“Continuum of care” is a phrase that’s commonly used in addiction treatment, but many people seeking help for a substance use disorder find themselves wondering exactly what this means.
Essentially, continuum of care refers to having a detailed plan for what services a person needs to help him or her stay sober after seeking residential treatment. This is a system where clients are guided and monitored over time as they progress through all levels and intensities of care. In some cases, this approach may be referred to as a “Recovery-Oriented System of Care” (ROSC).
There’s No Quick Fix
The most common misconception about addiction treatment is that detox and a quick inpatient stay are all that is needed to ensure lasting sobriety. Unfortunately, treating addiction is much more complex.
Addiction is widely recognized as an illness, but it’s not like getting strep throat and having your doctor write a prescription for an antibiotic. It’s more like being diagnosed with diabetes and having your doctor recommend diet changes, exercise, and blood sugar monitoring in addition to your medication.
You can live a full and productive life after being diagnosed with a substance use disorder, but you need to stay on top of your recovery. If you become complacent, you put your sobriety at risk.
Personalized Care Is Essential
No two people with a substance use disorder are exactly alike. Someone who has been abusing drugs or alcohol for many years has very different needs than someone who has only recently developed an addiction. Exposure to trauma, the availability of family support systems, and the presence of a co-occurring mental health disorder are also examples of factors that can widely influence what services are necessary after residential treatment.
Depending upon the client’s specific needs, some services that may be recommended as part of the continuum of care include:
- Ongoing outpatient counseling
- Intensive outpatient treatment that offers a more intensive counseling experience but still allows the client to return home each night
- Sober living homes that serve as an interim step between residential treatment and living independently
- Participating in 12-Step groups
- Participating in alumni events sponsored by the residential treatment center
- Online recovery education programs
Steps in the Continuum of Care
Every case is a little different, but the general steps in the continuum of care are as follows:
- Assessment: Determine the nature and extent of the substance use disorder, as well as any chronic illnesses or co-occurring mental health conditions that would complicate care.
- Treatment Plan: Develop an evidence-based plan for addiction treatment.
- Treatment: Use detox, counseling, and holistic treatment to build the skills necessary for long-term sobriety.
- Evaluation: Determine how successful treatment has been in helping to break old behavior patterns.
- Case Management: Develop a plan for ongoing care, such as intensive outpatient treatment or sober living.
- Extended Care: Provide the services necessary to ease the transition into independent living while addressing physiological, psychological, and spiritual concerns.
- Monitoring: Periodically check in with the individual to make sure there are no areas of concern.
Notice that the level of support gradually decreases as the client becomes more adept at practicing the skills necessary to manage the chronic nature of a substance use disorder.
Easing the Transition to Independent Living
Although the specifics are different for each individual, the goal of continuum care planning is to ease your transition from the structured environment of residential treatment to an independent sober life.
Your care team will help you determine what support you need to practice applying the skills you’ve learned to everyday situations. This includes:
- Coping with cravings
- Managing triggers
- Finding productive ways to deal with stress
- Communicating in a healthy way with friends and family
Your continuum of care plan can help address specific goals you may have for yourself as you embrace the possibilities of a life without drugs or alcohol. For example:
- Living independently
- Returning to work
- Furthering your education
- Repairing relationships with loved ones
Providing a Roadmap to Recovery
It may be helpful for you to think of the continuum of care in addiction treatment as a roadmap to recovery. You still need to do the work of building the skills necessary for sober living, but this approach provides you with a detailed plan and actionable steps to guide the process.
However, this does not mean that your continuum of care plan is set in stone. If you suffer an unexpected setback, the plan can be adjusted as needed. There’s no criticism or judgement, only a sincere desire to help you find the best way to move forward with your recovery journey.
By Dana Hinders