What benefits can you get from going to an alcohol or addiction treatment center, other than the obvious benefit of learning how not to live with drugs and alcohol?
What do you really gain by going to rehab? Is it possible that it could be a complete waste of time for some people? What if you relapse right away?
Let’s take a closer look at these questions and see what we can learn.
The obvious benefits of sobriety
First of all, there are some pretty big benefits to sobriety itself.
If you go to rehab and you manage to stay clean and sober for a considerable length of time (possibly forever) then the payoff of this outcome cannot be overstated enough. This is the home run. If you become clean and sober as a direct result of rehab then there is no argument that can be made against it really; no price to be paid that is too high.
This is because the difference between sobriety and active addiction is such an enormous gap in terms of happiness, quality of life, overall health, and so on. It is no contest.
Your life in active addiction is a train wreck that is spiraling out of control and is filled with chaos and misery.
If you manage to stay clean and sober then you are most definitely on the upswing. Things are getting better all the time, not worse. If you embrace the principles of recovery and you are pushing yourself to make positive changes then things “just keep getting better and better.”
Most recovery programs are based on the idea that you work hard on your life to make changes. Certainly the popular 12 step programs are based on this idea. The idea is not to simply sit around in meetings every day and talk about your problems (though some unfortunately will do that of course), the idea is to take action. Massive action. To get involved with the steps, to work them into your life, to transform spiritually and to start doing the real work in recovery. To reach out and start helping others who may be struggling, and so on. This is the sort of action and the sort of work that can transform a person’s life in recovery.
Now you don’t actually have to do this work in the AA program. You don’t necessarily need a program of recovery at all. It is not the program itself that keeps you sober, it is the positive action that you are taking and the changes that you are making. If you keep making positive changes in your life then over time your life will get better and better in sobriety. This will help to motivate you to stay clean and sober for the long run, because you will not want to risk everything (including your new found happiness) by throwing everything away on a relapse.
In other words, if you take massive action in recovery and build a better life for yourself then this becomes an insurance policy against relapse. If you have a great life and things just keep getting better and better then why would someone want to risk that joy and contentment on a potential relapse? They wouldn’t. And this is why you need to actually work in your recovery. You need to put in the positive action, each and every day in order to build that new life that is really worth living. If you don’t work at it then you are setting yourself up for boredom, frustration, anger, and so on. All things that could eventually lead you to relapse.
One thing you won’t get – motivation to get sober
Interestingly enough, one thing that you will NOT get at an addiction treatment center is motivation to get sober.
This is unfortunate, and also the cause of much pain and suffering.
The problem is that everyone wants for rehab to motivate the alcoholic or the drug addict to get help.
People have this secret hope that if they send someone (or themselves) to rehab that this person will suddenly want to get sober. Just by being in treatment they are hoping that it will motivate them to change. Or they are hoping that if the person goes through detox and is in treatment “being around their peers who are trying to get sober” that this motivation will rub off of them.
It doesn’t work that way.
In order to get clean and sober it has to happen the other way around. The alcoholic has to want to change first, then they have to agree to go to rehab.
But many alcoholics and drug addicts will agree to go to rehab before they are truly ready to change. Before they have truly hit bottom. Before they have truly surrendered to their disease.
Why does this happen? I am not sure exactly, but I have experienced it myself at least twice (2 trips to 2 different rehabs when I wasn’t really ready to stop drinking yet). Later on I worked in a rehab center for 5 years plus and I can tell you that many people end up in treatment when they are just not ready to commit to real change. It happens, and it happens a lot.
There are two different points in the experience of the alcoholic. One point is where they get frustrated or miserable enough to want to give something else a try, and we might say at this point that they have “admitted to having a problem.” They acknowledge that they have a drinking problem at least, and they are willing to go to rehab.
Someone at this point is not about to find lifelong sobriety. They aren’t ready yet. They have only reached the first point.
The second point comes later–how much later will vary depending on the person. For me, it came a few years later after going to rehab and failing twice. That second point is different from the first one because now the alcoholic doesn’t just admit to their problem, but now they ACCEPT their alcoholism on a really deep level. Big difference. And this time they are thoroughly beaten down, they have hit bottom, and they are not very hopeful for the future. They are defeated. This is real surrender. This time they agree to go to rehab but they honestly don’t care much about the outcome. They are desperate to end the misery and chaos and they may even have thoughts of ending it all. This is real surrender, and this is when you go to rehab and you get real results. This is when your life really changes.
Obviously you want to go to treatment when you have reached that second point, not the first one. Just being willing to attend rehab is not enough, obviously. Just look at all the people who go to treatment and then relapse. In order to find real motivation to get sober, you have to reach that deeper point of surrender.
Learning the tools of recovery
When you go to rehab they make suggestions. Obviously no one can tell you exactly how to live and demand that you do it, so everything is suggested. If you want to stay sober, then you should do this, that, and this other thing. Go to these meetings, work this recovery program, talk to this therapist, take these medications. Follow the directions and you will be more likely to get the outcome you desire.
They try to teach you many things in rehab. One of the problems with this is that treatment is expensive, so you are generally only there for a very short time (think 28 days or less). This is not enough time to really learn everything that you need to know in order to stay sober. That is really a lifelong learning process that will never end, so your short stay in treatment can really only prepare you for the transition out of rehab.
The main goal of rehab in my opinion is:
1) Get you detoxed from the alcohol and drugs.
2) Teach you how to leave treatment and not relapse immediately.
3) Give you options and exposure to support systems that can help you make it through early recovery.
4) Give you a glimpse of long term sobriety and what sort of things you should be working on in the long term. Warn you about complacency.
In order to reinvent yourself in recovery you are going to have to take serious action and embrace the tools that they teach you about in recovery.
