Addiction Treatment Program: Is it Necessary to Fail at First?

Addiction Treatment Program: Is it Necessary to Fail at First?


I believe in treatment and I know that it works. However, my thought is that it does not work real well, and most of what I explore on this website are ideas for improving recovery and treatment in general. My intent is not to bash the substance abuse community, but only in trying to explore alternatives, new approaches, and improve overall success rates.

Existing addiction treatment programs fall short of what I see as being an ideal path in recovery. I do not doubt that the current substance abuse community is doing their best to help treat addicts and alcoholics, but no one can really debate that the results we are getting are anything better than mediocre to downright awful. This is not an industry that can brag about impressive numbers. Those few treatment centers that have boasted about impressive results have generally been exposed as having made fraudulent claims. This is not to say that the substance abuse treatment industry is a sham, but only that it is very difficult to produce good results. They are trying to solve a particularly tough problem, and we may never see outstanding success rates.

But that does not mean that we should not try. I think it is our responsibility in recovery to push ourselves to uncover deeper truths about how we actually stay clean and sober.

Look at your own recovery program–is it working for you? Great. Does it work for everyone else? No, it probably does not. We already know this because our mainstream, traditional recovery programs have lousy rates of success. Our one-size-fits-all approach does not necessarily work all that great for keeping people clean and sober.

Are there alternatives? What can we do differently to design the ultimate addiction treatment program as we move forward?

To increase success rates, focus on exclusion

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This may be a ridiculous idea, but it helps point out one of the major problems in the substance abuse field: if you ruthlessly cut unqualified prospects from a recovery program, you can boost the success rate substantially. What does this mean? It means that you can post better success rates in recovery if you weed out the people who are not going to succeed anyway. A pretty harsh idea, but it shows just how much of our success in recovery depends on our initial state of surrender and willingness.

Take 100 addicts who say they want to get clean and sober. Now screen them and figure out which ones are only doing it at the request of their spouse. Now screen them again and find out which ones are being motivated due to legal problems or to try and sway a custody battle. Screen them further to find those still stuck in denial, as well as those who are still trying to manipulate everything and design their own recovery program. Get rid of all of these people and you might be left with just a handful of addicts. Put these remaining people into rehab and then you will see some decent success rates.

The problem is that our current approach is to simply try to help the entire lot of 100 addicts, even though many of them do not really have a chance at sobriety just yet. It is a clunky process but it might be a necessary evil, as evidenced by the fact that many who have found success in recovery had to go through treatment several times before they “got it.”

The experts tell us that it is no longer necessary to “hit bottom” in order to recover. Those in AA probably disagree. Regardless of who is correct, the treatment industry wastes a lot of time and energy on addicts and alcoholics who are nowhere near total surrender.

The question is: are these failures necessary in our path to recovery? Is it necessary for people to fail in rehab several times before they “get it?” Or can they take their lumps on the outside, so to speak, before they develop the necessary level of surrender in order to achieve success in recovery?

What do you think?


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