There are a number of myths about drug and alcohol treatment centers out there. Many of these myths are perpetuated by popular media, but sometimes people are simply misled about what goes on in drug and alcohol treatment centers.
Let’s set the record straight on some of these myths and see what we can learn.
Myth #1: That treatment can “cure” an addict or alcoholic.
If you have no prior experience with a drug addict or alcoholic in your family, it would be perfectly understandable for you to think this way at first. The assumption is that if you send an alcoholic to rehab then that person should be treated and stop having a problem.
Otherwise, what is the point of treatment, right?
That is a very popular mindset by people who have no real experience with the field of substance abuse treatment.
Those of us with more experience know the truth: That treating addiction is a process, and there are no guarantees when it comes to sobriety.
The most that we can hope for when treatment drug addiction and alcoholism is to arrest the disease one day at a time. Now it is still possible for someone to sober up and remain that way until they die some day, living the rest of their lifetime out in sobriety. However, that is not a foregone conclusion just because someone attends a treatment center.
Many, many struggling alcoholics and drug addicts attend treatment before they are truly at their bottom and ready to change. This happens for a number of reasons. You may wonder “Why on earth would someone attend treatment if they are not truly ready for change yet?” But it happens all the time. Alcoholics and addicts get pressure to go to treatment from their families, from their friends, from their job, and from their spouses. And unless the alcoholic truly wants to attend treatment solely for themselves, it just isn’t going to work.
The problem is that it is very difficult to know this in advance when you are wrong about it. What does that mean?
It means that if you are sort of on the fence and you wish that your life was different, then you might agree to go to rehab. Does this mean that you are guaranteed to remain sober forever?
Unfortunately, no it doesn’t. It just means that you are willing to attend rehab. Lots of people reach this point without going that next step further, which essentially amounts to being willing to do whatever it takes, being willing to dedicate your life to sobriety, being willing to completely change your behavior in order to learn a new way of life. This is the true level of commitment that it takes to remain clean and sober, and it is what holds most people back from success in achieving long term sobriety.
In other words, lots of people wish that they could stop drinking or taking drugs, and they become willing to check into rehab for a few weeks. But this is not the same level of commitment that is truly required to maintain long term sobriety and to change your entire way of life. The real work in recovery is only starting when you walk out of that treatment center and face the world on your own again for the first time.
Treatment doesn’t cure anyone. It just gives you a platform and a support system so that you can begin to heal. But that is all that it is–a start, a beginning. You are far from healed when you “graduate” from rehab. There is much work to be done yet. Recovery is a lifelong work in progress.
Myth #2: That treatment is expensive.
This is basically the same argument as talking about health care being expensive. You have to figure out exactly what you are “buying” with your investment.
I have been to three treatment centers in my life and I paid various amounts of out of my pocket for each one. For some of them I was insured and for others I was not.
In the end it does not really matter much what I paid, how much my insurance covered, what kind of grant I got in order to fund treatment the last time, and so on. All of those details are meaningless compared to the infinite benefit that I received in the end: A life in sobriety. A life of recovery.
What I have in my life now has infinite value. I suppose from the short term perspective of the alcoholic, they might argue that buying another bottle of booze is a lot cheaper than trying to get funded for a visit to a 28 day recovery program. In the short run, they would be right about that. But in the long run it is no contest. I would have paid any amount necessary in order to “buy” my sobriety, had I known it was going to be this good.
And that is what you must consider when you are talking about going to treatment. What are you buying? What is the investment going to return to you?
I went to treatment three times. From a short term perspective, I would have said that the first two rehab visits were a total waste of money. From a long term perspective, however, I can tell you that these were part of what I had to do in order to get to where I am today. Those “failures” were part of the process, they were part of the journey, they were part of what I had to do in order to make the third visit to rehab a success.
So an alcoholic with a negative attitude towards recovery would look at the first two rehab visits and say that they were a waste of time and money. But today I have enough perspective to see that they were part of the journey and therefore they were part of the “total investment” in my recovery.
You cannot put a price on what I have today. I used to waste thousands and thousands of dollars every year on drugs and booze, not to mention the fact that this ruined my quality of life, made me miserable, and was shortening my lifespan all while being a colossal waste of money. I went to rehab 3 times and it finally worked, and now I have lived clean and sober for the last 14 years and counting. Do you think that was a good deal? I know for myself that it certainly was. You cannot put a price on this transformation. My happiness and sobriety today has infinite value. So regardless of what it costs, treatment is not expensive if it works for you. And that is largely a function of whether or not you have hit bottom yet.
Myth #3: That the detox process will be painful and horrible to endure.
Popular media has convinced the world somehow that detoxing from drugs and alcohol is extremely painful.
Obviously there is some truth to this, or the myth would not really persist. Drug addicts and alcoholics develop real dependency, many times a physical dependency in addition to the psychological one. And obviously this is what causes addiction to begin with, the need to avoid painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
The truth is, however, that a medical detox is not going to let you become violently ill while you come off of alcohol, pills, or painkillers. Their job is to help you to transition off as smoothly as possible.
Now part of this myth is the idea that some people believe that addicts and alcoholics are “bad” people who deserve to be punished, and therefore they should be treated harshly in detox and left to fend for themselves when they feel pain and sickness and discomfort. But that is a myth as well–the addict is sick, not necessarily a bad person. They need help, they need sobriety, they need medication and medical attention to get them safely back to a sober state of mind and body. And that is the whole point of treatment, and the function of detox.
