Addiction recovery is not a one-time event; it’s a lifetime process. However, addiction treatment center programs, whether inpatient or outpatient, are only for a finite period. They are meant to give us the tools we need to combat the emotional and physical struggles that led to our addiction in the first place. After we leave treatment, the real work of living and healing continues, and a significant aspect of that process is keeping the support of our brothers and sisters in recovery.
It’s difficult for anyone to really understand what you have been through unless they have walked in your shoes. Family and friends and therapy groups are critical in recovery. Just as vital is the support offered in group settings where recovering addicts can connect socially. Alumni programs provide precisely that, and although they tend to be less formal, they are no less important.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), substance abuse relapse rates hover between 40-60 percent, just about the same level as other chronic conditions like asthma and hypertension. And as with those conditions, substance abuse disorder requires daily management and constant vigilance. In terms of recovery, social peer groups aren’t just nice to have. Indeed, they are a must-have for people in recovery, and here are some reasons why:
1. An addiction rehab alumni program will help smooth the transition from treatment back into living your life out in the world. Going from 24-7 treatment, such as in a sober living facility, back to weekly therapy a couple of times per week is often a jarring and difficult phase of recovery. Patients forge strong and uplifting friendships in recovery, and those relationships need to continue when treatment ends.
2. Alumni programs offer a continuum of support to help prevent relapse. When facilitated by a qualified therapist or counselor, the group offers you a safe space to discuss any issues or challenges you might be facing in recovery.
3. Alumni groups provide educational programs, workshops, guided sessions, and therapies to help you in recovery. These programs can help you stay physically and mentally active.
4. Former treatment patient groups can help you learn new life skills and helpful mechanisms, such as meditation and self-talk, to deal with cravings and the need for drug use.
5. Alumni members offer each other reliable and healthy friendships. For instance, here at Renaissance Ranch, we have two alumni groups, The Band of Brothers and The Band of Sisters. Regular meetings, extracurricular activities, and an annual alumni conference offer members a host of opportunities to share experiences and socialize. Whether it’s a hike in the mountains or a round of golf, these activities build rapport and highlight the benefits of staying sober.
6. Alumni groups can include various formats and activities, allowing you to customize your experience according to your preferences. You may want to attend the workshop offered on gaining job skills after addiction, but you can skip the session on how to talk to your kids about addiction since you’re single. You determine your level of involvement.
7. Alumni groups often have strong ties to the community, which brings a range of service opportunities. Service lifts both the giver and the receiver and can be a tremendous mental health benefit for those in recovery. According to a 2017 survey by the United Health Group, 88 percent of those who volunteered in the last 12 months before the survey reported higher self-esteem, 93 percent noted a better mood, and 79 percent experienced lower stress levels.
Socialization improves with volunteering as well. Of the approximately 2,700 adults surveyed, 85 percent said they developed new friendships through volunteering and reported a higher capacity to enjoy socialization than those who didn’t volunteer.
Here at Renaissance Ranch, our entire staff has “walked the walk” of addiction recovery. We know that the need for healthy social relationships is critical to that recovery. We have seen pre-treatment social relationships that have fostered a dangerous environment and can lure people back into substance abuse. The Band of Brothers [and The Band of Sisters] can help provide healthy support networks with the social, emotional and, at times, even professional support that our members need to thrive in recovery.
If your addiction treatment center does not offer an alumni program where you live, consider gathering together with friends from your rehab center group and begin building your own alumni network. Another option to consider is participating in the Alcoholics Anonymous Bridging the Gap program. Patients transitioning out of treatment facilities are partnered with an AA member who will act as their guide and mentor while attending AA meetings out of treatment for the first several weeks. While AA’s Bridging the Gap is not an alumni program, it will offer you a friend who can walk with you during those first tentative steps of recovery outside of treatment.
As we mentioned above, substance abuse is a lot like any other chronic disease in that relapses are inevitable in many cases. Relapse does not mean failure. It just means we need to take stock of our situation and start again. Our best hedge against slipping into a long-term relapse is to stay close to the people we love and cultivate the healthy friendships we made while in treatment. Addiction thrives in isolation, but human beings do not. Together, we can stand strong and sober.
Avoiding Lapses During Addiction Recovery
Within addiction recovery, particularly within an outpatient setting, there are temptations many struggle with. Releasing oneself from damaging addictive behavior is difficult, and at Renaissance Ranch, our outpatient addiction recovery programs are designed to help you or a loved one find the right strategies and support.
A “lapse” or a “slip” is a term we use for any brief re-engagement someone has with their addictive behaviors. We’ll often feel awful after our slips and immediately regret being unable to avoid them. Lapses can be triggered by a few different things, but if they become an issue, there are also some strategies for helping to avoid them. Let’s look at everything you need to know here.
Get Through Today
Thinking about living the rest of your life without drugs or alcohol might feel overwhelming, which is why you shouldn’t be thinking about that right now. The key is to make it through today, and not stress out about what might happen a few days, weeks, months, or years down the road. If you can get through just today, that’s one more day of sobriety, and that’s the first step to a lifetime of sobriety.
Surround Yourself With the Right People
Just like your mom used to tell you in junior high, it’s important to surround yourself with good influences and eliminate the bad influences from your life. If your existing group of friends cannot go anywhere or do anything without involving alcohol, hanging out with them after you get out of a recovery program will only put that temptation right in front of you—and make it seem normal and harmless because all your friends are doing it. In addition, being alone all the time might make you want to drink or use drugs again, so surround yourself with a support group of sober people who can show you that having fun doesn’t have to include alcohol or drugs.
In many cases, lapses will be triggered by events that someone was not expecting. We can never control everything in our lives, and events we don’t manage may cause pressure from an area we weren’t expecting. In some cases, it’s a trigger like something that someone else says or does. In others, it might be a strong emotion we feel based on something we see or hear, and these emotions can result in powerful urges. Lapses will commonly be unexpected, which is why our next two sections on being prepared for them are so important.
Having a Plan
Have a plan at the ready for when lapses are threatening you. One strategy we recommend involves keeping a card or another reminder on you to help when these kinds of urges are creeping up – these cards can be particularly valuable in social situations or other places where you might be outside your comfort zone.
They should be written during periods of calm and reason. Keep the card or reminder in a purse, wallet or another place where it’s easy to access. After repeating the steps on your card a few times during periods of stress, these kinds of coping strategies should simply come naturally.
Here are a few suggestions for things you can put on your card:
- Friend or sponsor contact info
- Something inspirational to remind you of your goal
- A directive to follow – a meeting to go to, or an online resource to view
- Other suggestions for calming activities, like a walk or a meditation phone app
- Any other tactics you think will help deal with strong emotions and urges
Take Care of Yourself in Other Ways
Participating in activities that increase your overall health and well-being can also help avoid harmful behaviors. If you are exercising regularly, meditating, eating well, and spending time with sober friends, you will likely feel happy and healthy, which can reduce the desire to return to drugs or alcohol.