When a young person has their withdrawal symptoms under control and is feeling relatively stable, increasing focus is placed on how they can consolidate and sustain the gains that have been made in the program. This requires a systematic approach to transition planning. This is linked to the young person’s ongoing care plan and usually involves other services or support people, including family members. They should be involved in transition planning.

Transition planning can alleviate a young person’s anxieties and fears regarding how he or she will cope following the withdrawal process and can ensure that all support workers, family and significant others are understand the young person’s needs and how they can be of assistance. 

Better treatment outcomes occur when AOD clients are linked into other services.  These linkages should occur regardless of whether the young person’s substance use goals are abstinence, moderation or continued substance use (Kenny et al, 2009)

The priority in transition planning is the young person’s safety, particularly in relation to their reduced tolerance to effects of substances. Risk of harm is heightened when young people decide to ‘party’ on leaving the program. This highlights the importance of creating the conditions where young people feel comfortable to be honest about their plans. Then carefully nuanced harm reduction strategies or safety plans can be developed and implemented (see harm reduction).

Another key area is relapse prevention. Young people should be aware of the situations that put them more at risk of unplanned substance use. Particular thoughts, feelings, people, places or circumstances can result in a desire to use. Practitioners can help young people develop practical strategies for coping in these high-risk situations. Residential units offer young people a structured environment in which to learn and rehearse relevant skills with the support and guidance of practitioners.

Transition plans should also consider practical details such as:

  • Does the young person (or carers) have an adequate, legal source of income
  • Where the young person will live and how they will meet basic needs
  • What the young person will do with their time
  • Who the young people’s support people will be

As a part of broader care plan, transition plans should contribute to the creating the conditions that nurture and support capacity of young people to exert more control over their substance using behaviour. In this way the intention is to build the resilience of the young person and to ensure that they have viable alternatives to substance use as a way of meeting their needs and responding to stressors. For a detailed account of the resources and assets that young people and those involved in their care require to be resilient- see the framework for resilience based intervention.

The contemporary recovery movement also identifies internal and external resources that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery from AOD problems (Cloud and Granfield, 2009). See the attached article on the ‘potential of recovery capital’.

Some young people choose to leave before their planned exit date. Unplanned exits still require practitioners to institute a transition process that by necessity concentrate mainly on the young person’s safety. This is why exit planning should never be left to the end of a young person’s program.  

Regardless of how a young person exits, some form of follow up with them can be reassuring and reduce any anxieties associated with leaving the program. Young people can benefit from knowing that the service will be available for them again should it be required. Also, as residential withdrawal services provide 24 hour care it can be very helpful for young people to be able to call from time to time for support and guidance; particularly when the young person doesn’t have other support workers or people in their local community.