Do the Benefits of an Addiction Treatment Program Really Outweigh the Costs?

Do the Benefits of an Addiction Treatment Program Really Outweigh the Costs?


When I was still stuck in my alcoholism and drug addiction, I used to wonder if the benefits of going to an addiction treatment center really outweighed the costs.

For one thing, I was still stuck in denial and I did not really believe that I could live a sober life and be happy again. I did not see that as a possible outcome for myself. But one thing that you have to realize is that this is really the point of treatment! If you were not happy when you were sober, wouldn’t you just return to your drug of choice? I know I would. People aren’t stupid and they don’t want to be miserable, so don’t expect anyone to be miserable in their sobriety and still wanting to use their drug of choice. This doesn’t make sense. If you are miserable in recovery then this will lead to relapse, as one would expect.

This is one of the key pieces of the puzzle that I was missing in my own denial. I did not really believe that I would be happy if I were sober. All I could imagine was that I would be depriving myself of alcohol every day and that it would be agony forever. Obviously this is not the case. If it were really that miserable then I would not have made it 12 plus years in sobriety so far without taking a drink or a drug. Of course it gets better. Of course your life starts to get interesting and fun and even joyful in sobriety. If it did not, I promise you that I would have gone back to the alcohol. That’s not a terrible thing to say by any means, I am only being rational here. Who would want to stay miserable forever? Not me. If sobriety did not offer me some sort of benefit (happiness without alcohol and drugs) then I would have rejected it.

Is the cost of alcoholism and drug addiction treatment really that high?

When I was stuck in my addiction I would say or think anything in order to justify my drinking and drug use.

So one of the things that I clung to was the idea that treatment was just way too expensive.

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This is a silly argument when you look at it in retrospect. For example, here I am after 12 plus years in recovery, having gone to a treatment center 12 years ago to start my journey in recovery.

What price would I have paid back then if I had known what the outcome would be? What would that have been worth to me, knowing how miserable I was in my addiction at the time? Knowing that I was desperate and near suicide because I was so miserable from drinking every day? How much would that have been worth to me?

I can tell you now because I have enjoyed 12 years of awesome recovery–the value of that treatment was infinite. I would have paid any price that I could have mustered. The outcome of that trip to rehab was worth more than anything else in my life had really been worth to me. I could not really put a price on it.

Now some people say “OK sure, if you go to rehab and you happen to stay sober forever or at least for the next decade, then that is great for you and you obviously got your money’s worth. But what about the people who go to rehab and then they relapse immediately? Isn’t that a waste of money?”

I say “no.” It is not a waste of money. And here is why.

I went to rehab 3 times. It took me several years and 3 trips to rehab before I “got it.” That is just what it took for me.

For other people this number will be different. I know one guy who is still sober today and he only went to rehab once. I know another guy who was with me in treatment and this was his 17th time around. He had been to 16 other treatment centers before and relapsed every time.

Should that guy give up? Of course not!

Should I have given up after going to rehab twice? I could have said “well obviously it was not meant to be, I should just drink myself to a miserable death and be done with the whole recovery idea!” How tragic would that have been, given that I later went to rehab a third time and have since been sober for over 12 years and counting? The value of these past 12 years has been infinite. It has been a wonderful and amazing journey and you cannot put a price on it.

So again, the number of trips to rehab is irrelevant. Don’t let a failed attempt stop you from trying again. Most people take a few tries before they finally achieve long term sobriety. Don’t let that stop you from trying though.

Then still other people will say “OK, that sounds great if you can actually afford to go to rehab. But I can’t even pay the cost to get my foot in the door! It’s just too expensive! I don’t have the insurance or the funding to pull it off! I am doomed to die drunk without getting any help!” And on and on.

I have been there myself. That was my reasoning as well at one time. It doesn’t wash though in most places, because there is almost always a way to get help, regardless of your exact situation.

Maybe you have insurance. Maybe you have no insurance and no money at all. In either case, your job is to simply make a decision, ask for help, and then follow through on what people suggest for you to do.

