What are some good tips and suggestions for someone who is about to enter rehab for alcoholism?
What can we tell such a person that might increase their chances of staying clean and sober for good?
After all, not everyone who enters addiction treatment will stay clean and sober forever as a result. It would be nice if this were the reality, but it just isn’t true.
That said, there is a lot of hope for anyone who has the willingness to enter an inpatient rehab. If you are willing to make the commitment just to go to treatment then this is already a huge step.
But it’s not enough. Not on its own. Just the willingness to enter into rehab is not going to cure anyone of alcoholism. In fact, the real secret is that there is no cure at all, and you are going to have to rely on a lifelong change of habits if you want to stay sober forever. The challenge of recovery is that you must adopt a completely new way of life. Going to rehab is just the starting point; the tip of the iceberg. But it can still be a very helpful experience, and it might just be the one event that changes your life and sets everything into motion.
So let’s take a closer look at how you might treat the rehab experience.
How to be supportive of someone who is thinking of entering treatment
First of all, if a friend or a loved one is going into treatment and you are trying to help that person to do well, you want to be supportive of their efforts.
Your goal in helping the alcoholic should always be to encourage them to take positive action.
The best possible action that they could take would be to check into inpatient rehab. There is no better decision that the struggling alcoholic could make.
Lessor decisions exist of course, such as their decision to attend an AA meeting. This is certainly good and should be encouraged as well, but it is not quite as good as if they are willing to check into rehab. You might arrange a continuum in your mind of possible things the alcoholic might do, in order from best to worst:
1) Go to long term treatment.
2) Go to inpatient rehab (28 days).
3) Check into detox for a weekend.
4) Go to outpatient rehab.
5) Go see a counselor or a therapist on a regular basis.
6) Go to AA meetings.
7) Talk about wanting to be sober, but doing nothing.
8) Refuse to admit they have a problem at all, outright denial.
Maybe your friend or loved one is stuck down at #7 or #8 right now, and that is understandable. Every single alcoholic who has ever gotten help before has been stuck down at that point before. Everyone goes through denial. Everyone has to come to terms with their disease in their own time. There are a few things you can do to help with this but in reality it is very little. Basically it comes down to not enabling the person at all and letting them experience the full consequences of their actions. Beyond that there is not a lot you can do other than to offer to take them to treatment.
Therefore if the struggling alcoholic in your life sounds like they are even the slightest bit willing to entertain the idea of inpatient rehab, you should jump on this opportunity. Pick up the phone and start calling up rehabs. Get someone on the line and then tell them you have a friend here who needs help. Ask them what would be necessary to get them scheduled for treatment. Try to start the ball rolling if someone seems willing to take action. It is all about the phone. Get on the phone and call up a rehab, start asking questions. This is how lives are changed. When someone picks up the phone and calls a treatment center.
A good suggestion for the newly recovering alcoholic is to get out of their own way and to kill their ego
Now if you happen to be the struggling alcoholic who is looking to live their life without drugs and alcohol in the future, I have a suggestion for you.
Actually I have a lot of suggestions for you and that is what this website is all about. But there is one particular suggestion that is more important than all of the others, and we need to discuss that right here.
The number one suggestion for you is to kill your ego. This may sound a bit funny because you probably don’t know how to kill your own ego off hand, but I can explain it very simply.
If you really want to get sober and stay that way, here is what you do:
Make an agreement with yourself that you will stop making your own decisions for a while. Instead of being in charge of your own life like you have always been in the past, you are going to hand control over to other people. I know this sounds crazy but just hear me out for a minute.
Every single time you are facing a decision I want you to ignore your own thoughts about what to do and to take advice from other people instead. Now you should go to rehab and you will start going to AA meetings or get involved with a recovery group so you will have plenty of people who can give you advice. You want to take advice from people who you trust, from people who are already living the clean and sober life. If you go to rehab and start going to meetings then there will be plenty of people like this around who can give you advice.
Now I know that this idea does not sound appetizing. You are probably thinking to yourself right now “OK, I can see that some other people might try to do this, but I cannot really seem myself handing over control of my life and my decisions to other people.” You are smart, right? You don’t need other people to think for you, right?
Well, I am smart too. Or at least I like to think that I am pretty smart. But that doesn’t matter. Because at some point I became miserable. I was drinking and using drugs and I could not believe how miserable I had become. It was all my own fault. I had been blaming my misery on other people, but in reality it was all my own fault. And so I had to admit to myself that I did not know how to be happy in this life.
This is when I “killed my ego.” I made the decision to stop aside, to trust other people to guide me, to follow their advice instead of my own.
Now for the payoff.
If you do this it will transform your life.
I am not saying that just to sound cheesy. I am not promising you something that may or may not come true here. If you do this then it will change your life for the better in a profound way.
In fact, you will be amazed after less than 30 days. Probably after just a week or two.
Every day, kill your ego. Push it aside and do NOT trust yourself. Instead, start doing what other people tell you to do in recovery. The people you trust, ask them for advice. If you have nothing to do, then ask for more direction.
Follow through. Start taking action. Don’t use your own ideas for one year. Kill your ego for one full year. Only take advice and direction from other people.
Within a month, maybe even within just a week or two, you will notice something.
This is the amazing part.
I can remember what it felt like to notice this.
I said to myself: “My gosh, here I am taking advice from others, and I am actually happy. I don’t know why I am happy because I did not figure this out myself, other people told me what to do. And yet I am so much happier now than when I was in charge of all my own decisions. It feels like a secret path! I am cheating at life. I have outsourced my thinking. I am letting others decide my path for me. And it is working! I am happy today. And I was happy yesterday. And I believe that I will probably be happy tomorrow.”
