How to best work with addiction treatment alumni? An INTERVIEW with Sierra Tucson

What happens to recovering addicts when treatment ends? This interview outlines best practices and ideas for treatment centers RE: Alumni Engagement. More here!

minute read

What happens when a treatment program end?

What SHOULD happen?

This interview describes alumni communication and best practices in post-treatment protocol. Your comments are welcomed at the end!

Alumni programs benefit individuals AND organizations

A key aspect to any successful treatment program includes rehab alumni services. After all, addiction recovery is a lifelong commitment…so how/why should treatment end after a 30-60-90 day inpatient term? But have you ever thought about how alumni programs can benefit your own organization?

Alumni Relations: Building a lasting recovery community

How do rehab alumni programs work? Alumni programs exist to enhance people’s efforts to remaining sober and healthy. But alumni programs help treatment centers, as well. In addition to directly serving clients, alumni programs contribute to the ongoing success and growth of treatment programs. How?

1. Discussing aftercare plans, sharing stories, and talking about next steps are the foundation for establishing and maintaining a strong aftercare connection.
2. Rehab alumni serve as a great way to attract new clients and testify to the quality of provided services.
3. Alumnus themselves are evidence of treatment outcomes.

To understand more about how alumni can work as referral source, we have invited Sierra Tucson, a treatment center located in Arizona to tell us more. The folks there recently developed an iPhone and Android App to help keep recovered addicts accountable during their lifelong addiction recovery.

In this interview, we’ll discuss communication protocols, best practices in alumni retainment, and program structures that can help you manage an alumni program that’s a win-win for all. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end.

ADDICTION BLOG: Thank you for joining us today, Sierra Tucson! For a start, can you tell us how you initiate communication between your organization and your residents after treatment ends? How much communication is considered to be most appropriate?

SIERRA TUCSON: Each resident that enrolls in Connect365 is assigned a Recovery Coach and provided with a Connect365 app. Upon leaving treatment, s/he receives a weekly phone call with the assigned Recovery Coach and can also interact via secure message for 365 days! This communication is deemed adequate if there are other supports in place, such as:

  • A therapist
  • Family
  • 12-Step meetings

ADDICTION BLOG: What’s the connection between alumni communication and continued treatment?

SIERRA TUCSON: Continued treatment often involves additional therapy at either an Outpatient or Partial Hospitalization level.

Connect365 is a coaching service that supports involvement in both continued treatment and Alumni Relations. Residents who successfully complete treatment at Sierra Tucson are considered alumni, and receive a lifetime of alumni services and support.

ADDICTION BLOG: What average percentage of people remain engaged in the alumni community? What can a treatment center do to raise people’s interest about joining the alumni community?

SIERRA TUCSON: Eighty-eight percent of our residents are participating in Connect365 coaching. I believe the most effective way to raise interest in the alumni community is to encourage participants of Connect365 to attend an alumni group or function and see this additional support working in others’ lives firsthand.

ADDICTION BLOG: What kinds of formal/informal events work best to keep engaging alumni? What do you recommend?

SIERRA TUCSON: The connection with the Recovery Coach is an essential component to continued involvement. Knowing that the participant can reconnect with a trusted resource from treatment is essential.

We also believe strongly in the value of alumni outreach. Our Alumni Coordinators personally contact our alumni on a regular basis to build and maintain a relationship. In recovery, we know that relationships matter – when trust is established, our alumni have a deeper investment in, and commitment to, the alumni community.

ADDICTION BLOG: What do you think motivates people (the most) to stay in contact with you beyond residential treatment?

SIERRA TUCSON: They have a desire to stay connected to their “safe place.” Our mobile app shows them important elements of their healing process, such as The Horse Herd, Drum Circle, and Meditation Circles, so they can “call up” these places of healing at any time.

ADDICTION BLOG: How formal is the counseling relationship at Sierra Tucson AFTER inpatient treatment? How formal SHOULD it be?

SIERRA TUCSON: Our coaching is not a replacement for counseling, nor is it an emergency service. We provide support, resources and encouragement. Oftentimes we refer to a therapist or will reach out to the therapist with concerns and questions.

ADDICTION BLOG: Can you briefly introduce us to your Connect365 mobile app? What is the idea behind it? What do you aim to achieve with this application?


