There are many reasons to attend inpatient treatment if you are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction.
The first and most important reason though is to simply arrest your disease. You must stop putting the chemicals into your body if you want to have a shot at a new life.
If nothing changes, nothing changes
There is a saying that you hear around AA meetings: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” Simple but profound. How often does the typical alcoholic wish that things were different in their life, but not take any action to achieve anything? This is extremely common.
There is also a very popular definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Any alcoholic who has been struggling can look back at the last few years and realize that they have been doing exactly that–repeating the same actions (drinking) but hoping for different results (maybe it will get better). Of course it never gets any better because they are not really changing anything, even when they tell themselves that they are trying to do so.
For example, the alcoholic may switch tactics for a while and believe that they are making a difference. They might switch from drinking every day to just drinking on the weekends. Or they might switch from drinking hard liquor to drinking only beer. These are “changes” to the alcoholic but are they really changes from the perspective of recovery and being insane? No they are not. The alcoholic is basically saying to themselves: “I am going to keep drinking alcohol, but I will make some effort to try to minimize the damages.” They are really not changing anything important, just a few minor details that do not ultimately matter.
The problem is that alcoholism takes on a life of its own once you put it into your system. “The man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.” When you put any amount of alcohol into the body of an alcoholic, all bets are off. You may have the illusion of being in control for a while but it is not really control at all. The drink is in control. The alcohol is in control. And that is the whole point. You can’t switch from liquor to beer and expect for it to really slow you down in the long run. It might give you a few days of peace and quiet but the alcohol is still in control. You can still consume enough beer to kill yourself or others. And you can also reach a point drinking beer where the alcoholic in you will snap completely and go drink liquor anyway, in spite of your “rules” that you made for yourself.
You can’t use these little tactical approaches to overcome a problem like alcoholism. You can’t regulate your drinking to 4 days a week or switch to softer drinks or play these little games and expect for it to work out. A real alcoholic is going to find themselves back in big trouble if they try to play these sort of games.
No, the only way to overcome alcoholism is to do it strategically. You have to rearrange your entire life. Start with a sweeping change that has a real impact: No more alcohol or addictive drugs, period. Then build from there. We all know what it is like to try to control our intake; it simply doesn’t work. Therefore we need a completely different strategy. We need total abstinence and a new life.
And this is where inpatient rehab comes in.
Going to inpatient treatment stops you dead in your tracks, at least for 28 days
I once spoke to someone who believed that there were some alcoholics who had no hope at all, and that they could never get sober, even for a week. They described it as completely impossible. They said it could never happen because this particular alcoholic was so bad off.
Nonsense! Send them to rehab for a month. How difficult is that to figure out? Lock someone up in a safe environment for 28 days and guess what they will achieve with very little effort? 28 days of sobriety!
This is not rocket science. Part of going to treatment for 28 days is the simple and powerful idea that you won’t be drinking or using addictive drugs for 28 days straight. Therefore you will accumulate at least that much sobriety.
This is at least half of the benefit that you get from rehab in general. Simply being locked away somewhere without the threat or possibility of getting drunk or high.
This is the concept of “arresting your disease.” If you stay in a rehab for 28 days then you know you will get 28 days sober. It is pretty simple. Most treatment centers also have a medical detox so the safety is not an issue either. They take care of you during the withdrawal process and try to keep you comfortable.
I also heard someone once refuse to go to treatment because they thought that they would get hooked on drugs while they were in a medical detox. I had a big news flash for this person: This is not how detox works. Yes, they might give you medications to help you get through withdrawal safely. But when you walk out of a 28 day program you are not “hooked” on any medications. They taper you off of any drugs and you are clean as a whistle. This is the whole point of rehab. I could not believe that such ignorance existed that someone would avoid treatment because they believed it would get them hooked on medication. Ridiculous! No, when you walk out of a 28 day program, you are clean and sober and truly free from chemical addiction. This is the whole point.
