So just call (call) on me brother (hey)
When you need a hand (When you need a hand)
We all need (need) somebody to lean on!
(I just might have a problem)
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on!
The rallying call of Bill Withers classic 1972 song “Lean on Me” is the perfect encapsulation of why alumni support plays such an integral role in addiction recovery. Addiction is an insidious and isolating disease that can leave sufferers feeling hopeless, alone, and weakened. But in treatment, addicts are given a chance to experience what it is like to share stories, offer love, and show support for one another in a sober, safe, and secure environment. Unfortunately, addiction is a lifelong disease and rehab only lasts 1 – 3 months. This is where the importance of ongoing support in the form of alumni services comes into play. Ongoing sobriety requires ongoing work, and the best way to stay engaged is through an active alumni program. These programs provide a transitionary element from rehab to the real world and offer a lifelong support line to the world of recovery. They’ve also been shown to reduce long-term substance use in patients and are associated with higher referral rates, meaning they help more people get the treatment they need. Here’s why Alumni Support is so vital to addiction recovery
Alumni Support Offers a Bridge from Rehab to Daily Life
After completing any sort of addiction treatment program, individuals may find themselves unsure of their ability to face the daily challenges of maintaining sobriety. They have learned the tools and methods they can use to stay sober, but they are no longer in the same supportive, secure environment where sobriety is guaranteed. Alumni programs offer individuals a way to ease the transition back into the real world through structured events, activities, and support. Alumni support and ongoing services are as vital to the recovery process as the detoxification and therapeutic counseling that take place while in treatment.
These programs may also provide individuals with transitional living options, known as sober living homes, which can be an important provisional step between residential treatment and reintegrating with daily life. In these places, alumni can connect with one another, support, and encourage continued sobriety. According to the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, sober living homes and transitional programs can help to sustain sobriety and that residence in one of these homes increases the odds of attending 12-Step meetings.
Alumni Support Has Proven to Reduce Long-Term Substance Use
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), substance abuse relapse rates are as high as 40 – 60%. In addition, completion rates for rehab vary across the board and there is no set standard yet for measuring the long-term success of these programs. However, there is data to support the idea that alumni programs and ongoing services are tied to reductions in substance use, higher completion rates for rehab, and reduction in ongoing psychiatric symptoms. From the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, one qualitative study found that 33% of people who dropped out of treatment indicated that they would have stayed longer in substance abuse treatment if they had received practical assistance, functional help with living areas, and individualized services post-treatment.
Research from the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs also indicates that a combination of treatment, long-term housing, and “life-affirming” alumni services leads to improved residential stability and reductions in substance use and psychiatric symptoms. This should be a call for treatment providers to realize that ongoing services for alumni are one form of evidence-based practices (EBP) that should not be overlooked or understated when it comes to structuring treatment programs.
Alumni Support is the Foundation of 12 Step
Although it may not be for everyone, 12 Step is the most popular abstinence-based program in the world and has helped countless addicts and families to overcome their struggles with addiction. This international non-profit helps recovering addicts by providing regular meetings that are free to attend and structured to let people speak their minds and share their stories with one another. The regularity and structured intent of these meetings are exactly what makes alumni support such a beneficial addition to drug and alcohol recovery.
Alumni support consists of many varied activities and events, but the gist is that they provide regularly scheduled moments for recovering addicts to get back in touch with their recovery, deal with any lingering issues, and receive the kind of empathetic support they need to maintain their sobriety. Some alumni programs incorporate group sessions lead by clinical professionals, including workshops and presentations that provide alumni with informational resources and professional services for sustaining a sober, balanced, healthy, lifestyle.
Active Alumni get More People into the Doors of Rehab
Another beneficial aspect of having an active alumni support program is that alumni may generate more referrals through their circle of friends and acquaintances. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that about 10% of all people with a substance use disorder received treatment at a facility for their illness while roughly 1 in 3 people with a co-occurring diagnosis of addiction and mental illness received no form of treatment for either. These statistics indicate that not enough people are receiving adequate care for their debilitating illness, whether due to the availability and accessibility of treatment or perhaps the stigma associated with addiction. No matter what the reason for this low rate, it’s important to get more people into the doors of treatment centers.
In “How to Make Dollars and Sense of a Dynamic Alumni Program”, researchers from the Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services (TPAS) organization conducted interviews with 21 recovery center CEO’s on the impact of TPAS on alumni engagement and patient success. Survey respondents indicated that, with the support of TPAS, overall alumni referrals more than doubled, with the number of returning alumni to events and activities increasing each year. The Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to helping treatment centers develop robust Alumni Programs and Recovery Support Services, ensuring that the continuum of care for patients is ongoing.
Despite the integral role that alumni services and support play in the addiction recovery process, not enough research and resources have been dedicated to improving these components. With harder substances such as methamphetamine, brain imaging scans show sufficient changes in the brain that can take 12 to 18 months to correct. What hope do recovering addicts have if their residential treatment ends after 3 months? Ongoing care needs to become the new industry standard, with alumni services and support becoming recognized as the key to success post-release.
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a drug and alcohol recovery center. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for Boston Consulting Group before he realized where his true passion lied within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.