Most treatment centers have a medical staff in the detox unit that attempts to keep people healthy and relatively comfortable. In the movies, they may show people climbing the walls or going crazy while they are in detox. This is not realistic and it is simply not the truth. People are not that uncomfortable in detox centers.
Myth #4: The old joke: “Rehab is for quitters!”
There is an old joke that “rehab is for quitters.” Sometimes you will see that on a tee shirt while the owner of that shirt is sipping on a beer or something.
The truth is that when you go to treatment, you are not just quitting an old life. You are, in fact, starting a new life, which is amazing beyond belief.
What I mean by that is that you cannot possibly predict how awesome your life will become in sobriety. You cannot imagine what life will be like from your limited perspective as a using addict or alcoholic.
When you are actively abusing drugs or alcohol, your only frame of reference for “happiness” is one of getting drunk or high. So if you are not heavily medicated during your addiction, you are not happy. Simple as that. The only way that you might become happy is if you heavily indulge in your drug of choice. This is simply part of addiction.
So over time you forget what real happiness is all about. You lose that perspective. And all you know eventually is that in order to have a chance at being the least bit happy, you are going to have to get drunk or high. Or both. And even then you still might be miserable. As your tolerance cheats you further and further during your progressive disease, eventually you find that you are miserable nearly 100 percent of the time. That is the point where you hopefully hit bottom and realize “there has to be a better way.”
And there is, of course. The better way is to let go. To quit the drugs, the booze, the madness of addiction. OK fine, rehab is for quitters. But just look at what you gain. You get your whole world back, you get your life back, you get to be happy again. And that is truly amazing. Once you experience this transformation you won’t want to let it go for anything. That is the gift of sobriety, the joy that you experience when you give recovery a chance to work in your life.
Of course it isn’t easy, it takes some real guts and some serious sacrifice to get there. But once you make that leap of faith and your whole world transforms, you will realize that you are so much better off in sobriety, and so much happier than you ever were in your addiction.
The “happiness” that you get from drugs and alcohol is very temporary and fleeting. It isn’t real. You keep trying to grasp that happiness and it just slips through your fingers like sand.
In recovery, you get to grasp and hold on to that happiness. How is this different than a life of drug and alcohol addiction?
Because you get to remember. You get to remember your happy memories in recovery, and hold on to them and cherish them. And the happiness is no longer fleeting. It is real. And you have hope now. In your addiction, you had lost all hope. There was no hope left because you were miserable, you went from one lousy drunk or high to the next with no real hope for any kind of lasting happiness. The illusion when you are addicted is that if you only had enough, if you just had enough drugs and booze and free time, if you only had a bit more, if you only had enough–then you could finally be happy. But “enough” never really comes, and you realize at some point that you will never really get there if you continue to chase your tail with substances, booze, drugs, and so on.
Rehab may be for quitters, but addiction is a life that deserves quitting. There is something better out there, and that something is recovery.
Myth #5: That society will stigmatize you for going to rehab
There is a persistent myth that if you go to drug rehab that you will be stigmatized, looked down on, and treated unfairly for the rest of your life.
Some addicts and alcoholics believe that if they check into treatment, everyone will suddenly know about it, and then everyone will use that information against them in some way.
We tend to believe that others are talking about us behind our backs, and that all of it is bad.
The reality is: Nobody cares.
This is actually a good motto to remember in life, even though it sounds quite negative at first.
The truth is that nobody really cares. About anything. You see, they are all too busy worrying about themselves!
This is not a negative thing, as you might think at first. In fact, it is very liberating once you realize what this truly means. No one is watching you. No one cares. At least, not in the way that we think they are. They are too busy worrying about their own affairs, their own problems, their own anxieties. And so therefore you really only need to focus on the one thing that you can control for yourself: Your own attitude.
Think about it. You canít really control what other people do or what they say to each other. And you cannot really control every event in your own life, because random things will probably happen to you at various times. We are all subject to the chaotic and random nature of things.
So the trick is to focus on the part that you can actually control, which is your reaction to these random events.
Some people believe that they donít have a choice. That they cannot choose how they react. But this is silly. You do have a choice. You can choose to be a victim every day, or you can choose to be grateful. The only difference is in perception, in your own attitude. So when something ďbadĒ happens in your life, you get to decide how you are going to react to it, whether or not you learn anything from it, and how you might be able to put a positive spin on it.
So donít think of going to rehab as this terrible stigma. Donít think of going to treatment as if you were being carted off to prison or something. Treatment isnít like that, and that is not really what it is about. Itís about giving yourself a new chance in life. Itís about reinventing yourself. Itís about transformation.
There is a saying ďOnce an addict, always an addict.Ē This is both true and untrue. It is true because you will never be rid of the disease, no matter how long you stay clean and sober. The potential for relapse will always be there, and that is why we must stay vigilant. But it is untrue because you donít have to keep living that old life, you donít have to keep self medicating with drugs and alcohol, you donít have to keep torturing yourself and living in misery. No addict ever has to use drugs or alcohol again against their own will, ever again.
You can change your life, you can transform into someone who is happy again without having to self medicate. The key is that you surrender, give yourself over completely to a new way of life, and leave your old life behind completely. One way to get started on this is to check into treatment. It is true that there is no “cure,” but the disease can still be arrested completely and you can live a happy and sober life as a result. Going to rehab may not be a 100 percent cure in every case, but it is still the best form of help that is available.
Anyone who is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction should consider inpatient treatment as their best possible option.