Graduation: The Crossroad to Sobriety

Recovery may be a lifelong process, but there are still important milestones along the way. Graduation ceremonies mark the completion of treatment in a tangible way, celebrating how far each individual has come and sending them out to succeed in recovery.

Celebrating Your Accomplishments

Addiction experts recognize the benefit of charting progress and marking it in a special way. Graduation ceremonies at treatment facilities offer a tangible way to celebrate patient progress and send them out to succeed in recovery. The event acts as an example for future sober celebrations and is part of the mental work of living sober.

Friends celebrating graduationA celebration offers participants many intangible benefits. For example, a graduation gives patients the ability to express their milestone in a personal way. They may want to remember the occasion without saying anything at all, removing social pressure from patients who prefer less public attention. Or, they may have the opportunity to speak about something important to them in a positive way.1

People working through the disease of addiction in challenging environments, such as jails and prisons, benefit from such celebrations, which act as spiritual interventions. A positive ritual, such as a ceremony, gives people with a history of negative experiences the opportunity to create positive associations. The spiritual aspect of the ceremony helps them add meaning to sobriety. Ceremonies also are good times to practice meditation, reflection or prayer. These internal acts promote feelings of well-being and peace, which also support sobriety.1

Celebrating Your Transition Into Sobriety

Graduation ceremonies are widely accepted, but some people feel they send mixed messages to people in recovery. Clinical psychologist Izaak Williams says the original meaning of a graduation ceremony as an ending to something is at odds with the disease of addiction. What if, he suggests, the ceremony enables the patient to feel he has beaten addiction, without the need of working on it in the future? It’s especially important for patients to manage their addiction for a lifetime, especially since 64 percent of patients in addiction treatment facilities are repeat patients.2,3 As an alternative to traditional graduation ceremonies, Williams supports using the term “transition day.” The ceremony should support techniques that make recovery easier and offer ideas about finding supportive people to connect with in recovery.3

Affirmation, Support and Re-Identification

Even people who question the terminology of graduation ceremonies recognize the importance of supporting addiction patients. Ceremonies allow people to speak about their personal struggles and offer tips to others about staying sober. One drug court graduate gave a speech during her ceremony to encourage others; she said it was important to refuse society’s labels about addicts. She added that graduates should find a positive way to define themselves.4 Supportive language and talk about the need to stay positive are important elements of graduation ceremonies.

Recovery is a lifelong process, but it’s still important to celebrate milestones along the way. At The Oaks at La Paloma Treatment Center, we consider the completion of residential treatment a huge achievement. We offer a celebration as a way to mark the accomplishment in a special and memorable way.

The Crossroads Ceremony at The Oaks

Our graduation ceremonies, known as Crossroads, take place every Thursday from 11 am to noon. Recent ceremonies have had a more sacred, reverent feel. Patients read poems, music plays in the background and a team leader or group leader announces the graduates. The therapist for each graduate comes up and says a few words about his or her patient.

In the most symbolic part of the ceremony, the patient receives a rough stone. The rock symbolizes what she leaves behind at this crossroads in her life. Sometimes family members or friends attend the ceremony, and local The Oaks at La Paloma alumni stop by to offer encouragement.

Alumni/Event Coordinator Carol Ricossa has an emotional connection to each ceremony: “It’s just a really sweet time for them to thank us and share with us what they’ve learned,” Ricossa says.

Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, please call The Oaks at La Paloma to find out more about treatment. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer advice, answer questions and to get you on the road toward celebration.


1 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. “5 Major Treatment Issues and Approaches.” Substance Abuse Treatment for Adults in the Criminal Justice System. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2005. Accessed 19 June 2017.

2 Williams, Izaak L. “Drug Treatment Graduation Ceremonies: It’s Time to Put This Long-Cherished Tradition to Rest.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 4, Oct. 2014. Accessed 19 June 2017.

3How do ‘graduation’ ceremonies affect addiction treatment?Science Daily, 3 Feb. 2015. Accessed 19 June 2017.

4Drug Court Graduate Gives Heartfelt Speech.” Hawaii State Judiciary, 17 Nov. 2015. Accessed 19 June 2017.