By Alanna Hilbink

If you’re considering treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, you might be wondering how much time and effort recovery will take. Or maybe you’re already in residential treatment and just want to know what’s next. What’s best for you, your recovery and your long-term health?

Wherever you are on the path to sobriety, it’s not always easy to see the big picture. That’s why it’s important to understand how different treatment options work together to give you your best chance at long-term recovery.

Mountain highway

Recognizing the Road to Recovery

Recovery doesn’t happen overnight or even over several nights. Addiction is a chronic disease, and, as such, relapse risk comes with the territory. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “This can be triggered by exposure to rewarding substances and behaviors, by exposure to environmental cues to use, and by exposure to emotional stressors that trigger heightened activity in brain stress circuits.”1

Life is full of triggers and cues. It’s full of emotions, relationships and situations that cause stress. And of course, it’s also full of good, wonderful things that you can only experience sober!

So before you leap back into daily life after residential treatment, recognize that recovery is a road, not a destination. Make sure you have what you need to manage life’s challenges while enjoying all the good things it has to offer.

What Happens After Residential Treatment?

Residential treatment gives you a great foundation for recovery. However, it’s just that — a foundation. You’re not “cured” after 30, 60, or even 90 days in treatment. You’re simply on good footing for continuing the work of recovery. After residential treatment, it’s important to give yourself the time and support you need to develop a sober life.

The great thing about starting with residential or inpatient treatment is that you don’t have to figure out your next steps in recovery alone. Your primary treatment team will help you understand the options available to you and work with you to craft a long-term plan.

Alex Dorsey leads the outpatient admissions team for Foundations Recovery Network and says aftercare planning begins as early as day 10 of treatment.2 As part of the discussion, your therapist and care coordinator may ask about your home life before treatment to help determine your best choices for continuing the work of recovery, such as:

  • Did your home environment contribute directly or indirectly to your drug use? If so, staying at a sober living facility during outpatient treatment may be your safest choice.
  • If you need to return home as soon as possible, what resources are available nearby? Your treatment team can connect you to the local recovery community so you can continue healing.

Your aftercare plan most likely starts with outpatient care. You may begin with an intensive outpatient program and gradually step down to a less intensive one. Or you may be in the right place in your life and recovery to start with that less intensive care.

If you find yourself struggling at any point, you can always change your treatment plan. Recovery has a typical progression, but it isn’t linear. You’re welcome to go back to more intensive care anytime it feels like the right choice for you. Remember, you’re an individual, and your treatment should be tailored to your unique needs. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what you need — or to reach out for help figuring out what it is you need.

What Happens During Outpatient Treatment?

When you choose outpatient care, you can expect similar content and structure to inpatient care. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that best practices for outpatient care include therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, family therapy and motivational practices.3 Sound familiar? You most likely came across all of these in residential treatment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean outpatient care is identical! Every step in treatment plays a different role in your recovery, and each new setting can provide new perspective. “A new group dynamic can completely change what the patient learns. The therapist can change what they learn. Where the patient’s at can change what they’re able to learn,” Dorsey explains. “While, in theory, what they’re learning is the same, the ability to use it in their life is not.”

Inpatient treatment teaches you the tools and skills you need for recovery. Outpatient treatment uses similar techniques and resources to teach you how to use and apply those skills in real life. Both steps are essential for creating a healthy foundation for long-term recovery.

Dorsey and Buchanan

Want to learn more about how outpatient care fits into the overall recovery journey? Listen to our full conversation on Recovery Unscripted.

What If I Don’t Choose Outpatient Care?

Although outpatient care is a good choice for continuing your recovery, you don’t have to follow residential treatment with outpatient care. You may not be able to. People have jobs, children, and families. Life comes with responsibilities, stumbling blocks, and schedules.

However, before you let everyday life become an excuse for giving up on the work of recovery, talk with your treatment team. They want to get to know you and understand what’s important to you, what your barriers to treatment are, and why you may be reluctant to try outpatient treatment. Let them work with you to find a continuing care plan that will be there to support you when you need it.

For example, Ashley Buchanan, a patient care coordinator at Black Bear Lodge, explains that, if patients can’t continue treatment on-site, she works with them to find local professionals, support groups, and other resources to meet them where they’re at on their recovery journey.

There are so many options for continuing care. You can find one that will work for you.

What Happens After Outpatient Treatment?

Just as the work of recovery keeps going after inpatient treatment, it keeps going after outpatient treatment. Outpatient care is one step down, so what’s the next step?

You’ll most likely gradually start attending fewer or shorter outpatient sessions each week. Your treatment team will help you transition to maintenance practices, like regular therapy sessions, psychiatrist appointments, support group meetings, and alumni events.

Recovery never steps down to nothing — there will always be work to do. But that work gets easier and the road gets smoother over time.


1Definition of Addiction.” American Society of Addiction Medicine, April 19, 2011.

2#49: Approaching Outpatient Care with Alex Dorsey and Ashley Buchanan.” Recovery Unscripted, January 24, 2018.

3Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, January 2018.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at Black Bear Lodge. For more specific information on programs at Black Bear Lodge, contact us today.