When is it Smart to Go to Addiction Treatment for Recovery?

When is it Smart to Go to Addiction Treatment for Recovery?


When is it wise to throw in the towel and just go to an addiction treatment center for recovery purposes?

When do you say “enough is enough” and agree to seek professional help?

When do you realize and admit to yourself that things are not going to just get better on their own, and in fact they keep getting progressively worse over time?

And how do you convince yourself that you will be happier some day if you say goodbye to your drug of choice forever and leave it behind?

And perhaps just as importantly, the converse of this question should be examined: “When should you avoid going to treatment?”

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Let’s dig a little deeper and explore the answers to these questions.

I personally feel like I am qualified to give special insight into these issues, because I have gone to three different treatment centers in my life: Twice when I was not yet ready to get clean and sober, and once when I was.

My journey through the rehab process

The first time that I went to rehab I was simply not ready to stop using drugs and alcohol yet. But there was no way that I had of knowing this because I had never even tried to sober up in the past at any time, ever. This was my very first try.

I still don’t think I could wrap my head around the idea of being without any drug or alcohol for the rest of my life. The solution of total abstinence was just too extreme for me and I had not yet experienced that much pain and suffering and misery in my life yet. Don’t get me wrong–my life was plenty messed up at that point because of alcohol, but to be honest it had only been a few years of chaos. Some people abuse drugs or alcohol for decades on end and still don’t “get it.” So I was pretty early in the process at this point.

So I went to treatment and I did not really like what they told me. Their solution was to immerse yourself fully in AA meetings for the rest of your life, something that I was not willing to even try to do at the time. I had a certain level of social anxiety regarding the meetings and I was just not willing to accept that as my solution. I thought that there had to be another way but I felt hopeless because every counselor and therapist that I spoke with was telling me that this was pretty much it: AA was the standard solution and treatment. There wasn’t really some other great option for recovery that I hadn’t been told about yet. So I got pretty discouraged at this point.

My plan after leaving my first rehab was to just stop my drinking but go home and continue to self medicate with other drugs, including marijuana. You can guess how well that turned out. After smoking as much as possible for a few weeks I finally got frustrated and returned to drinking again. My first experience at rehab was a total failure. I never did any follow up treatment, nor did I ever attend any AA meetings.

Years later my family and friends organized an intervention and they convinced me to attend treatment again. They arranged for me to attend Hazelden in Minnesota for 28 days, which I reluctantly agreed to do finally. My battle cry at that time was: “Why go to treatment when I don’t want to stop drinking?” But my family was desperate to see me change so they convinced me to give it a try anyway. So I went to treatment and again, I did not like what they told me. They were suggesting quite an intense level of aftercare for me and of course this would involve lots of AA meetings, which I was still not willing to accept as being part of my solution. I was basically afraid of AA and the meetings themselves because of social anxiety.

Because I was not willing to accept their aftercare recommendations I relapsed immediately when leaving this second rehab. I stayed out in my addiction for one more year at this point until I finally surrendered “for good.”

I guess this sort of answers the question of when NOT to go to rehab. If you are not really desperate for change in your life then attending treatment probably is not going to work. But on the other hand I want to bounce a unique idea off of you:

Just because you relapse after treatment does not mean it is a total failure.

How is that the case? Because I believe that I had to go to those first two rehabs in order to set myself up for future success. I had to try and fail a few times. I had to go to rehab, get an idea of what the solution really was, and then go back out and experience some more chaos and misery before I could get around to really accepting the solution.

Most of the world wants for the solution to be straightforward and simple. We want for the disease of addiction (or alcoholism) to have a simple cure. But the truth is that the solution is messy, complicated, and difficult. But there is still a solution. You may have to struggle a bit in order to achieve it. You may have to try and fail a few times in order to learn what doesn’t work so well for you.

This was part of what I learned in going to rehab 3 times. I had to learn what level of commitment was truly required in order to succeed.

That said, I am not sure that someone might be in a situation where they should definitely not attend treatment. Even if they try and fail, this may be an important step in the learning process for them. Relapse may be a necessary part of their journey.

It was for me.

If you reach the point of surrender then that is the absolute best time to attend rehab

Obviously the best time to go to treatment is when you are at your absolute rock bottom. When you arrive at the point where you believe that things could not possibly get any worse, and you are at your absolute lowest, this is the best time to throw in the towel and go to treatment.

In order to rebuild your life and your ego you must first destroy it completely. This is why people say that you need to reach a state of rock bottom. If you are not at your lowest point then the problem is that you will still be trying to manipulate and control the situation.

I have watched many struggling addicts and alcoholics come into rehab (because I worked at one for 7+ years). I also lived in a long term treatment center and watched several people come into that rehab in order to try to stay clean and sober. Many of these people were fooling themselves into believing that they were in a state of full surrender, that they had reached their bottom. But the truth was that most of these people had not really reached their bottom yet–they only thought that they had. And so after a few days of detox they started feeling pretty good again and before you knew it they were getting into trouble, trying to manipulate the situation, and generally trending towards a relapse rather than towards recovery.

You cannot recover if you are trying to design your own recovery program. You cannot get clean and sober if you believe that you have it all figured out. This is not the attitude that will lead you to success in addiction recovery. If you end up in rehab and you think that you have it all figured out then you are in for a big surprise. This is why most people have to try several times to get clean and sober before they finally get it. We tend to overestimate our ability to conquer addiction while also underestimating our disease. Or at least, people who lack experience do this at first.