That is what the realization felt like to me. I had been doing this for a few weeks. I had been forcing myself to take suggestions and listen to advice from others.
And this was really hard for me to do because I thought that I was so smart. I always believed that I was smart. But being smart doesn’t mean that you are good at being happy.
It is so easy for other people in recovery to give us really good advice. Yet it is difficult for ourselves to give ourselves really good advice.
Think about that for a moment. You may have all sorts of good ideas in your head, but are you really good at giving yourself sound advice?
Probably not. None of us are great at it necessarily, until we have walked a long path of failure.
This is why it makes sense to borrow from the wisdom of others.
If someone has been clean and sober for a long time, ask their advice and then start following that advice.
This is the shortcut to happiness.
Another good tip is for the alcoholic to follow directions in early recovery
This is a tip for first grade children.
I am afraid that it also applies to adults in this case.
If you are in rehab then one of the most important things that you can do is to follow directions and follow the rules.
Inpatient treatment is pretty simple. You are in a controlled environment so this insures your sobriety in the short term. Other than that you just have to act civil basically–no fighting, no screaming at people, etc. It is not too difficult to comply but there are instances when people have trouble staying in line.
I worked in a rehab center for 5 years and I can tell you this much:
If you get kicked out of treatment then your odds of staying sober plummet to nearly nothing. That is just based on my observations of course. I also lived in a long term rehab for 20 months and the same thing applied there: If someone was kicked out of the sober living house then they were almost certain to relapse as a result, if they had not done so already.
With those observations in mind, one of the most important things that you can do in a treatment center is to simply follow the rules.
The path to success is an extension of this actually.
Not only do you want to follow the rules in rehab, but you want to hang on to their every word and try to implement their advice. As it says in AA literature, you should “cling to their message with the desperation of a drowning man.”
In other words, you should not just begrudgingly follow the rules, but you should follow them and be desperate to learn everything that you can about the recovery process. You should be hungry for knowledge about how to remain sober. This is how to set yourself up for success in early recovery.
Or perhaps more accurately, this is what a person is like who has reached a point of full surrender and are ready to change their life. They are more than willing to follow the rules and they are also eager to learn everything they can about how to stay sober.
A suggestion regarding follow through and aftercare
If you want to remain sober for the long run then aftercare is of the utmost importance.
They have proven this over and over again with statistics. You can ask any treatment center that keeps follow up data and statistics about their visitors what impact aftercare has on the success rates of alcoholics, and they will tell you that it is profound.
In other words, if you take 100 people who leave short term rehab, maybe 30 of those people will still be clean and sober after 6 months.
If you also ask those 100 people how many people are still active in their aftercare programs–going to outpatient, going to counseling or therapy, going to AA meetings every day–you will find that the number is also roughly 30 out of 100 are doing that stuff.
Then you might notice that is basically the same 30 people who are still sober are the ones who are following through with their aftercare.
Now obviously this will not be a perfect correlation every time, but it is close enough that you should sit up and take notice.
People who deviate from their aftercare do not generally do well in recovery.
So what exactly is aftercare?
Simple: It is really just more of the same. The rehab center gives you advice for what to do when you leave treatment. You either follow through with it, or you do not.
Again, this is why the number one suggestion at the beginning of the article was for people to simply take advice from others and get out of their own way.
My experience is that you need to do this for at least a full year. So if you go to treatment for 28 days, then you should plan on following through with your aftercare for at least the next 11 months. If you stick to this perfectly and you really “kill your ego” for a full year then it will absolutely change your life.
Sticking to your aftercare program is just another way to kill your ego, to get out of your own way and let others help you.
More treatment is generally better than less treatment
One final piece of advice for anyone who is about to take the plunge into treatment is this:
More treatment is generally better than less treatment.
This is a bit of puzzle, actually, because if you look at the data then it does not show a huge difference here.
In other words, if you look at the success rates of long term versus short term treatment, it is not as stark of a difference as you might expect. In fact the difference is very little.
But what I am talking about here has more to do with willingness.
Here is what I mean.
Say you have two struggling alcoholics and you put them both through a 5 day detox. Then you are going to place them in some sort of inpatient treatment after that. Maybe you offer these two people a choice:
They can go to a 14 day residential program, or they can go to a 90 day residential program.
What I have noticed over the years is that anyone who is vehemently against the longer treatment stay is probably not going to do well in recovery, period. Even if you can convince them to go to the longer treatment, it won’t really matter. Because they are so set against it, this is an indication that they are not in a state of full surrender.
I am sure there are exceptions to this. It is just a trend that I have noticed over the years.
When I was stuck in denial myself and I was still drinking, my family tried to convince me to get help. They urged me to go to rehab. I was stuck in denial and I was not about to change.
But at two different points I became willing to go to rehab. Just barely. But it was at the urging of my family, not my own idea. And I was still in denial.
Therefore I quibbled about the length. Ten days in rehab? OK I guess I can do that. But 28 days sounded insane, and anything longer than that sounded like a prison sentence to me.
This was because I was still stuck in denial.
Later on I finally surrendered for good. I was completely defeated by alcohol and I was at the end of my rope. I had reached the turning point. And at that time they could have told me that I was checking into a ten year long rehab program. I would have said “fine.”
This is the difference between being in a state of surrender and being in a state of denial. If you are in total surrender then you will probably not worry too much about how long the treatment visit is.
And as a general rule, the longer you stay in treatment (and are willing to stay), the better off your sobriety will be.
That said, there are people who prove the exception to this. There are people who go through a 3 day detox center and then go to AA meetings every day and they never drink again. Good job to those folks….whatever works for you. I had to live in rehab for 20 months in order to get the help that I needed. And for that I am grateful.
Are you about to enter treatment yourself? Have you been considering it? Do you have any questions about rehab that we can answer for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!