Many struggling alcoholics or drug addicts are nervous about going to an inpatient treatment center, simply because they do not know what to expect. Part of the mystery is in wondering exactly how treatment works.
Part of it is obvious: You want to stop drinking or taking drugs, so you go to treatment, and obviously they try to help you with this. But how is that accomplished exactly? It is normal for someone to be nervous about this process if they have no idea what to expect. It almost sounds like some form of brainwashing might be involved.
Luckily that is not really the case. No one can force you to do something against your will. And this is exactly why there is no real “cure” for addiction and alcoholism—some people simply don’t want to change. The person has to want it to work, in fact they have to want for it to work more than anything else in their life, or they are likely to relapse. So do not be afraid of brainwashing; treatment offers nothing that dramatic or sinister. Instead, you have to want to change. You have to want to wash your own brain, so to speak.
The concept of arresting the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction
A big part of stopping a drug or alcohol addiction is in the simple concept of physical abstinence. In order to get started in recovery the addict or alcoholic simply has to stop putting chemicals into their body. No more drinking, no more drugs. Simple.
The problem is, how to accomplish this? It may sound easy to someone who is not addicted, but for the struggling alcoholic it is a truly baffling problem. This is why checking into rehab is so important.
Drug and alcohol treatment is a controlled environment. They check you at the door such that no illicit drugs or alcohol is allowed to enter the facility. Simple but effective. Sometimes the alcoholic can be their own worst enemy, and certainly early recovery and the point of surrender is no exception to this. So when you check into treatment for 28 days the idea is very simple and very powerful: You are going to walk out of that place with 28 days clean and sober under your belt.
This is how you arrest the disease, or at least it is the most basic part of how you arrest it.
The second half of that is in changing your thinking. As alcoholics and drug addicts we suffer from a thinking disease. Our thoughts are what get us into trouble. We did not just randomly take drugs or alcohol for no reason at all, but our minds convinced us that this was a good idea, over and over again. We rationalized and justified our addiction. We planned and schemed for ways to get drunk and high. We obsessed over the high. We were compelled to use our drug of choice. Our mind became the real enemy which drove our addiction.
So arresting the disease is about more than just physically removing the drugs and the alcohol from our systems. That part is still very important, but it is not the only piece of the puzzle. In order to truly arrest the disease we have to get our minds straight as well.
So this is the second part of addiction treatment, which is often referred to as residential treatment. First you go through a medical detox and get the drugs and the booze out of your system, then you go to residential treatment and you learn how to start changing your thinking, changing your behavior, and learning a new way to live your life.
There is a saying in the program that you “Can’t think your way into good living, you have to live your way into good thinking.” This is one of the great paradoxes of early recovery. We believe that we can change our thoughts, that we can master our lives by simply changing our thoughts a bit, and everything will magically fall into place as a result. But in reality our minds are weaker than this and they don’t necessarily have the power to change reality unless we put in the real work behind it.
What does this mean? It means that it is far more effective to start living a better life in recovery and let your mind and your thoughts catch up later. In other words, get out of your own way by listening to the advice of others and then let your thinking and your thoughts catch up to this new reality after the fact.
For example, let’s say you get sober and you decide that you want to live sober forever and enjoy a new life in recovery. So you come up with ideas about how this might work, then you attempt to implement them.
Fail. You are bound to relapse if you think you can just visualize and dream your way into a better life in early sobriety without any help.
What do we mean by “help” in this case?
What we mean is that you can’t just think your way into a better life. No, it takes real work, it takes real effort, and it requires you to listen and follow advice.
Instead, get out of your own way by ignoring your own ideas for a while. This is especially useful in early sobriety. Listen to the advice of others. Take their advice. Put that advice into action. Do the work.
Your life will transform if you do this. Things will get better, slowly, but steadily. And your life will change for the better and eventually your thinking will change to catch up to this new reality you are living. This is how you live your way into good thinking, by listening to others and following their advice.
But alas, no one really wants to do this. Which is why you have to hit bottom first, you have to surrender, you have to be truly desperate. If you are not desperate enough then you won’t be willing to do the work, to follow advice, to ignore your own ideas.
What if you force someone into rehab? Will it work?
Generally, no. Forcing someone into treatment rarely works. The exception to this is when the person was pretty much at the point of surrender anyway when they were forced into rehab. Which means that the person was just about ready to ask for help on their own, they were already at the point where they had given up on trying to control their addiction, and they were at a point of real willingness. In other words, if you force someone into treatment and it actually works out well, you can consider that a huge coincidence. They just happened to be ready.
The reason it doesn’t work is the same reason that you cannot be brainwashed into thinking things or believing things against your own will. No one can control your thoughts except for you, right? It is the same with everyone else. No one can control their thoughts or behavior either. If you check into rehab and you really, really want it to work—then it might work. But if you are checked into rehab and you have the slightest bit of resistance to the idea of sobriety, then you can be assured that you will not remain sober. It’s not magic or anything. Rehab doesn’t have a magic cure up its sleeve. No one can force you to change against your will. You have to want it for yourself.
What a typical day at a treatment center is like
Treatment is not scary.
No one should ever be afraid to go to inpatient rehab.
The problem is, nearly everyone is afraid of treatment at some point. Certainly if you have never been to treatment before then you are going to have some fear just because it is not known to you. But I can assure you that it is not scary at all.
What is there to be afraid of? Some people worry that they will be uncomfortable during withdrawal. This is not generally a problem, and in fact it is almost never a serious problem. The idea behind medical detox, for most treatment centers, is to use medication to help get the alcoholic or drug addict to be stabilized during the detox process. So you get off all the drugs and the booze and they use some medications to help smooth out this transition. For the most part, no one is in massive discomfort. You should not fear the detox process.
