Hazelden Betty Ford has been at the forefront of the alcohol and drug addiction treatment field for more than 70 years. Their experts are dedicated to providing clinical care, education, and research in the field of addiction, and have been saving lives, restoring families, and shaping increasingly effective addiction treatment programs with the ultimate goal of promoting lasting sobriety. Expanding on this goal, Hazelden Betty Ford created Connection™, a personalized, intensive recovery coaching experience for people in early recovery that also promotes peace of mind for their families, loved ones, and other concerned parties.
Recent studies show that over 85% of people who have suffered from substance use disorder relapse within the first year after treatment3. Addiction affects the parts of the brain that govern learning and memory4. For people with substance use disorder, using their drug of choice provides a rewarding experience which the brain saves as a positive memory. Everyday triggers can remind the brain of this positive experience, making it extremely difficult to avoid the substance, especially as addiction trains the brain with more and more memories over time.
Recovery, on the other hand, is an on-going process in which the brain must be re-trained to diminish those memories. This prolonged process is partly why addiction is treated as a chronic disease. To overcome the likelihood of relapse, recovery from addiction should be managed similarly to other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or asthma. As Dr. Michael Tkach, director of recovery management for Hazelden Betty Ford explains, “Obtaining sobriety is often the first success in recovery, and thriving in recovery becomes a string of successes, engaging in supports, and experiencing improved quality of life that continues to unfold throughout the recovery journey, which is a life-long process.” While many treatment programs understand the difficult journey that discharged clients will face, most programs do not offer a comprehensive continued care plan to prepare clients for their first year in recovery.
The ability to remain accountable and the constant support from a participant’s recovery circle are strong factors in the fight against relapse. Having a counselor involved in the recovery process who cares about the participant and their sobriety and wellbeing helps the participant make the behavior changes needed to prevent a return to substance use. Knowing this, Hazelden Betty Ford is committed to creating long-term solutions that involve the participant’s recovery circle to help them overcome relapse triggers and achieve lasting sobriety.
Hazelden Betty Ford created the Connection Program for people who are discharged from one of Foundation’s 15 treatment centers. Connection is a personalized continued care program that includes frequent contact with a recovery coach for both the participant and their designated family members or recovery circle. The Connection Program offers catered lengths of participation from 3-12 months and beyond. It is also very common for Connection participants to stay in the program for several years post-treatment. For many participants, documenting sobriety is also a key component of the program. Connection integrates reporting tools like Soberlink to help participants show proof of abstinence from substance use.
Modeled after licensed professional programs, Connection allows participants to be supported and monitored for drugs and alcohol for an extended period of time post-treatment. Licensed professional programs follow the “New Paradigm for Recovery,” treating and managing substance use disorder as a chronic illness. Licensed professional programs have seen tremendous outcomes through this strategy along with long-term monitoring. A 2008 study published in the BMJ shows that 79% of doctors in licensed professional programs remained completely abstinent of drugs and alcohol compared to 50% for the general population6.
Like licensed professional programs, Connection incorporates the most promising support practices for long-term drug and alcohol addiction recovery. Furthermore, they provide participants access to a team of nine licensed recovery coaches, who will lead the participant through the different phases of their recovery journey. “The Connection team helps participants develop their recovery network, which often includes family members. Bringing family members into the recovery process helps our participants stay accountable, building trust back with their loved ones, and ultimately helping to create lasting sobriety,” says Jenna Koski, Connection program manager.”
To help participants stay connected with their recovery circle, Hazelden Betty Ford uses accountability tools such as Soberlink. Soberlink is a remote alcohol monitoring solution that automates the process of sharing alcohol breath test results with the participant’s recovery circle. Soberlink combines an FDA-cleared breathalyzer device with a cloud-based management portal that automatically sends reports and real-time alerts of the participant’s alcohol breath tests to Connection coaches and loved ones. Since 2014, Soberlink has helped Hazelden Betty Ford’s participants rebuild trust and provide peace of mind to their family. The typical set up for participants using Soberlink is a schedule of three Breathalyzer tests a day – one in the morning, one in the early evening, and one before bedtime. Many participants feel that Soberlink empowers them in their recovery journey, giving them more freedom because their loved ones no longer have to question their sobriety. With Soberlink, they can prove it every day.
One participant of the Connection program with Soberlink considers the combined programs to be a valuable tool in his on-going recovery, “After my IOP program, I decided that a 90-day program with counseling and Soberlink was what I needed in order to continue my journey. Initially, I was frustrated with testing three times per day and fought the program for some time. Eventually, I came to realize the program made me accountable for my actions and helped with building trust with my spouse, and I have learned to embrace it. With the support of my wife, I decided to continue the program for another 90-day period, and then signed up for an additional six-month program. At the end, I will have completed 12 months of daily testing and counseling phone calls. I now really enjoy and appreciate the Connection and Soberlink program. I would recommend it without reservation for anyone coming out of a rehab program and believe it will increase my chance of overall success and sobriety.”
One of the key advantages of using Soberlink is the early intervention opportunities it provides. With real-time results comes the chance for the recovery coach to intervene promptly and discuss what triggers occurred for the client to return to drinking. These interventions are key to establishing a transparent relationship with the coach and understanding where the participant is in their recovery path. Soberlink and the Connection program show how technology-assisted-care, along with coaching and support, can help fill the gaps that traditional relapse prevention strategies cannot.
Since 2015, over 700 participants have begun their journey to successfully rebuilding trust with their loved ones through Soberlink and the Connection program. The average participant who has used Soberlink through the Connection program was monitored for nine months, with some continuing for at least three years, showing the importance of long-term monitoring for higher success. The Connection Program has received over half a million remote Soberlink tests, and the numbers continue to increase. Today, Soberlink and Hazelden Betty Ford are collaborating to release outcomes data through an IRB study that is hoped to be published sometime in 2020.