Of course this is not a total cure. I am probably making it out to sound as if a 28 day program is a sure-fire cure for alcoholism. It is not.
What treatment really gives you is a surefire 28 days of sobriety. What you do after that is entirely up to you. Many people leave treatment and end up relapsing. Some people leave treatment and go on to AA meetings, to counseling or therapy, to outpatient therapy, or to work with a sponsor. They go on to build a new life in recovery and they used the 28 days of treatment as their springboard to get started. This is what you want to do.
You cannot change your life when you are drunk every day
One of the things that you will learn if you are struggling with alcoholism is that you cannot change your life if you are drinking on a regular basis.
For example, a struggling alcoholic may have a list of things that they wish to change and improve in their lives. Maybe they want to quit drinking, but they also want to go back to school, get a new job, improve their relationships, and so on. So maybe they continue to drink and they start working on some of these other goals in their lives.
What will happen? The reason we call it “struggling with alcoholism” is because they will never really make any progress. They are stuck with the disease of addiction and this will dominate their life and their experience. In most cases, people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have multiple problems, and their addiction is usually their biggest problem (not always).
So what does this mean? It means that they can never make any progress. In fact, things will get worse in their life. Because they continue to self medicate, they will actually experience negative growth. Things will get worse. So their job, their career, their relationships–all of it will get progressively worse over time. Now this can be really tricky because in the short term anything can get better for a while. And this is how denial works.
The alcoholic may continue to drink but they also push themselves to try to get a new position at their job. So maybe they get a promotion and they celebrate this fact and they continue to drink. And they justify their drinking and their alcoholism by saying “Hey, I got this promotion at work, so things are getting better, so why should I need to stop drinking?”
Now if you take a big enough step back and look at their overall life and their career in the long term, you will see the damaging effects of alcoholism. Or it may be difficult to do so because you will not see the opportunity costs of alcoholism: the jobs they did NOT get, the position they did not get, the work that they should be doing but they never aspired to do it because they were drinking. And in the long run they will lose their current job in which they got the promotion too if they continue to drink. Alcoholism destroys everything if you give it enough time.
I have tried to help alcoholics and struggling addicts in my life in many different ways. I can separate these people into two groups: Those who wanted to change, and those who were still on the fence about needing to change at all. I can tell you from experience that people who are on the fence do not have a chance at making any sort of progress in their lives in any way, not in the long term. They are stuck in addiction. And even of those who want to change are willing to go to rehab to do it, many of them will continue to struggle and relapse. So just imagine the group who does not want to be sober and change their life–they really don’t have a chance (yet). They can still get sober but first they have to want it.
It is very difficult to work in the treatment center industry and watch people struggle to get sober. You just know when something is not going to work. You never know for sure who will make it and remain sober in the long run, but on the other hand you know pretty well who is NOT going to make it yet because they are just not ready. You learn to spot it. You can watch an alcoholic who is focusing on all of the wrong things, and think to yourself: “Don’t they realize that changing jobs is just a distraction compared to the fact that they need to sober up?” It is painful to watch an alcoholic or a drug addict who is trapped in a maze, trying to find their way out, and we know that the most important thing for them to do is to stop putting drugs and booze into their body. Start with that. Sober up first. Then rebuild your life. But this person is blindly trying to find their way out of the maze while they are still drinking every day, trying to change something that doesn’t really matter (like their job or some other detail of their life). And we can clearly see that they are just going to continue to struggle until they can sober up and become totally abstinent first. But their denial won’t let them see this for some reason.
Treatment may not be a cure but it is a foundation to build on
If you go to treatment and get 28 days sober then you have a foundation to build your recovery on.
When you walk out of rehab after 28 days you have a choice.
You have real freedom. If you want to continue with this freedom then you have to do some work. You have to put in some effort. You have to follow through, you have to go to meetings or go to counseling or do group therapy or whatever the case may be. The rehab will guide you, the therapists will make suggestions, there will be aftercare instructions. You either follow them or you do not.
