Alumni programs play a critical role in the toolkit for care providers. In addition to providing peer support for those more newly in treatment, alumni members are often the best source of referrals and brand extension for the providers.

Alumni Networks Offer Powerful Benefits

Alumni programs play a critical role in the toolkit for care providers. In addition to providing peer support for those more newly in treatment, alumni members are often the best source of referrals and brand extension for the providers. 

Janelle Wesloh, who spent more than 30 years with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, is a strong believer in the impact an alumni program can have on the business and individuals. After starting as a clinician, she spent the latter part of her career assisting people in the transition from treatment to home life with recovery support. Alumni networks are a key part of the support system that keeps individuals engaged with others and with their care providers, Wesloh said. 

As alumni members proudly share their success stories, they are the best referral source for others seeking treatment. At some treatment centers, Wesloh said, referrals from alumni make up more than 50% of the total referrals. 

Alumni networks are a key part of the support system that keeps individuals engaged with others and with their care providers. 

Janelle Wesloh,  MBA, LADC

In addition, grateful alumni and their families are often generous donors to nonprofit treatment centers. “Happy alumni donate, happy alumni refer, and happy alumni market (your center), “ Wesloh said. 

Happy alumni donate, happy alumni refer, and happy alumni market (your center). 

Janelle Wesloh, MBA, LADC

Maintaining the connection to alumni through a network is important for another reason, too. Of course, the goal is to get individuals into recovery and help them stay there, but statistically, many people do return to use or consider using again. If they maintain a connection to the care provider as part of an alumni network, that provider is often the first call when the person is again seeking help. 

“If we never lost connectivity with you, we’re your first ‘phone a friend,’” Wesloh said. “We have all these options to help you. For me, that’s the beauty of the Connections app. It’s really important to stay connected with people who are transitioning from treatment and keep them engaged.”

Alumni Use and Perception of Connections

In a recent survey of individuals currently using the Connections app, a significant percentage (65%) of respondents identified as alumni. Of particular interest was the diversity of settings and stages in recovery where individuals were introduced to the app. Notably, the majority (56%) encountered the Connections app during residential treatment, with 12% introduced during outpatient treatment and 9% during intensive outpatient IOP) treatment. During interviews, individuals shared what they found to be most valuable while they were in treatment, but as alumni, the following features were ranked as most valuable: 28% highlighted the community aspect, followed by 21% who prioritized the daily check-in, 14% for the sobriety tracker, and 11% for the library resources. Support group meetings, surveys, and the all-encompassing “everything” option each garnered 7% of respondents’ attention.

The survey findings underscore the significant role of the Connections app within alumni programs, serving as a critical tool across various stages of recovery. As alumni continue their journey, the app remains instrumental in fostering community engagement, daily accountability, sobriety tracking, access to essential resources, and reducing isolation.

Level of treatment where they were introduced and began using Connections.
  • Residential – 56%
  • Intensive Outpatient – 9%
  • Outpatient – 12%
  • Not in treatment – 7%
  • Other – 16%
  • Community – 28%
  • Daily check in – 21%
  • Sobriety tracker – 14%
  • Library – 11%
  • Support Group Meetings – 7%
  • Surveys – 7%
  • Everything – 7%
Survey Respondents

This survey was conducted by CHESS Health. There were 168 respondents, 109 of whom identified as alumni. The survey spanned across 8 states (NM, OK, WV, AZ, KS, CO, MO, and UT), and included voices from 77 organizations.

Beyond the business side, for individuals in recovery, shared experiences and mentorship provide invaluable guidance and encouragement, promoting sustained sobriety and personal growth. Jeff and Janie, a married couple in West Virginia, found this out firsthand. 

When they decided to quit using, the couple’s social circle, including many family members, disappeared. Going through treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) and staying sober saved their marriage, the couple said, but to maintain the progress they made, they needed to separate themselves from people who were still using. Unfortunately, that meant cutting ties with friends and many members of their families.

They found their support network in CHESS Health’s Connections app, an evidence-based smartphone app that includes a 24/7 moderated community, virtual support meetings, a comprehensive library of resources, and daily check-ins. The app, a component of CHESS Health’s  eRecovery solution, actively reinforces coping and recovery skills, empowering individuals to adhere to their treatment plan and sustain their recovery journey.

In the early days of treatment, Jeff and Janie received encouragement from alumni members who had successfully completed programs. Alumni members shared experiences, advice about life after treatment and provided examples about what is possible if you stick with the program. The support the couple received from the Connections alumni network kept their resolve strong through treatment, and now Jeff and Janie are alumni themselves. They continue to turn to the Connections community as a source of strength to maintain their sobriety, but also join discussions to share wisdom and encourage others, especially those who feel isolated as they did at the start of their journey. 

Jeff emphasized the power of knowing that someone else can directly relate to your challenges. “You’re talking to someone who’s been there,” Jeff said. “That’s how it helped us because we don’t have anyone around in our neighborhood. We lost all of our friends since we got sober.” 

Hearing from others who fully understand and preventing isolation in recovery are other roles alumni networks can play. “Walking away from friends and family who are still using is difficult,” Wesloh said, “but individuals in treatment can find a wealth of information and support from people who have successfully completed treatment programs and continue to maintain sobriety. In fact, alumni network support often is the most meaningful to a person newly in treatment.” 

Further, using the Connections app prevents people from becoming isolated, which Wesloh said is “one of the biggest recovery killers out there.” 

“Having everything in place that’s possible to help them see, ‘I am not alone,’” she said. “There’s people out there that get me, that understand what I’m going through and can support me.”

Michael, another alumni Connections app user, said the community was a lifeline for him at the beginning of treatment, and now it helps him in his quest to keep learning and sharing. Talking to others in the community and offering support and guidance to them as it was offered to him gives him great satisfaction. “If I help somebody else, it makes me feel good,” Michael said. 

Connecting to others virtually through the app continues to be important to Michael. “It helps to fill in the blank spots” of loneliness or boredom with social connection, he said. 

A virtual community can take on extra significance for individuals in rural areas who don’t have nearby options for in-person meetings or those who are extremely introverted or struggle with anxiety. Some people are afraid to start attending meetings due to perceived stigma or for other reasons, so virtual communities allow them to participate at their own pace and level until they feel comfortable.

“If you can really get into recovery, you start to find out that there’s joy, there’s fellowship, there’s friendship, there’s accomplishments, there’s regaining relationships that may have felt like you never could get back,” Wesloh said. 

To learn more about how the eRecovery Solution could benefit your alumni, contact us today.

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