Really it is just that simple. If you have no resources available to you then you need to ask for help. Even if you have insurance and lots of money the procedure is the same: You have to ask for help if you want to recover.

So get on the phone. Call up a rehab, any rehab. Call up a local treatment center. Start asking questions. This is not complicated, but it can take a bit of courage to follow through with it. Call up a rehab and ask them what you would need to do in order to get into rehab. What are your funding options? If you don’t qualify to come there, where can you go? Who can you call? Who might be able to get your funding for treatment? These are the sorts of questions that can lead to a solution. If you are not willing to get on the phone and ask these questions then you won’t get the help that you need.

You may not be able to just walk into any rehab and get instant help without any insurance and paying no money at all. That is not what I am suggesting. What I am saying is that if you are willing to ask for help then you it is likely that you will find a solution. Someone will help you get pointed in the right direction if you are willing to change your life. There are people who are sober today in AA that detoxed on someone’s couch. There are people who are sober today who got nursed back to health at a homeless shelter. And there are plenty of people today who are sober that found their way into rehab even though they did not have any health insurance. They asked for help and they followed through and they got the treatment that they needed.

What you actually get when you go to rehab

The biggest thing that you get when you check into rehab is “disruption.”

You disrupt your pattern of drinking. You disrupt it on every level possible, which is the entire point of going to inpatient rehab. You remove yourself from the threat of drinking or drug use. It becomes a non-issue while you are in rehab. Why? Because there are no drugs or alcohol there for you to consume! Out of sight, out of mind. So you stay there in rehab for a while and it is actually very easy to stay sober during that time. I know this to be true because I have been to treatment 3 times and I also worked in a detox and residential unit for several years.

It is like a freebie. If you stay in rehab for 28 days then you walk out of those doors after 28 days with a month of sobriety under your belt. It is not difficult to do this. It may take a great deal of courage to walk into rehab, but once you are there it is easy enough to remain sober. This is definitely true while you are in rehab. After you leave the real challenge begins, and that is the whole point of recovery and learning how to live a new life. Every day that you stay in rehab they are trying to prepare you for the day that you walk out of those doors, back into the real world where alcohol and drugs become readily available. This is the main goal of treatment, to prepare you for that moment so that you do not run out and relapse immediately.

Most people relapse. If you look up the recovery statistics and the rates of success you will find that most people do, in fact, relapse. But you don’t have to be one of them. You can stay clean and sober for the long run if you are committed to making it work. Obviously you have to find a path in recovery that works for your life. This is not easy to do and it requires a lot of work. This is why most people fail. Are you willing to do the work? If so, then don’t worry so much about relapse. Just worry about getting up every day and doing the hard work in recovery. That is what will keep you sober–taking action.

When you go to rehab they try to teach you how to do this, how to build a new life and start doing what I call “the work.” Really this work includes changing your life and your life situation. You have to work on the inside of yourself (eliminating shame, guilt, fear, anger, etc.) and also on the outside of your life (eliminating toxic relationships, stressful situations, etc.). If you do both of those things over time then your life will get better and better and you can avoid the threat of relapse. But it is a constant battle and you have to fight it every single day in recovery, even after many years or even decades of sobriety. This is why I refer to it as “doing the work.” You can’t slack off in recovery and expect to stay sober.

In rehab they attempt to tell you this, but because you are sheltered in a controlled environment, it is very difficult for you to learn this and internalize it. Instead, you have to learn most of this stuff when you are back out in the real world, living your life. This is why the encourage you so much during rehab to get involved with AA, so that you have some sort of support system when you leave treatment. They know how tough it may be when you are trying to make all of these changes in your life and they want you to have some support while you are going through it all. You can’t stay in rehab forever. Sooner or later you have to get out there and live your life sober and build a new life for yourself.

