What to Expect After Inpatient Rehabilitation

Read on for an idea of what your first few weeks and months will be like after you’ve left inpatient rehab. We’ll walk you through the steps that happen right after, as well as what to expect emotionally and from the process of maintaining your sobriety.

Although the 30- or 60-day program that you undertake may have been a lot of hard work, you’re also making good decisions in a protected environment. You’re in a dorm-like setting with professional counselors available to help when you’re upset, as well as no access to your drug of choice and many of the triggers in your day-to-day life. When you leave, you’ll be back in the same environment, possibly in the same family or workplace dynamic that caused you to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. It can be hard, but you have help.

You may have to find new friends or even a new job. It’s important to be transparent about your struggles with those you live with, whether family, roommates, or even children. You may have to choose new routines, even down to the route that you drive home from work. Any decisions that are in support of preserving your new sobriety are generally good ones. Expect for things to feel a little uncomfortable as you start adjusting to living sober.

Step 1: The First 30 Days

Your first month after rehab probably feels fresh and a little raw. Many rehab centers recommend participating in a 12-step program and encourage you to attend 30 meetings in 30 days. While this may be a big-time commitment, it helps keep the momentum you achieved in rehab going and lets you explore different groups and meeting times to find a place that fits you.

When you find a home 12-step group, it’s important to find a sponsor that clicks with your personality. Don’t be afraid to test out a few sponsors because finding someone you feel comfortable trusting and calling if you feel tempted is essential. For many addicts, the disease can be isolating, so putting yourself out there and building relationships can be a little scary but necessary to build those supportive relationships. A good sponsor and a 12-step group you feel comfortable with can go a long way toward giving you the support and new friendships you need.

Dealing with the stress of life is a reason that many people turn to drugs and alcohol — and a reason that many end up addicted. Understanding the things that trigger a desire to get high or drunk is key to either avoiding the triggers in the first place or putting in place the plan you developed in rehab to deal with upsetting situations. If you don’t have a plan before you leave rehab, you’ll be adrift and can easily fall back into old habits.

One piece of advice that some people give is to change some of the things that easily trigger you. This can include looking for a new job or finding new friends. Both of these are big decisions, but your sober life will have to be different from your addicted life.

Step 2: Within the First 90 Days

Most rehab counselors recommend adding a consistent exercise routine into your days. This may work best at the time of day that you experience the biggest cravings. It could be right after work, early in the morning, or in the evening when you’re feeling lonely. Swapping the natural endorphins that exercise gives you from the artificial high drugs and alcohol can help your body faster and provide a healthier alternative to using.

Stick with your group and individual counseling, even if you start feeling like yourself again. Although the cravings and urges to drink will diminish, you’re still considered new in sobriety. One tip that can help is to keep up with a journal about different stressors and triggers you experienced and how you overcame them. This can help you walk through your past good choices and “play the tape forward” to remind yourself of the results of choosing to drink or use.

Toward the end of your 90 days, you’ll probably notice that the physical cravings and urges decrease. Here is when post-rehab can get tricky, as you may get overconfident and think that you can handle a little of your drug of choice or a few drinks with friends. At this point, the confidence of being sober and the distance from the ravages of early sobriety can be detrimental to your future sobriety.

If you’ve had unstable employment as a result of your addiction, now may be a good time to meet with a career counselor to help you find a better or new job and to develop new skills to keep you occupied instead of focusing on drinking. You may wish to enroll in some classes to advance your education, but only if you’ve talked about the possible stress of continuing education with your addiction counselor.

Step 3: 6 Months to One Year After Rehab

Six months is a huge milestone — you’ve passed the threshold that many don’t. In fact, research suggests most relapses occur in the first six months after treatment. If you’ve put in the work, you deserve to celebrate with a cake or something fun with your sober friends. From here, you’ll probably notice that your cravings are fewer, but don’t be surprised if they turn up from time to time. Keeping the network of support and the new relationships that you’ve developed in the first six months will help you reach your first-year sober-versary.

Now may be the time to start with a financial planner to save for your future. You may also progress in your career or work more on the life skills you need. At this point, it may be too early to engage in a new romantic relationship, but don’t be afraid to start making connections in sober communities.

As you approach your first year of sobriety, you may consider reaching out to those just exiting rehab. If you’ve been journaling on an ongoing basis, you may have personal insights that you can share with them. In many 12-step programs, you may be encouraged to be a sponsor or mentor. If you’re single, you may wish to consider dating, but be careful about meeting someone who drinks or does drugs, as this may be a trigger for you. If you start dating, keep in touch with your therapist to make sure that romantic ups and downs aren’t a trigger for you.

When you reach a year, make sure to reflect back and give yourself a big day of self-love and care for taking the time to do the hard work to give yourself a healthier life.

Getting Help and Additional Resources

When you’re ready to get started with rehab, we’ve compiled a few sites for extra information.

  • Narcotics Anonymous can help you find a local chapter to pair up with after your inpatient rehab stay along with recovery literature written by former addicts.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) discusses the four dimensions critical to a successful recovery.
  • DualDiagnosis.org provides alternative recovery group solutions for those who are looking for something different than AA or NA.