The Essential Support Needed After Rehab for Long-Term Sobriety

Arrival from rehab

Anyone, anywhere, who has been involved with helping the addicted regain their sobriety has seen how challenging the transition from rehab to a post-rehab sober life can be. They’ve seen for themselves that recovery is not a done deal once a person completes that stay at a drug rehab. It’s not like addiction magically never existed and the person is ready to fly on their own.

Consistent support from family, friends, and community is needed to bridge the gap from rehab to sober living. With the right support after rehab, it’s much more possible for a person in recovery to make that dream of sobriety come true.

Many Approaches to this Post-Rehab Transition

As soon as a person makes it all the way through a structured drug rehab program, that’s when they are faced with the challenge of returning to a normal daily life. For a few months, they have been supervised and counseled on a daily basis. They’ve had limited or no contact with anyone who wasn’t seeking the same goals as they were. Now, they have to leave this safe harbor and make their way on the outside.

For many, this is a terrifying prospect. They fear they will be judged by friends, family members, and neighbors who know they went to rehab. They dread the first triggers they encounter that bring up old temptations. Will they remember what they were taught in rehab and remember to put it to use as they navigate the challenges?

Not everyone navigates this post-rehab period successfully. Some people relapse, and others make a return trip to rehab. With fentanyl or the animal tranquilizer xylazine being added to nearly every drug on the illicit market, relapse is dangerous indeed. Their first drug use post-rehab could be fatal. The right support could make all the difference.

The United Nations and World Health Organization Provide Helpful Guidelines

To help both those in recovery and their loved ones who want to support them, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provided guidelines to improve each person’s chances at lasting sobriety.

Friends are helping to move in to a new apartment

These guidelines make it clear what services are needed to support a person as they transition from drug rehab to long-term recovery from addiction.

  1. During this transition, friends and family are big factors in a person’s success. When they are uniformly supportive, the individual has continuous encouragement and reinforcement. There is someone available to monitor their sobriety and ensure they are utilizing the tools they learned in rehab.

  2. The person completing rehab needs to return to stable accommodation. If there are family members supporting that person, that may not be a problem. For a person who was homeless or had an unstable living situation, they will need the support of social services to help them acquire stable and healthy accommodations.

  3. They need access to meaningful work that is free from stigma and that does not cause the person to suffer either trauma or discrimination.

  4. The more the person in recovery can engage regularly with others who have the same abstinence-oriented goals, the more support they get. It’s unfortunately all too true that if the rehab graduate tries to befriend drug-using associates they knew before rehab, their sobriety is likely to be brief.

  5. When a person can gradually begin to engage with a larger scope of life, embracing political, humanitarian, or spiritual goals, they gain a richness of life that helps them live with purpose. The stress of smaller day-to-day issues may be reduced in comparison.

  6. Anything this individual can do to improve their resilience and self-confidence also improves their chances of long-term sobriety. For one person, this might mean learning how to reach out to the community by mastering public speaking. For another person, learning how to care for themselves better (for example, through diet, exercise, dressing better, etc.) will make them feel better about themselves.

  7. Participation in activities that improve experience, education, or job skills is always a winner for individuals in this situation. Some people begin vocational training or go back to college. Others may prefer volunteering for charitable organizations or even helping out at anti-drug events in the community.

  8. It’s very common to enter rehab with legal and financial problems. There may be past years’ tax returns to file and debts to handle. Some people may be on probation or parole. There are often social services agencies that have staff to help resolve these entanglements. If not, when family or friends can help, this can mean the world to the person in recovery because it gives them a better chance of getting a fresh start in life.

  9. Stays in rehab are times of intensive self-improvement. When the program is done, that’s not the time to drop this focus activity. Staying involved in self-help and self-improvement activities is important for most people in this situation because these efforts help keep temptation at bay. Some individuals go to Twelve Step meetings indefinitely. Others rely on their church, pastor, counselor, or mentor. Whatever works for an individual, it’s essential to stay focused on a better future.

The Unique Needs of Those in Recovery

Those who are not addicted can tackle these challenges or establish these supports for themselves without even thinking about it much. But those who are coming back from years or even decades of addiction have almost universally lost the ability to sail through life without effort. Their interpersonal, mental, and life skills must be rebuilt and then must be maintained and improved, day by day.

Family gathering outside

It may not be apparent to family and friends that the person returning from rehab will need these supports. A few may not. Most will benefit from plentiful support and encouragement as they re-enter their community and family lives. That support may be needed for months or even years. Providing this support in both small and large ways is a small price to pay as a family member or good friend of a person in recovery. Without that support, an individual in recovery could be unstabilized by life’s events and be tempted to return to old habits.

When a community, church, family, or charitable organization helps a person re-establish themselves fully by providing all this support, that person’s chance of lasting success in sobriety is maximized.

If you know someone in recovery, you might ask them if they are getting the support they need. Encourage them to really tell you what they need because they might be reluctant to admit that they could use a helping hand. Showing them these guidelines might help them identify which types of help would be the most valuable to them.


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders.” UNODC, 2016. UNODC


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.