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter much what they tell you. It doesn’t matter if they tell you to go to AA meetings or to go to church. Those are details and quite honestly people can get sober with either type of program. What matters is how much action you take and whether or not you follow through. In order to be successful after leaving treatment you have to make changes and do something different with your life. The whole goal of treatment is to disrupt your pattern of addiction and then steer you in a new direction. If you are not making changes every single day in early recovery then you are probably headed for relapse.
Addiction and recovery are all about momentum. Your addiction had a certain momentum all of its own, we all know that. It took over our lives and it created a trap, a cycle. We were stuck because we couldn’t figure out how to escape from our addiction by ourselves. We needed help in order to do so.
So when you finally leave treatment and go back to your old environment, if you don’t make massive changes in your life then you will simply fall back into your old patterns. This will result in relapse if you are not careful. Therefore, most treatment centers attempt to inspire you to take action, to make changes, to embrace a recovery program and get involved with it. Anything is better than going back to your old patterns. If you go to 2 AA meetings per day, have a sponsor, and go to therapy then at least you are not giving yourself time to sit around and think about taking a drink. There is something to be said for such an approach. If you do nothing then you are setting yourself up for failure. “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” Successful sobriety is about building momentum in a NEW direction. You have to do something in order to recover. You have to take action.
In my experience there are two levels of changes that you can make. One level is the internal, the work that you do on yourself and your resentments, your self pity, your shame and your guilt. If you have a lot of that stuff going on inside of you then you are probably going to have to find someone that you trust and work through those issues. This may or may not happen with a sponsor in AA. It may or may not happen with a therapist that you meet in rehab. If you have those sort of internal issues (and everyone probably does to some extent) then you are responsible to find someone to help you work through that stuff. Do this in early recovery, starting when you are in rehab. Keep doing it when you leave treatment. Some day you will be sober and all of that stuff will be dealt with, in your past. That is the point I am at now, I already worked through those things and learned how to identify my internal turmoil and chaos (for example, I am prone to self pity, so I practice gratitude on a regular basis to fight this).
Exposure to a support structure
One of the biggest benefits that most people get from rehab is that the treatment they go through will expose them to a support structure.
The simple example of this is AA meetings. Most rehabs that are 12 step based will have people from AA on the outside bring meetings into the facility on a regular basis. This way the people in treatment get a chance to be in a real AA meeting, and to be properly introduced to the support structure that may be able to help them when they finally leave treatment.
The same thing can happen in a religious based recovery center as far as support goes.
Long term sobriety is all about personal growth and positive action. Early recovery is all about making changes and finding the support that you need. Many people who attend treatment for the first time have never been to an AA meeting before. So the exposure to this new support system is a really important part of treatment for many people. If they leave treatment and follow up by going to AA meetings then they are well on their way to building a new life. Remember that it is all about making changes and disrupting that old pattern. You have to do something different.
Follow up and after care options when leaving rehab
Most treatment centers have some sort of aftercare for people who leave their facility.
The idea is that the recovering alcoholic has to keep doing some sort of treatment even after they have left rehab.
There are all sorts of studies that show a correlation between sobriety and people who participate in aftercare programs. So what this really teaches us is that it is all about follow through and commitment. If the person is willing to follow through after rehab and to keep taking action then they have much better chances of staying sober.
On the other hand if you leave treatment and you decide that you don’t really want to follow through and do anything that is suggested for you after you leave rehab then your chances of relapse are incredibly high. Unless you have some sort of alternative aftercare plan (that is more than just saying “I just won’t drink or use drugs”) then you are all but certain to relapse.
It is not the aftercare program itself that is this big secret to sobriety or anything. Rather, it is the fact that if you are not willing to follow through with aftercare then this proves you are destined for relapse anyway. Or if you are willing to follow through then you have a much greater chance of being successful in long term sobriety.
The main benefit that you get from treatment is disruption. You go to rehab and they disrupt your pattern of addiction. But then you leave treatment at some point and the ball is back in your court, so to speak. Now it is up to you. The rehab center has given you temporary sobriety and a new shot at life and at happiness, so what are you going to do with it? If you come home from treatment and you simply go on about your business without doing any real work then you are squandering your new sobriety. Not making any changes will lead you back to your old habits. The only way to avoid relapse is to establish new habits. You have to do something different in order to recover. You can’t just “not drink.” We already know that doesn’t work, right? Recovery has to be more than simply not drinking. You have to replace that addiction with new action, with new enthusiasm, with new momentum.
My recommendation to you is to start taking suggestions. If you went to rehab then you already know what this is like to some extent. But you want to take it a step further now and actually start implementing new actions in your life. Then you want to take advice from people in recovery and actually try doing what they suggest. This is a form of experimentation. You will learn as you go along.
In order to do this you must abandon your ego. You have to say to yourself: “I am not in charge any more, because I tend to screw things up and relapse.” Is this really so awful to say? Try saying it to yourself and then actually live it. Take the advice of others rather than using your own ideas for a while. I used to consider myself to be pretty smart but my life got a whole lot better when I assumed that my ideas were no good. I had to kill my ego. I had to push my ego aside and listen to other people instead. When I did this, my life got a whole lot better, and fast.
In fact, my life got so much better so quickly that I could not help but realize just how powerful this technique really was. All I had to do was to get out of my own way! I had to kill my ego and take the advice of others and act on it. This was the biggest secret to my early recovery. It was almost like cheating. Life became so easy for me, because I was borrowing the wisdom of other people. People in recovery who had already been clean and sober for years. I simply did what they told me to do, and my life got better and better.
This was the real benefit of rehab to me. I learned how to learn again. It allowed me to push my own “self” out of the way so that I could learn how to live a sober life. This was by far the greatest gift that I got while in rehab.
What benefits have you got from treatment? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!