Why the Struggling Alcoholic Probably Needs Inpatient Rehab

Why the Struggling Alcoholic Probably Needs Inpatient Rehab

How to surrender to a new life in recovery

If you are a struggling alcoholic then you probably need inpatient rehab. Of course in order to make sense of that suggestion you first have to define what “struggling” really means to you.

What it means to me is that alcohol is a problem in your life. It is a recurring problem.

Does that mean that it is a problem every day, or that you are living on the streets and drinking out of a paper bag? Not necessarily. Things don’t have to get “that bad” in order for it to be full blown alcoholism.

You are struggling if alcohol is ruining your life. Period.

Many people struggle and they won’t admit that alcohol is ruining their life. They are in denial. They will blame anyone and everything other than themselves and the alcohol. Or they will shift the blame and admit that they drink too much, but then they will make excuses. “If you had my problems you would drink this much too!” And so on.

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But it’s all denial in the end. They are unhappy and alcohol has control of them and there is nothing that can really help them until they surrender to their disease.

Going to rehab is not a cure. It is actually just one solution out of many. But there are a number of things going for it and if the alcoholic is willing to attend inpatient treatment then that is a very good sign. Again, not an outright cure. But definitely one of the better choices you can make if you are struggling.

Let’s find out why.

The power of disruption

I like to talk about disruption.

The alcoholic has a problem. They are trapped in a cycle. Every day they come to, feel bad about recent events, and then they proceed to self medicate again. They get drunk all over again, endure new consequences, and then feel bad about themselves. This cycle of destruction is not helped by the fact that alcohol is, itself, a depressant. So things get worse and then the alcohol depresses the person even further. The cycle just continues to spiral further and further out of control.

Sometimes people stay stuck in such a pattern for their entire lifetime. Or decades at a time. Or for years. Or maybe just for months.

For me it was about 8 years of continuous drinking. I drank every single day and I used as many drugs as I could get my hands on. My disease quickly progressed and my tolerance went absolutely crazy. When I attended one treatment center they told me that I had the habits of an old man, an old alcoholic. Yet I was 24 at the time and drinking ridiculous amounts of hard liquor every day.

Apparently I did not have to drink for a lifetime or for decades in order to hit my bottom. For whatever reason my disease progressed very rapidly. Maybe this is because I was combining alcohol with a whole host of other addictive substances at the same time? At any rate I am grateful that I hit bottom when I did and sought out help.

My life needed serious disruption. I had a circle of “friends” and I used drugs or drank with every single one of them. The people who did not use drugs or alcohol, I slowly drifted away from. I worked at a job in which nearly every single coworker was into drinking or drugs as well. And outside of work I simply “partied” all the time with other people who used.

So my life revolved around drugs and alcohol. I designed it that way. I did not want to do sober things with sober people. I was far too scared to do that. So I continued to self medicate and to design my life around other people who drank and used drugs.

For eight years I did this and thus established a pattern. I was stuck in a cycle of abuse.

So when I reached the point of surrender, what was I going to do in order to break free?

I can tell you what I did.

First I asked for help. My family called up a treatment center and took me there.

Second of all I entered a long term rehab facility directly after finishing up a regular detox and residential treatment program. So after leaving the short term treatment center (28 days) I went right to a long term rehab and proceeded to live there for 20 months.

This is massive disruption.

My old job where I used drugs and drank with people–completely gone. Never went back there. Ever.

My old “friends” that I drank and got high with all the time–completely gone. Replaced all of them with people in recovery. I did this immediately, without any further contact. Just straight to rehab, then straight to long term rehab. A new set of friends, a new support system.

The old places I hung around in my addiction–completely gone from my life. Never went back to the places I got high at. Never went back to the places I drank at. Totally gone. New behaviors. Started going to AA meetings instead. Started going to coffee shops instead. And so on. A complete change.

This is massive disruption. People, places, and things. I changed all of it at the same time, simply by making one simple decision.

And that decision was to check into inpatient treatment.

Everything that happened to me in recovery flowed through my life as a result of my decision to go to rehab.

I went to detox, stayed in a 28 day program, and then I lived in a long term treatment center. All three of these things were housed in the same building.

You might say that this building, this facility, that it saved my life.

Perhaps I could have went to a different treatment center and had similar results. I tend to believe that is the case–that it is the level of willingness and the depth of your surrender that determines your success. But I am very, very grateful to the treatment center where I got sober at.

And I think if you are at the point of surrender then you could do no better than to check into treatment.