Now if someone has been to rehab a few times and they have also really tried to remain sober in the past then this may be a different story. Because after having tried–really tried–and failed, people are more likely to have a genuine humility.

It is this genuine humility that allows people to succeed in recovery.

There is a right attitude and a wrong attitude for success in recovery. The wrong attitude is to say “I know how to do this and I am going to succeed at it!” (overconfidence).

The right attitude is to say “I am destroyed by my addiction and I don’t know what else to do. I will try anything in order to get help.” (desperation).

Most people do not understand this subtle difference. They believe that they need the positive attitude and the overconfidence in order to succeed. So they may have to try and fail in order to get to the “correct” attitude of desperation. You almost have to be completely bewildered when you get to the point of surrender. You have to be desperate and nearly hopeless. This is the state of mind when treatment becomes most effective.

If you reach a breaking point and you feel helpless or out of control you should attend treatment

If you feel helpless or hopeless then that is the best time to go to treatment. The reason that this is the case is because those who do not yet feel hopeless will likely have too much ego getting in the way of their recovery. They will try too hard to control things in their recovery and therefore they will not be able to learn what they need to learn.

You should seek help and professional treatment services when you feel like you have nothing to lose. If your life is in shambles and you are completely miserable with your addiction then what do you really have to lose anyway? It can’t get any worse, right? So what if they take away your drug of choice–haven’t you agreed at this point that it is only making you more and more miserable over time?

The best time to attend treatment and ask for help is when you feel like there is no point in getting help because you are so hopeless about your life and your situation. Believe it or not that is the turning point where everything starts to get better. “It is always darkest before the dawn.” This moment of surrender is actually a gift in disguise because if you do ask for help at this point then your whole life will turn around and get better and better from this point on. This is why they call it the “gift of desperation.”

When I finally agreed to go to treatment the third time I was extremely desperate for change in my life. I was also fairly hopeless in that I did not really think that it would work. I had no great confidence that going to rehab for a third time would produce any great results, to be honest. I was skeptical but at the same time I knew that I did not want to just keep drinking any more. I glimpsed the future and saw only misery and disappointment in my future if I continued to self medicate.

If nothing else has worked for you then you might consider asking for help

You may have tried many things to get clean and sober in the past. Maybe you have attended AA in the past and it did not work out for you. Maybe you have gone to counseling or therapy. Maybe you have been to inpatient rehab several times. Perhaps you have gone through the detox process more than once. Whatever the case is, you may have tried a number of things to get sober and nothing has worked for you.

I am here to tell you that it was not the things that you tried that failed you, it was your timing. In fact it does not really matter where you go when you ask for help or who you ask. What matters is if you are in a state of total surrender or not. The exact treatment method that you attempt matters very little (though we all tend to imagine that it matters a great deal!). All that really matters is if you are at rock bottom yet or not. If not, then you are probably not done drinking or using drugs yet. Simple as that.

I always advise people who are seeking help to look for more help than what they have sought out in the past. This worked for me when I was finally ready to get help in my life. In other words, in the past I had gone to a 28 day program and it had failed me. So when I was finally ready to change my life I committed to going to a much longer treatment program. My belief is that more treatment is generally better than less treatment. I also have seen evidence of this when working in rehab for several years. More treatment generally works better than shorter treatments.

After major consequences you might consider the fact that you need professional help

If you have just experienced a major consequence in your life due to your addiction then my belief is that you should use this as a springboard to get help.

For example, you may have just got ticketed or gone to jail for driving drunk. If that is the case then use it as a natural wake-up call and seek professional help. Break through your denial and your excuses for once and realize that “normal people” do not accidentally get caught drunk driving.

If your life has been spiraling out of control for a long time then you may have finally reached a point where you realize that it cannot continue indefinitely without much more major or serious consequences happening. Either you are going to end up dead or in jail eventually, so you may as well stop the train wreck right now and get off as soon as possible. Asking for help and agreeing to go to addiction treatment is the best way to do this.


If you have been on the fence for a while in thinking about your drug or alcohol problem, then I would urge you to take action today and just make the plunge. The fact is that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain if treatment works out for you. And even if treatment fails for you then all this means is that you were not yet ready to change your life and that you had to learn something in the process. Keep in mind that most people do not stay clean and sober permanently after a single attempt at recovery (though many people make it in the long run after they try again and finally “get it”).

There is one thing that is for certain, if you never try to sober up then you can only expect more misery and chaos in the future. There is no hope if nothing changes. Addiction does not magically fix itself, and it will only get progressively worse over time if nothing is done about it. The only thing that can really be done is that the individual must hit bottom, surrender, and take action by asking for help. There is no shame in going to a rehab center in order to try to get help. The worse outcome that could happen is that you try to sober up and you fail and relapse immediately, but in doing so you may learn a valuable lesson that will set you up for future success.

Therefore if you have even the tiniest bit of willingness to get help then you should make the call today. It is impossible to know for sure if you are at rock bottom unless you make an attempt to get clean and sober. The only way to know for sure if you have fully surrendered is to try to ask for help, go to treatment, and see what your results are.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Even if your timing is bad, you can still gain a valuable lesson by attending treatment, and it may lead to recovery in the future (even if it fails in the short run).

What are you waiting for? Get help today!


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