Many people out there who struggle with alcoholism do not even believe that treatment (or sobriety) is possible for them. They have simply resigned themselves to the fact that they have to drink in order to function, in order to get through life, in order to be happy. Of course, little do they realize that they are actually miserable due to their drinking, and that any happiness that has resulted from alcohol has been extremely fleeting. This of course is due to denial.
The statistics regarding rehab are pretty bad. If you go by government studies, then something like 80 percent or more of everyone who actually needs professional treatment will never even attempt to go get it. Never! How incredibly sad is that? And then out of the 20 percent of people who actually seek out help, how many of them actually stay sober forever after attending treatment and never take another drink? Very few indeed, probably in the range of 3 to 10 percent. So we are talking about a very tiny sliver of people who actually get the help that they need and are able to build a new life from it.
It doesn’t matter though. It’s still worth it. Treatment is still worth it, even though it rarely works out the way we want it to. The benefits that you get from living a new life in sobriety is well worth the massive investment in action, change, and overcoming fear that the alcoholic must face. Just because very few even attempt it does not mean that you should not try. And just because not everyone succeeds in recovery does not mean that you should not attempt to become sober. It is crazy not to try because the alternative is so clearly negative. A lifetime of continued alcoholism is a non-starter. Nothing can justify that existence because it just gets worse and worse as you go along. It never gets better. Anyone who is in denial can (if they choose to do so) start measuring this by simply paying attention to how happy they are in life. Are things getting generally better, or are they getting generally worse?
I can tell you what happens in recovery, because I have lived through over a decade of it now–things just keep getting better and better. Benefits accumulate. That is how recovery works. You experiment with life and you retain the good things and the discard (or move on from) the bad things.
During active alcoholism (that is not treated) the exact opposite of this is true. Instead of accumulating benefits, it is a downward spiral of negativity. Things just get worse and worse. Consequences lead to more misery, more drinking, and more consequences. At some point the alcoholic no longer needs “excuses” in order to drink, they simply drink because they are a miserable alcoholic, and that is enough.
So the alcoholic can be stuck in denial, and not realize or admit that alcohol is even part of the problem, but eventually this will change if they reach the moment of surrender. At that point they will realize that alcohol is the source of their misery, and is the biggest problem in their life.
However, this is where things can get tricky. If alcohol is the root source of all the misery in their life, shouldn’t addiction be fixed by simply eliminating the alcohol from the picture? Shouldn’t abstinence be a complete recovery solution it itself?
I think we all know that it doesn’t work that easily, and that recovery is a bit more challenging and complicated than that. Addiction is complex and therefore recovery is necessarily complicated as well.
People in AA (and recovery in general) love to make the comment “This is a simple program for complicated people.” They go on to say that if you try to over-think things then you will just screw yourself up. They idea is to get the newcomer to obey, to follow the program exactly and just listen and do as they are told. After all, the program is proven to work, right? This is how the logic goes, anyway.
I tend to disagree with this idea because I do not believe that the solution is simple. If it were simple then we could just stop drinking and be done with it. But obviously it takes a lot more than that. A program with 12 different steps is anything but simple.
That said, even though most treatment centers are based on the 12 step model, I still believe that treatment is the best choice for nearly every alcoholic who may be struggling.
Alcoholism treatment may not be a magic bullet, and it may not be as simple as it could be, but it is still the best thing we have, and most alcoholics should embrace it if they get the chance.
Is alcoholism treatment even necessary? Probably.
I have personally encountered many people who have recovered after attending treatment. Conversely, I cannot think of a single person that I have met who got sober without either going to treatment or to AA.
Then there is the issue of detox. Withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous and in fact it can even be fatal. People have died because they did NOT take a drink. This is a little scary if you think about it and if you ever get the chance to work in an alcohol detox unit you will see the danger that I am talking about. Not every alcoholic goes through a dangerous detox but several people do, and it can be very scary.
But even if you don’t really need the physical detox, you may still benefit greatly from the sober time that you spend in rehab. When was the last time most alcoholics have gone for 28 days straight without taking a single drink or a drug? That is a an impressive head start on a new life in sobriety. Unfortunately the clean time itself does not really guarantee any future sobriety, but it does give you the break that you may need in order to build a new life.
Treatment does not create sobriety. It merely gives you the opportunity to create a life of recovery if you choose to do so. But rehab does not force you to be sober. It does not cure you of anything. It merely gives you a chance, an opportunity. Sure, they will try to teach you how to change your life while you in treatment. But they can’t change your life for you. This is a critical distinction and it is one that you should really try to understand before you even go to your first rehab. Treatment is not a cure. It is simply a way to get a clean break, to stop the cycle, to interrupt the constant self medicating. But the real recovery is up to you. Taking action is all up to you. Your real journey begins on the day that you walk OUT of treatment, back into the real world, and have to face your addiction on your own. That is the real moment of truth, not when you first walk into treatment.
How can treatment get you started on the right path in recovery?
