The Importance of Staying Connected
People who have reached early sobriety need to strengthen the recovery skills they have learned from a residential program. Apart from regularly attending support group meetings (such as 12-step groups), an alumni program may be the main channel for receiving support from recovery specialists and health professionals.
Having lived a highly structured life during residential treatment, graduates might feel isolated when they return to living on their own. The stigma of addiction and lack of family support may also worsen such isolation. Alumni programs help individuals in recovery restore social life and regain confidence while continuing their recovery efforts.
Most alumni programs provide regular and structured activities to help recovering individuals make the transition into everyday life outside of rehab centers. Some programs even walk the extra mile by offering sober living homes for people in early sobriety. This allows people to live with peers who are also committed to the goal of long-term sobriety while working and re-engaging in life’s responsibilities.
Most alumni programs also provide 24-hour hotlines or virtual messaging that help keep an open line of communication with people who complete treatment. In-person gatherings also are coordinated to allow graduates to meet for social and sober activities. Alumni can be paired up with mentors so that every person gets individualized coaching from an experienced peer or staff.
Building a Creative Alumni Program
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for how to build and run an alumni program. However, quality, brand credibility, and consistency matter. Access to aftercare should be provided to all alumni, not just a select group.
Common alumni social gatherings include fun and sober activities, such as bowling, movie nights, and cookouts. Apart from regular meetings and social events, there can be a buddy system to form close-knit small groups.
If a treatment center wants to be creative, there are many other ways to organize an alumni event. For example, community service activities can be carried out by recoverees. If alumni regularly support a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, or a nursing home, they might find that serving others builds compassion and empathy. Volunteer opportunities like these help recovering individuals give back in meaningful ways to their community.
Key Elements of a Good Alumni Program
For an alumni program to be fully operational and successful, it should be consistent, relevant, and beneficial to all graduates. Multiple channels of communication should be available including an email group, a Facebook group, or regular check-in phone calls. Open lines of communication help staff stay updated on graduates’ needs and progress and offer a helping hand in case of relapse. Staff who are familiar with the graduates’ cases should be involved in maintaining communication with intentionality.
For long-term graduates, the same support mechanisms may be helpful. Involvement in mentorship opportunities by walking alongside new graduates can be a meaningful path of service. This form of peer learning and support can be highly enriching to recovering individuals. Mentorship programs or buddy systems can also be integrated into lifestyle activities such as sports or holiday celebrations.
In-person and Online Groups
Many alumni programs connect online through social media groups and apps. Some rehab centers have apps tracking people’s birthdays, recovery progress, and goals. These online platforms allow members to share their personal experiences and support one another.
During COVID-19 and other times, online communication may become important for graduates to stay connected with their recovery community. These online platforms can be integrated with in-person meetings because people tend to flourish socially in each other’s presence. The benefits of having in-person gatherings cannot be underestimated in terms of boosting emotional health and socialization skills.
Strong alumni programs are where genuine friendships bloom among people sharing similar vulnerabilities. These groups can serve as a bridge from treatment to long-term recovery.
Life after sobriety can still be challenging and sometimes even present traumatic moments. Recovering individuals need each other to continue building a safe space where they can share life’s challenges. People might learn new relapse prevention or self-care skills from each other. It takes a full continuum of care from detoxification, monitoring, therapy, lifestyle modifications, to long-term peer connection to support an individual’s holistic recovery.