respond to treatment. For example, a person who has completed detox may be immediately referred to a drug and alcohol rehab without any pause in treatment. Once they are ready to leave rehab, they receive a follow-up plan that might involve sober living homes, self-help groups, relapse prevention, etc.

Continuing Care Goals

Some of the goals of continuing care involve:

  • Helping people achieve abstinence of reduction in substance abuse
  • Helping clients maintain progress in the initial treatment phase
  • Increasing client retention
  • Helping people improve their quality of life and social functioning
  • Promoting mutual support

Important Continuing Care Services for Addiction Treatment

There are various treatment programs available for people recovering from substance abuse—each with its own benefits and advantages to help and retain abstinence and sobriety. Different clients have different needs, thus making it important to have options that cater to each situation and circumstance.

Residential Treatment Programs

Residential treatment programs are designed to give clients the help they need to recover from drug addiction while living in an alcohol-free or drug-free environment. These programs offer 24/7 onsite supervision and care to cure people of their addiction, not just manage it. A residential treatment program is often recommended when other treatments, such as medication and outpatient care, have not improved the client’s symptoms.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment is the most common form of alcohol addiction treatment. Outpatient treatment provides clients with an opportunity to continue maintaining their social life outside of the program. These programs do not offer 24-hour care or monitoring, which can be difficult for those with a severe case of addiction.

There are several types of outpatient treatment programs, including:

    • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) : PHP is a program that allows people with an addiction to attend rehab during the day and then go home at night. It can be a good option for people who need addiction treatment but do not want to stay in a traditional inpatient program.

    • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) : IOP programs are relatively short in duration, lasting anywhere from three to five months on average. Users attend the program for one to two hours per day, three to five days a week.

    • Standard Outpatient Treatment (OP) : The main difference between IOP and standard OP is that standard OP programs require clients to attend treatment only one to three days per week for sessions that last from one to three hours. Standard OP usually lasts for several months.

Aftercare Programs

Aftercare treatment programs are brief, less intensive treatments that follow the primary, more intensive phase of care. Aftercare programs offer ongoing support to prolong sobriety and help prevent relapse after rehab. The goal of aftercare programs is to help clients transition back into society and build new relationships with others.

There are different types of aftercare programs, varying in intensity, setting, staffing, and duration of treatment. The most appropriate type of aftercare program will depend on the client’s symptoms, needs, and status following the completion of the initial phase of treatment.

The most common types of aftercare programs include:

    • Sober houses: Sober living houses are a great option for clients who have completed an inpatient treatment program. They are also appropriate for people with risky home living situations or those who lack strong support outside of treatment.

    • Outpatient aftercare therapy: clients attending outpatient aftercare therapy as part of their aftercare program live at home while attending treatment a few times a week. Outpatient aftercare can increase or decrease in intensity.

    • Support groups: Support groups are a key component of addiction treatment. They provide a supportive community where addicts can talk about their feelings and receive guidance from others who have been through similar struggles. The most well-known mutual support groups are 12-Step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Continuing Care at Great Oaks Recovery Center

Continuing care at Great Oaks Recovery Center involves discharge planning, relapse prevention, and aftercare services. Here’s what you need to know about each one of these programs.

Discharge Planning

Once a client completes the first phase of the recovery process, our center’s board-certified professionals start working on discharge planning to ensure the client has all the community and recovery resources for their specific circumstances and wellness goals.

Discharge planning at Great Oaks includes:

    • Sober living arrangements encourage that more stability and provide a similar home structure to an inpatient treatment facility. Clients attend activities such as work, school, volunteerism, and family and friend outings.

    • Intensive outpatient services that allow people to attend treatment a few times per week while living at home, going to work or school, and maintaining other daily activities.

    • 12-Step support groups that individuals can attend both in-person and online for encouragement and guidance.

Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention at Great Oaks Recovery Center involves aspects of targeted therapy, exercise, nutrition, mind-body practices for stress relief, and other methods. The staff continues to monitor clients’ progress with their Trac9 relapse prevention program. This helps the Great Oaks’ clinicians understand how the client is feeling, what is working in their aftercare plan, and what needs to be adjusted to enjoy a life of sobriety.

Continuum of Care (Aftercare)

Aftercare at Great Oaks Recovery Center gives clients ongoing access to the center’s recovery specialist. Clients can reach out to the Great Oaks’ Recovery Center specialists any time they need to modify their recovery plan. Other activities include Recovery Renewal weekends, alumni groups and regular events, additional education and resources found on the center’s blog page, and a Facebook community.

If you need more information about continuing care for addiction at Great Oaks Recovery Center, reach out anytime at (877) 977-3268.



Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.