Some people are afraid that they will get hooked on different drugs as a result of the detox process. They are afraid that if they go to rehab that they will end up getting hooked on new drugs. This is not a real threat either. When they give an alcoholic pills in order to get them safely off of alcohol, they don’t keep them on the pills forever. They taper the dose down and the alcoholic leaves the treatment center completely clean and sober, free from all chemicals. And yet some alcoholics refuse to attend treatment because they are afraid that they will get hooked on drugs during the withdrawal process. And meanwhile they are killing themselves with the poison of alcohol, which is really just another drug (yes, alcohol is a drug). So this is not a rational fear and it is definitely not one that should keep you out of treatment.
Some people are afraid of the social interaction that they might have in a treatment facility. They are afraid of being in groups, talking in front of other people, or social anxiety in general. Again, this fear is mostly unfounded and nearly anyone can make it work in a treatment center. The environment is supportive and non-threatening, for one thing. For another thing, most treatment centers have medications that they can give you that will help with anxiety. These medications are obviously not addictive either. Many people who drink or self medicate have some amount of social anxiety, but being at treatment is almost never a threat in this manner. The group is casual and light hearted. No one is threatening or demanding of you at treatment. It is easy to be there.
Isn’t there a way to just cure the addiction completely? What about medications to control the addiction?
It seems like as medical technology advances, people should be able to somehow be cured of their addiction entirely. Don’t we have medications that can eliminate the problem altogether?
In a word, no. But they are working on it. New medications and new medical procedures are coming out all the time that are advancing these concepts. In the past we had medication replacement treatments such as methadone maintenance, which in some ways was just as bad as the addiction they were trying to “cure” in the first place. But today we have newer medications (such as Suboxone) that are less addictive than the older drugs and better able to help control the addiction. It is definitely not perfect and it is not a full cure yet but it is progress.
Part of the problem is that there is not one single answer for every drug that is out there. So what we have is a mish mash of new medications that are helping to target various substance addictions. We have certain medications that might be used for opiates. Then we have other medications that might be used for alcohol. And another set of drugs that might work for amphetamine or cocaine.
And the medications might do different things. For example, one medication might be used to help control cravings. Another medication might actually render the drug of choice to be completely ineffective if it is taken. And some medications are designed to actually make you sick if you consume the drug of choice while taking it.
While some of these ideas might be partially effective, none of them are a complete cure in the way that we all hope for them to be. And so the battle goes on and people still have to find a way to get their thinking straight. Remember that there are at least two ways in which the disease has to be arrested: Physical detox and then getting your mind straightened out. Taking medication does nothing to change your thinking, for the most part. And you brain can still sabotage your body, even if you have attempted to medicate your body in some way.
If rehab is not a true cure, is it really worth the cost?
Whether or not rehab is worth the cost is going to depend on who you ask.
There are people who have been to several treatment centers and they continue to struggle with addiction in their lives. Such people might argue that treatment is not worth the cost.
I personally was in this exact situation when I had been to two different treatment centers during my journey. At that point, I was still struggling with addiction and I had no real hope for the future. I was miserable and I did not see how I could ever be happy again without alcohol or drugs in my life. Treatment had failed me twice. I was not yet at the point of surrender.
But then something happened. I surrendered. I finally got so miserable that I became willing to listen, willing to take advice, willing to get out of my own way and follow a program of recovery. Any program. It didn’t matter what it was really. Just so long as it was not my own crazy ideas.
And so I went to a third treatment center. That third rehab was not magical and it did not have any special powers that the first two treatment centers lacked. The difference was that I was ready this time. I was at my rock bottom. I was ready for a change and I was willing to do the work.
And so on this third time around, it stuck for me. I stayed clean and sober and I have been that way for over thirteen years now. And life just keeps getting better and better for me.
Was that third treatment center worth it? Was it worth the cost? Was it worth the price of admission?
Obviously it was. The last thirteen years of sobriety have been amazing, and the cost of treatment is absolutely trivial in comparison to the joy and peace that I have received as a result.
But a far trickier question is this:
Were the first two treatment episodes worth it? The ones in which I relapsed immediately, and failed?
And the surprising answer is “yes, they were worth it.”
They were worth it, and that is not something that you can understand or comprehend at a glance. You have to have some perspective to really understand how two failed treatment episodes can really be worth it. Because you have to live your life, you have to go through the struggles, and then one day you look back on it all and you realize:
“Aha, I had to go through what I had to go through in order to get to where I got. I had to try and fail a few times in order to get ready, in order to hit bottom, in order to get to the point where that third treatment episode would work for me.”
And so that is the perspective that you gain with experience. That is real wisdom, to be able to look back and see how you benefited from your struggles. Or not even that you benefited from it, but how it was necessary in order to get you to the point that you are at today.
You may have gone through a lot of suffering and a lot of anguish in your journey. But that suffering may be part of the joy that you experience later on. Your greatest joy is only matched by your deepest sorrow. This is why there are so many deeply passionate people in recovery—they have lived at both ends of the spectrum and have experienced deep pain and suffering as well as great joy and happiness. You cannot really have one without the reference of the other in your life.
The real “cost” of treatment is not in what you pay to attend the program itself, but it is the pain and suffering that you have to go through in order to hit bottom. Because without that pain and suffering you will never reach the point where you fully surrender. We pay our dues, so to speak, when we are taking the hard knocks in life during our addiction and going through all of that chaos and misery. But it is that misery and suffering that buys us our “ticket” to recovery.
After attending inpatient treatment, I have received over thirteen years of peace, joy, and contentment. Regardless of the price I paid, it was well worth it. Recovery is amazing, and I want so badly for you all to experience this as well.
If you are struggling, seek help today. Time to make a decision. Pick up the phone and start your transformation today.