I was grateful to live in long term rehab for almost 2 years. This gave me a lot of extra support while I was learning how to rebuild my life in recovery. To be honest though I did not really start to live and learn a whole lot until I left that long term rehab. I am glad that I was there and it was a great opportunity for me but a whole lot of learning came after I left there as well. I think that one of the important trends in substance abuse therapy should be longer stays in rehab, but rising health care costs are in direct conflict with this. Figuring out how to fund long term rehab centers may be a good project for new start ups in the world of substance abuse treatment.

Putting a price on the lifelong benefits of sobriety

You can’t really put a price on the lifelong benefits of sobriety because they are nearly infinite. What I experienced in just the first year or two of my sobriety made the 3 trips that I took to rehab entirely worth it for me. Yet since then I have been clean and sober for 12 plus years now and counting. The benefits just keep piling up for me. Life gets better and better.

In recovery you have a choice. Life can get worse and you can relapse, or life can get better and better as you go along. What you may not realize is that:

1) There is no path in between these two.
2) Both paths (the one that leads to recovery, and the one that leads to relapse) require work.

There is no middle ground between working a recovery program and being complacent. You are either doing one or the other.

I have a hint for you as well:

If you are not sure whether you are becoming complacent or if you are taking massive action in recovery, then you are probably becoming complacent. This is a red flag as it always leads to relapse in the end unless you can reverse the trend. Your goal is to take positive action on a daily basis so that your life gets better and better.

Note too that both paths require work. You pay a price of “effort” whether you are building a positive new life in recovery, or whether you are slumping back towards relapse. If you are lazy in recovery then you edge back towards relapse, but once you actually relapse your life now requires a lot more work. Being stuck in addiction is like being on one of those little hamster wheels that keep spinning around as you run. It takes a lot of effort to keep juggling everything in active addiction. This is true even if you are homeless and have to beg for money in the streets in order to buy your liquor. It takes work to stay drunk, just as it takes work to remain sober.

Life is tough and it requires work no matter which path you choose. Therefore you should choose the path that also leads to happiness, peace, joy and contentment. This is the path of sobriety and it is also the path that requires taking “massive action.” You need to take massive action in order to recover because you need to make so many changes in recovery. You have to turn your whole life around. Just ask any recovering alcoholic what they had to change in order to get sober and they will exclaim: “Everything!” And they will laugh when they say this. They are laughing because it is so hard to describe the truth, but they know it to be true. You really do have to change your whole life in order to recover. This takes work, as I keep mentioning. But you do the work anyway, even if you want to stay drunk and be miserable. Both paths in life are hard, but one path has so much better rewards.

What happens in the long run with recovery is that the benefits start to build on themselves.

For example, one of the benefits of my recovery is physical health. I exercise now. And I keep pushing myself to become healthier.

Another benefit is that I quit smoking cigarettes. This worked out nicely with the exercise. The two goals complimented each other.

I found that exercise was like meditation for me. Distance running involved a spiritual connection on some level. This was another benefit that I could never have predicted.

All of these benefits (and many, many others) have all combined in my recovery to produce new benefits to my health and to my life that I never could have guessed. Someone in recovery may tell you “just do all of these positive things” and yet they cannot explain to you exactly why you should do each thing. The reason they cannot explain it is because no one could possibly predict all of the positive benefits that you will get out of these positive actions.

But that does NOT mean that you should not take positive action. You should, every single day. This becomes your daily practice. This is how you build a new life for yourself in recovery–one day at a time by taking positive action every single day. It builds on itself and new benefits will be revealed to you that no one could possibly know in advance.

Unfortunately, recovery is pass/fail

Recovery is pass/fail. You either relapse or you build a new life of sobriety. There is really no in between. If you think you have found a point in between those two then you are probably fooling yourself and are headed for relapse.

There are many different paths to recovery from addiction. Your job is to find one and then start taking action every day in order to build a new life for yourself.

If you fail then your job is to get your courage back up and go back to rehab. Try again. The benefits of sobriety are too great to ignore. Likewise, the misery of addiction is to horrible to endure without trying to fix it.

What has your experience been with addiction treatment? Was it ultimately worth it for you, as it was for me? Do you feel like modern day rehab is a waste of time and money? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!

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