We have an app that was designed to continue and support recovery and healthy choices in a holistic manner while staying connected to Sierra Tucson. The app has secure messaging capabilities, and allows support members to communicate with the participant and his or her coach. The app also provides resources for:

  • 12-Step meetings
  • sleep
  • nutrition
  • exercise

The cognitive restructuring that began at Sierra Tucson continues as we reinforce important changes such as creating daily intentions and expressing gratitude before retiring for the evening. The app provides a recovery diary to track goals (i.e., meeting attendance) and keep appointments. It also asks if the participant is med-compliant and sober for the day.

Additionally, we include our alumni resources in the app so that participants can locate an alumni event in their area. So many younger residents and professionals enjoy the convenience of keeping track of their recovery in an electronic format.

ADDICTION BLOG: How many people are included in the support team? Does it only consist of therapists from your addiction facility, or you are connected to a wider addiction specialty network?

SIERRA TUCSON: Participants can have as many support members are they like. We only encourage one coach from Sierra Tucson and the rest can include:

  • family members
  • sponsors
  • professional contacts
  • any other stakeholders in the person’s recovery

ADDICTION BLOG: Are recovering addicts allowed to choose their Recovery Coach by themselves, or do you do that for them?

SIERRA TUCSON: Coaches are assigned based upon the primary therapist and we will honor any special requests that are made. We want the relationship to work!

ADDICTION: How/Should rehab alumni continue to stay in touch with one another? What are some healthy limitations? Does Connect365 encourage peer-to- peer connection?

SIERRA TUCSON: We encourage connection with peers from treatment. We do not encourage romantic relationships, intervening when someone is not doing well, and living with a peer from treatment in a non-controlled environment. Our alumni events provide a safe place where individuals can reconnect, while also providing healthy boundaries and necessary structure.

ADDICTION BLOG: In what way do you keep track of a resident’s progress in the implementation of the aftercare plan using the Connect365 mobile app? Does the app consist of some specific measurements, or do you determine the progress via clinical practice?


We ask our Recovery Coaches to report on whether or not the participant is following the recommendation from his or her continued care plan. If we identify non-compliance, we explore the reasons and provide alternatives if necessary.

At present date, we are tracking if the participant is doing better since leaving Sierra Tucson and if he or she is following one or more items from the personalized continued care plan. We will also be measuring:

  • Sobriety
  • Medication compliance
  • Coping skills

ADDICTION BLOG: Why should people start using Connect365? In what way can residents and treatment centers benefit from Connect365?

SIERRA TUCSON: Residents benefit by staying connected to their Healing Place. Referents benefit by knowing that we are in constant contact with their clients after discharge and can alert them to any potential difficulties or challenges. Family members benefit by not having to supervise or monitor their loved one; they can remain focused on their own recovery.

ADDICTION BLOG: Do you have any plans for improving the services of Connect365’s mobile app? Which segments of the services included in Connect365 do you see growing further?

SIERRA TUCSON: Yes! We will be expanding the gamification and incentive components of our app aimed at encouraging participation and reinforcing positive and healthy choices.

We are also going to enhance and expand our outcome data and provide monthly coping strategy updates to our participants, as well as a comprehensive psychological profile at six months post-Connect365 for those who complete the 12-month service. These outcomes will be an important element in building solid relationships with our residents’ health insurance providers, allowing us to more easily bring the miracle that is Sierra Tucson to those in need of hope and healing.

ADDICTION BLOG: Do you have anything else that you would like to add for our readers?

SIERRA TUCSON: Participating in Connect365 is an empowering decision where the resident is encouraged to make his or her first decision that supports a new, healthy life! There is no additional charge for the service – and it is available to all.

About the Interviewee: For more than 33 years, Sierra Tucson’s longstanding legacy of clinical excellence and compassionate care has resulted in recovery for those struggling with substance use disorder, trauma-related issues, eating disorders, chronic pain and mood and anxiety disorders. Residents receive the resources, support, and tools necessary for long-term change, including one full year of continuing care and a lifetime of alumni services. Internationally renowned for its innovative approach to behavioral and mental health treatment, Sierra Tucson was the recipient of the 2016 Organizational Achievement Award by NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. Call 800-842-4487 or visit
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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