Why a Short Stay in a Treatment Center is Not a Magic...

Why a Short Stay in a Treatment Center is Not a Magic Bullet for Recovery


I think some people have the idea (or the hope) that sending someone for a short stay in a drug or alcohol treatment center will result in instant success in terms of dealing with their addiction.

More often than not, it is probably the clinging hope that this will happen, rather than an outright belief that a short stint in rehab will “cure” someone.

Unfortunately, this is not generally the case. While short term residential treatment can be the start of a successful recovery, this is statistically going to be a somewhat rare outcome. Here’s the lowdown:

1) Residential treatment is but a step along the path – most addicts and alcoholics who have successfully stayed clean over the long haul can look back and point to several different stays at various treatment centers. I personally can vouch for this experience, having gone to 3 treatment centers before I finally “got it.”

In going to residential treatment, an addict might learn a few things and be exposed to the solution, but not be ready for it. Even if they relapse, the treatment might be an important part of their journey.

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2) It hardly makes a dent – in most cases, a short stay in residential treatment hardly makes a dent at all in the lifestyle that an addict has been living. Imagine patterns of drinking or drug use that stretch on for years and years, combined with familiar environments and social networks that support those habits. Do we really expect a few weeks in rehab to be able to override all of that conditioning? Keep in mind, too, that the average length of stay is getting shorter and shorter, due to both rising health care costs as well as in a clamping down in the insurance industry.

3) Outcomes are far from certain – consider the fact that a certain percentage of clients won’t even make it through the entire length of stay, despite an ever-shortening program. Even if a treatment center boasts a certain success rate, those numbers are generally manipulated to only include those who follow through with the full and explicit recommendations of the counselors.

4) Even Long Term Treatment is uncertain – consider the fact that even those who complete a stay in a long term facility of over a year are still subject to less than a 50 percent success rate across the board.

Short term residential treatment is far from being a magic bullet. But it can still be a step in the process of recovery. While the statistics can be discouraging, you don’t have to be part of the failing group. Many people do “make it” after leaving treatment, but you must realize that the odds are stacked against you if you’re not completely dedicated.

Here are some suggestions if you are considering treatment:

1) Comply with the treatment center rules and don’t leave early.

2) Follow through with aftercare recommendations — including any suggestions for long term care.

3) Realize that recovery starts when you leave treatment….that is when the real journey begins.


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