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‘Continuum of care’ is a phrase used in addiction treatment, but it isn’t common for clients to understand what it really means. An integral concept for the development of a treatment plan, the continuum of care is tailored specifically for each individual to ensure they’re getting the right support and assistance they need at the right time.

As its name suggests, the continuum of care changes as the client moves through the treatment process. The main objective of having such a continuum in place is to ensure that individuals receive optimized care as they evolve and improve on their way to sobriety.

What is a Continuum of Care?

Imagine an individual who recently suffered a stroke. After a trip to the emergency room, the patient was duly discharged and sent home without further instruction on treatment, medication, and therapies. Obviously, such a lack of planning leaves the individual at risk of future complications or even death.

The same goes for addiction treatment. It’s important for individuals to receive care throughout the duration of their recovery to ensure they’re taking steps in the right direction. Thus, the continuum of care pertains to all of the different phases of the treatment program starting from the moment a person decides to enter professional rehab until aftercare treatment.

In general, the continuum of care consists of different treatment programs of varying intensity. As each step is completed, clients can then move to less intensive phases that allow more freedom, independence, and flexibility depending on their specific situation.

The Steps in a Continuum of Care

It’s important to remember that the continuum of care is different for every individual. For instance, some might achieve significant improvement during certain phases of the treatment program that they can skip other phases. Then there are some who might need to go back to previous phases depending on how they perform in subsequent steps.

In general however, the continuum of care follows a specific step-by-step process that might look something like this:

  • Detox – The most intensive and restrictive form of care, this step is intended for patients who require strict observance and supervision. Individuals in this step typically come from severe addictions that may have resulted in an overdose. Inpatient hospitalization aims to stabilize the individual and begin the process of detox, and usually lasts a few days.
  • Inpatient or residential treatment – Often called ‘rehab’, this step is longer than inpatient hospitalization, lasting anywhere from a month to a year. The goal is to control withdrawal symptoms, wean the client off of the illicit substance, and start any necessary therapies. Supervision is still 24/7, but participants get more freedom than they would during inpatient hospitalization.
  • Sober living homes – The sober living home is a set-up that provides individuals a safe place away from the temptation of drug use. What distinguishes sober living homes from rehab is that individuals are free to come and go as they please, allowing them to engage in work and fulfill other personal obligations and responsibilities.
  • Outpatient treatment – Outpatient treatment can coincide with sober living, but some clients in this phase of recovery may be allowed to return home to their own residence and families. Outpatient treatment simply requires participants to attend meetings and sessions a certain number of hours throughout the week. This lets them adapt a more independent lifestyle while still receiving the support and guidance necessary for their recovery.
  • Aftercare – Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are good examples of aftercare or continuing care programs. These are the least intensive, requiring participants to attend just a few times throughout the week. The goal of aftercare treatment is to make sure the skills and knowledge that clients learn throughout their progress is reinforced and put into action to maintain their sobriety.

Again, it’s important to remember that not everyone has to go through these steps. There are some people who can skip sober living homes all together, and some of these phases might even overlap.

Then again, there are many others who find themselves having to return to previous steps especially if they experience relapse any time throughout the duration of the program. The continuum of care must be tailored to each individual person by assessing their unique needs at each step of the process.

The Importance of the Continuum of Care

Studies have found that individuals who do not properly transition from one phase of care to the next are more likely to relapse. In fact, only 20% of those who don’t receive continuing care will successfully avoid relapse after a year, which means that the other 80% succumb to cravings and urges without the proper care.

Another common issue that arises during the treatment process is the lack of support from family and friends. For instance, a person returning from a 28-day detox program might return to the same dysfunctional home that contributed to their drug use in the first place. Without targeting these issues through outpatient treatment, the same damaging patterns of drug abuse might recur.

The continuum of care ensures that all of the aspects of a person’s life are sufficiently addressed and resolved. Each phase of the process targets a new area of daily living to further increase the chances of curbing drug use for the long term. As the person successfully overcomes the challenges of the previous step, they can then move on to the next fully equipped with the proper tools, knowledge, and skills to help them move beyond a new set of challenges.

Every Step of the Way

The continuum of care helps ensure that individuals on their way to sobriety receive exactly the kind of assistance and support they need throughout every step of the process. Developed to match every unique individual hoping to recover from addiction, the continuum of care covers up the cracks on the road to sobriety, limiting the risk of relapse and resolving all of the various issues that might get in the way of true recovery.

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