Treatment sets you up for success by getting you physically detoxed. They try to teach you how to build a new life in recovery but honestly that is not going to happen in just 28 days or less. Therefore when you leave rehab you have a lot of learning and growing to do in your life.
Most treatment centers try hard to encourage you to engage with follow up support. This generally means one of two things:
1) You start going to AA or NA meetings after treatment.
2) You get involved with a religious community after treatment.
This is the support aspect of recovery. People in early recovery have a strong tendency to relapse, especially within the first year and even more specifically, within the first 90 days of leaving rehab. So they need to do everything that they can in order to get all of the help and support that they need so that they do not relapse. Going to meetings or being involved with a religious community are two ways to do that.
Furthermore, at treatment they will attempt to teach you to various tools that you can use to remain sober and avoid relapse. Most of these will involve finding support and relying on others to help you. Two of the most popular methods will be:
1) Getting phone numbers of your peers in recovery and calling them on a regular basis. Staying in touch with people in recovery. Calling people rather than giving in to relapse.
2) Getting a sponsor in recovery and calling them on a regular basis (sometimes even once per day for the first 30 days).
What can you expect from a traditional rehab center?
All treatment centers will be a little different. But most of them will be very similar in the following ways:
* Have a detox unit that is medically supervised that is separate from the residential groups.
* Be either 12 step based (AA/NA) or religious based, or even have the option of choosing one or the other.
* Have therapists and counselors working with individuals in recovery to develop a specific treatment plan for them.
* Advise people on what to do for aftercare and get them set up with a plan for that.
* Have daily groups, lectures, and meetings that attempt to teach people how to live in recovery without resorting to their drug of choice.
What if you are not ready for treatment?
If you are not ready to go to treatment then there is very little that you can do in order to get clean and sober. If you are really at a point of surrender and you have the opportunity to attend treatment then you should definitely take it. Passing it up is a sure sign that you are not ready to change your life just yet. Something is holding you back (we call this “having a reservation” about getting sober).
If you are not ready to go to rehab yet then what you need to do is to break through denial. Obviously you are weighing your options and you are deciding at this time that you would rather not attend treatment. What is prompting this decision and this line of thinking? Obviously if you are not willing to attend treatment then either:
1) You believe that you do not really need professional help at all, because you do not really have a problem (one level of denial).
2) You believe that you have a problem but you do not believe that treatment could possibly help you, or that there is any hope for you to be sober or happy (a second level of denial, but still denial).
Notice that in all cases, if you are alcoholic and refusing to attend treatment then you are, by definition, in denial. Even if you boldly claim that you are an alcoholic and you know that you have a problem, you are STILL IN DENIAL if you refuse to take action to fix the problem. Actions speak louder than words. Just because you say that you are an alcoholic does not mean that you have automatically bypassed all denial. You only break through your denial when you take action to fix the problem.
Therefore if you are not ready to go to treatment yet then your job is to break through your own denial. It is possible to realize that you are in denial and to take steps to rectify this. The way to do so is to start measuring your happiness each day. Keep track of how miserable you are. Start measuring how well alcohol fixes your problems, and if it truly makes you happy or not. While in denial, we tell ourselves that alcohol is our miracle cure, and that it makes us happy. It is time to prove this to yourself and to really measure your happiness. I would suggest that you even keep a written journal that tells how happy you are each day. This will be very challenging for most alcoholics to follow through with, because they will not want to face the reality (and the truth) that their lives are actually miserable. But this is how you finally break through denial. This is what you must realize in order to be able to face your fear (of sobriety) and move forward in recovery. You must first realize just how miserable you are due to your drinking.
Can you force someone else to get sober against their will?
Unfortunately you cannot force anyone to be sober against their will. Of course you can lock them up, and you can even commit people to alcoholism treatment in some states, but for the most part you can never really control another person. If they are not done drinking then they will just go back to their addiction when they regain their freedom.
That said, you can certainly try to talk people into getting sober, though I am of the belief that this rarely works and is generally not worth the effort. People are going to do what they want to do. The only real option can be learned from places such as Al-anon, where they instruct you to stop enabling the alcoholic so that they are then forced to see their own misery for what it really is.
The alcoholic is almost always caught up in a game of blaming others for their unhappiness. They have to do this in order to avoid the responsibility. They cannot admit to themselves that they are unhappy, that their unhappiness is their own fault, and that their drinking is the source of nearly all of this unhappiness. Therefore they will tend to blame others in their lives for the problems that they are having, rather than pointing the finger at themselves and their alcoholism. In order to force someone to get sober, you would have to first convince them that the above world-view is completely wrong, and that they are, in fact, the cause of their own misery.
In other words, you would have to talk them out of denial. Pretty much impossible. This is why actions speak louder than words. If you can stop enabling the person then this at least moves them closer to real surrender, even if it is indirectly. Sometimes that is the best that you can do.
Will you remain anonymous and protected if you go into a treatment center?
Most treatment centers (if not all of them) will fight very hard to protect your anonymity and your identity from others. This is part of the law in the US and in fact they will get into serious legal trouble if they do not protect your privacy.