There was a time when I believed that this was not freedom. I thought it was like mind control or brainwashing or whatever. What I did not realize was that going back to drinking was actually an even worse form of mind control.
You see, the alcoholic makes an effort either way.
You can go to rehab and then walk out of treatment after 28 days and make a commitment to change your life, to follow through with aftercare, to start going to meetings or whatever the program may be. You can do that, and it takes real effort.
But the flip side of this is that if you decide to go back to drinking or drugs, you still have to make an effort. And in fact it is the same level of effort that you make in recovery. The struggle is roughly the same in terms of intensity. It is a struggle to remain sober and work a recovery, but it is also a struggle to go back to drinking or drugs. You will “struggle” either way. Each path requires effort.
So the first thing that the alcoholic has to realize is that this is true. That addiction is a struggle just like sobriety is. The sobriety route may be a little bit more scary at first, simply because it is the unknown. You don’t really know what you are in for when you sober up. But you get past this initial fear pretty quickly. Sobriety becomes familiar in a short period of time.
Once you are clean and sober you have a foundation. I am not just saying this to make it sound good or anything–you really have a platform on which you can build a new life. Because now when you make progress in your life, you get to keep that progress. You get to hold on to progress.
This is different from when you are drinking. When you are drinking every day, you may still make sporadic progress in different areas of your life, but you rarely get to keep that progress. Remember the example of the job promotion that every alcoholic will eventually lose. You don’t get to keep that progress. Because your alcoholism takes it away eventually. In the end, alcoholism destroys everything. So anything that you gain while drinking you will eventually lose.
In sobriety this is not the case. In sobriety, you can make progress and then you can build on it. You get to keep your gains. You get to keep your progress. I can give you many examples from my own life, things that I have achieved, things that I have built upon. I got sober, got a job, went back to school, started exercising, quit smoking, built a business, created all sorts of success, built healthier relationships, and on and on. If you go back to the beginning and start to remove things then it all falls apart. I had to quit smoking before I could gain the discipline to build a successful business. I had to start exercising before I could quit smoking. I had to get sober before I could start exercising.
I did not just accidentally get lucky and find success in recovery. It was built up slowly over time, like layering one brick at a time. Each piece was important because I learned new things and then I took action based on what I had learned. It was not just random wins or random success. I actually built on the success that I had in a meaningful way.
And this is what makes sobriety so amazing. It starts out very slowly with a few “wins.” But then as you move along you start to build on those wins, and your success will grow over time. Sobriety is very rewarding if you put in the work. And remember the kicker: You have to put in the work no matter what you do, even if you choose to go back to drinking! So you may as well get the rewards in life. You may as well choose sobriety, and start building success. Get a win, then build on it.
Your first “win” should be sobriety. Abstinence.
And going to rehab is a natural starting point for that.
The 28 days is not a cure. But it is a foundation that you can build on, if you want this new life.
For those who have failed to learn to control their drinking, arrest it instead
You cannot get sober by changing little details. You cannot get sober by switching tactics or moving a few pieces around in life.
No, it takes big, sweeping changes. It requires massive action.
Going to treatment for 28 days is massive action.
Going to detox for 5 days is taking action, but going to rehab for a full month is “massive action.”
This is the sort of thing that can kick start your new life in recovery. Which is the entire point of rehab to begin with, it is what rehab is designed to do.
It is not a perfect solution and it cannot help you if you are not willing to change, but it is still the best solution that we have available to us.
The motivation has to come from within. Going to treatment does not give you motivation.
If someone does not want to stop drinking, putting them in rehab is not going to change that fact.
But it is still your best option if you think you are ready for a new life. If you are ready to leave behind the misery of alcoholism, then you should strongly consider checking into a facility.
What do you think? Have you ever been to inpatient treatment? Did it help you to build a new life? Did it make it easy to arrest your disease? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!