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Over 21 million Americans (aged 12 and older) battled addiction in 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
There are many different options when it comes to getting professional help for addiction and problematic drug or alcohol use, from residential and highly structured programs to more flexible outpatient models.
Addiction is a chronic disease, meaning that while treatment can facilitate and promote recovery, it is not a “cure,” and ongoing care is needed. Individuals are given a multitude of tools and methods for improving their lives, preventing relapse, and enhancing recovery during an addiction treatment program, and that care doesn’t have to end when a person graduates from a program. Alumni programs can provide ongoing support during recovery and help individuals to remain drug- and alcohol-free on a long-term basis.
After completing an addiction treatment program, individuals may not be fully ready to jump back into the potential stress of daily life. Alumni programs offer ways to ease this transition, such as structured activities and events.
In some instances, alumni programs may help to connect alumni with transitional living arrangements prior to returning home. Transitional living homes, or sober living homes, can provide a kind a provisional step between living in a residential treatment facility and returning home. Individuals can choose to live in a home with peers who are also committed to remaining free from alcohol and drugs for a period of time before fully immersing themselves back into their previous lives. Sober living homes and transitional programs can help to sustain abstinence, the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs postulates.
The recovery community is large. The New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (NY OASAS) published results of a survey showing that around 10 percent of American adults (aged 18 and older) reported previous problems with drugs and/or alcohol that are no longer an issue. Alumni programs connect individuals to others within this community, both graduates from treatment programs and treatment providers, nationally and locally. From this, people then have access to treatment resources as well as peer support.
Alumni programs are typically provided directly through addiction treatment programs, often as part of the offered aftercare services. In this manner, participants can maintain a connection with the treatment providers who helped them along the way. These personal connections can be beneficial, as these trained professionals are then able to recognize signs of a potential relapse and act accordingly.
Alumni programs may offer weekly meetings, monthly sober activities with others in recovery, educational opportunities that can provide insight into many different facets of addiction and recovery, group sessions that are facilitated by professionals or individuals who have been sober for an extended period of time, and workshops for sustaining a sober, balanced, and healthy lifestyle. Many alumni programs send out regular newsletters and event calendars with many different options, so people can choose to be as involved as they wish.
Participation in peer support or 12-Step programs is often encouraged as part of an alumni program. These programs can offer peer support and bolster abstinence rates, as published by the Journal of Addictive Disorders.
The main goal of an alumni program is to strengthen recovery. Individuals belong to a community of people who all wish to remain sober. This network of peers who can relate and understand what individuals may be going through can provide ongoing encouragement and support. By being connected to others in varying stages of recovery, people can gain hope in recovery as well as the will to remain drug- and alcohol-free. Others who are further along in recovery may be able to offer sound advice and encourage someone who is newer to the recovery journey. Individuals in an alumni program can provide each other with moral support and a forum to share both trials and triumphs with others who can truly empathize.
Alumni programs often have 24-hour hotlines, a social media presence, email connections, and other resources where individuals can reach out and obtain help during a time of crisis. Relapse is common, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that for addiction, relapse rates are between 40 percent and 60 percent, much the same as they are for other chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.
Relapse prevention programs provide individuals with methods to recognize and deal with triggers during recovery. Peer support groups are additional relapse prevention tools. Alumni programs also include the ability to reach out to other alumni or trained addiction treatment providers so members have immediate and instant access to help when needed.
Alumni programs provide a variety of forums and opportunities for members to connect and socialize together in a positive and sober environment. From weekly meetings to monthly events to annual reunions, alumni programs offer many ways to connect with other alumni. Addiction can be an isolating disease, closing up social circles and leading to emotional difficulties. Alumni programs can help to restore healthy socialization with others who share the common goal of long-term sobriety.
Alumni programs often host workshops and group sessions wherein individuals are given the chance to use some of the skills and tools learned during addiction treatment. It takes time for a habit to become second nature and for changes in thought processes and subsequent behaviors to take hold. Group sessions, meetings, and workshops can provide individuals with places to practice these new methods in a nonjudgmental atmosphere.
Members of an alumni program can choose how involved they wish to be, thus making the program tailor-made for each person. While some people may desire to become fully immersed in a peer support group and attend weekly meetings and all associated events, others may only wish to pop in here and there when they feel the need to reconnect with other alumni and strengthen their recovery. Alumni programs are highly flexible in this way, and individuals are able to attend events free of charge whenever they please, in most cases. There are also often different groups within an alumni program, providing for specific demographics to provide an even higher level of camaraderie.
Service is a big part of recovery. As individuals give back to the community, they are also helping themselves to remain sober.
Those who have been sober for a longer period of time may choose to mentor others, lead meetings, plan outings, connect with those still in treatment, and share personal stories of positive change and hope for a bright future.
There are many opportunities to get involved in most alumni programs.