Aftercare and alumni programs following drug or alcohol rehab can be the strong and steady bridge you need to continue substance-free living. It is crucial to stay connected to people who have successfully maintained sobriety so you can glean advice from them, along with adding another layer to your network of support. When you become a part of an aftercare or alumni program, you continue to make friends with the same goals for sobriety you have.
Why Aftercare Programs are Useful
Isolation is one of the most common activities after drug or alcohol rehab and a top barrier to long-term recovery. Maybe you just feel the need to be alone and need time to adjust to your new life without people telling you what to do, think, eat, drink, and how to live life. Nevertheless, isolation is not a friend to you now. Isolating can encourage negative thoughts, which can lead to relapse.
Aftercare and alumni programs are designed to offer people who just completed addiction treatment support, encouragement, and strength. Activities are planned that are fun and create strong social bonding, so everyone involved feels supported. These programs also promote accountability.
Accountability means that you are accountable for your behavior. You are responsible for attending therapy sessions, support group meetings, and medical appointments. You are also accountable for taking any medication that is prescribed to you and to utilize the principles you learned in treatment in your everyday life.
Accountability also means abstaining from substance use. You may be asked to take a urine test or breathalyzer test to ensure you are abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Employers, therapists, or physicians can request these tests. Accountability means you are accountable for your actions.
What are Aftercare and Alumni Programs?
An aftercare or alumni program is a long-term program of continued support that is utilized after an acute phase of substance use disorder treatment. These programs allow people to battle through setbacks and prevent relapse, which often happens after addiction treatment ends. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) relays that when one is in recovery, they are “handling negative feelings without using substances and living a contributive life.”
There are usually goals attached to aftercare programs. These are meant to keep the person on a steady path of sobriety. Some of the goals might be:
- Staying focused – Maintaining the right mindset in staying sober, following all aftercare plans set in motion
- Support and recovery groups – finding support groups that fit your personality and unique needs
- Aftercare education – learning about ways to stay physically and mentally healthy, and other topics of interest
- Relapse prevention and survival – using the relapse prevention plan created in addiction treatment to identify triggers and what to do when triggered
Some aftercare or alumni programs provide a variety of approaches for the newly sober participant. These might include:
- Medically assisted treatment programs
- Co-occurring disorder treatment
- 12-step meetings, religious meetings
- Alternative therapies like art therapy, equine therapy, yoga, meditation
Relapse Risks and How to Prevent Relapse
There are several causes for relapse, as noted by Verywell Mind. It is best to know what they are so you can create a plan to counteract them and prevent relapsing.
Stress. Aftercare programs can help remind you how to handle everyday stressful situations, such as home and family life, workplace issues, financial challenges, and stress from friends still engaging in substance use.
Social and environmental factors. Relapse can occur when a person is around those whom they engaged in drugs or alcohol before addiction treatment. Even locations and places can cause relapse, as well as walking or driving by them. Alumni programs are designed to replace these people, places, and activities, with healthier, drug or alcohol-free activities.
Mental health conditions. Depression, anxiety, and negative thoughts and emotions are common feelings that may affect an individual who just completed an addiction treatment program. In fact, depression and anxiety are the usual culprits when it comes to relapse. In an aftercare program, you can learn how to manage your depression and/or anxiety in a healthy way that avoids relapse on drugs or alcohol. You may also learn from others how to deal with any negative thoughts that come about.
Celebrations, happy occasions. No doubt, when there is reason to celebrate, people will indulge in drinking. The occasion may be major, like a wedding, birth, or birthday. Or the occasion might be minor, such as a relative or friend getting a new job or promotion. Whatever the reason to celebrate, alcohol is sure to be offered.
When you are involved in an aftercare or alumni program, you will learn how to handle these trigger points without relapsing. Sometimes, all you will need is a supportive person in the program to be there when you need to talk to someone about how to say no to family and friends.
Examples of Aftercare and Alumni Programs
There are many different types of aftercare, and alumni activities that people can join that are drug and alcohol-free. Many activities can take place at local parks, in a person’s home, on the treatment center’s ground, or someplace else deemed safe from drugs or alcohol.
Participants in these programs are new graduates, long-time graduates, and addiction center staff. The newly graduated alumnus is able to connect with other people in recovery and stay in touch with them over time. The agenda of the aftercare or alumni program varies depending on which type of activity is being offered.
However, there are some common types of meetings and programs the newly sober person can attend. Some of these are:
- Local treatment center meetings and events
- National program meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, etc.
- Social media networking groups on FaceBook and Meetup.com, or Zoom
- Occasional sober activities in the immediate area
- 24-hour hotlines
- Addiction education workshops
- Periodic sober activities ranging from playing sports to picnicking in a park
- Annual reunions
Why Recovery Support is Essential
Recovery is a process that involves health, home, purpose, and community, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Through health, you can overcome and manage your substance use disorder by making educated, informed, and healthy choices that support your mental and physical well-being.
When you have a stable and safe place to live, you have a home you can count on. You need purpose, which is to have meaningful daily activities, have income, and independence to be a positive participant in society. Community is also a valuable asset for you. It is essential to have relationships and a social and support network in your life that promotes love, hope, and friendship.
Why Aftercare and Alumni Programs are Important
The person in recovery who has graduated from substance use disorder treatment to living at home, going back to work, and rejoining the everyday activities that life brings still needs support, advice, and camaraderie to survive that first substance-free year. Aftercare and alumni programs provide help, information, advice and give a sense of community that gives people hope and peace.
The most important reason why aftercare or alumni programs are so valuable is that the “programs help to reduce the risk of relapse once a patient leaves the residential setting,” as NIDA states.
Aftercare and alumni programs are usually voluntary, and for that reason, an individual can choose how much they want to be involved in one. Some people may choose to become highly involved and attend weekly gatherings, yet some others may feel like they need to participate in monthly meetings.
These programs can be very beneficial to you, as long as you join them and participate in the meetings and social gatherings. There are many ways to connect with other people in your same situation, as this article from Healthline points out. Sobriety does not have to be a solo situation.