Many alcoholics also need a medical detox at rehab

After I sobered up and spent a few years working at another job I decided to apply at the rehab where I got sober.

They hired me.

I worked as a “client care technician” and spent time directly with the clients, helped them get checked in, and so on.

Later they trained me as a nurse assistant and I worked directly with sick clients in detox. So I got a chance to work very closely with people in recovery at the same detox and residential facility where I first got sober.

I did this job full time for five years.

Of course I went through alcoholism detox myself, more than once. And I can tell you that alcohol withdrawal is not something to fool around with.

It can be very dangerous. Lethal even. An alcoholic can actually die from not taking a drink, believe it or not. The withdrawal process can be very dangerous.

In particular, there is a threat of seizures and complications from those potential seizures when someone is going through alcohol withdrawal. The risk level depends on a number of factors, most important of which perhaps is how long and how heavily a person has been drinking for. Another huge risk factor is if the alcoholic was also abusing any kind of medications along with the alcohol. The risk of seizure is massively increased if the person also abused (while drinking) medications such as Librium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and so on. I know this first hand because I had to help several different alcoholics get through withdrawal from these substances. And some of those were very tough to get through. Many people had to leave treatment and go to an emergency room. Very scary stuff.

But the alternative is even scarier. Because the alternative is to stay out there, to stay drunk, to keep taking crazy medications and combining them with alcohol, or even worse–to try to detox yourself. While many people can quit drinking on their own safely, some people cannot. And for some it is a fatal mistake to quit cold turkey.

In short, it is not worth the risk to try to kick booze on your own. If you have struggled with alcohol even a tiny bit then you owe it to yourself to get medical help in order to get through withdrawal. Anything else is just a risk that you should not take.

Our alcoholism becomes environmental after a certain amount of time

One of the real truths about alcoholism is that eventually you become a product of your environment. Meaning that at some point your life revolves around alcohol and trying to get sober is like an uphill battle. Everything is stacked against you because you have invested so much time and effort into making your life revolve around drinking.

This seems to be true if you are social alcoholic, but also if you are the complete opposite and you tend to isolate. Either way your alcoholism progresses in such a way that it pulls you deeper and deeper into dependence.

This is just another reason to consider inpatient treatment. You need the disruption. How else are you going to get out of the cycle? How are you going to escape from yourself?

That is the problem with the “location solution.” Some alcoholics believe that if they just transplant themselves into another city that this will fix all of their problems. That changing locations will cure them of the alcohol problem.

Of course it doesn’t work. We take our biggest problem with us, and our addiction as well. You can’t run away from yourself.

I was trapped in a lifestyle and I was also trapped by my own self pity and inner drama.

My problems were internal and external.

You can’t fix one and expect to stay sober without also addressing the other side of your problems.

So when I checked into rehab and walked away from my old job and my old using buddies, that was not the end of the story. I had a massive amount of work to do “on the inside” as well. Meaning that I had escaped from half of my problems, but the other half remained within me. I had to fix my internal problems as well.

And what was that internal problem? Self pity. Resentment. Drama. Mental obsession. I would find something to feed on in my brain, something that would allow me to justify my drinking. So that my mind had an excuse when I was getting wasted on alcohol.

And I noticed this problem when I first got sober. I was still prone to self pity and resentment. Yet those things were no longer serving me because I was not giving into them and drinking over it any more.

But the mental loop kept playing in my mind. The self pity was still popping up. How could I get it to stop?

I had to take action. I had to get help. I had to talk to people and learn some new things and take some suggestions.

So I asked questions at meetings. I asked people in online recovery forums how to overcome self pity.

And I listened to people and I started taking suggestions and doing the work.

Now I am pretty darn good at overcoming self pity. I know today that it is all about gratitude, it is about taking action every day and practicing gratitude, even when you may not feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it!

But this was a process. I had to learn it, I had to struggle through it, I had to try different techniques and find what worked for me.

And being in treatment was a big part of that. I am not sure I could have done all of these sort of experiments if I had been “on the outside” (meaning, not in treatment).

Where are you going to get peer support? Treatment solves this at least temporarily


If you don’t go to rehab, where are you going to get peer support for your recovery?

It’s an important question. Because without peer support you are probably going to relapse. Most “real” alcoholics and drug addicts cannot recover entirely on their own. They need help, especially in early recovery.

There are a few rare instances where someone can go straight to AA, or to a church community, and they can remain sober just based on that alone without ever having gone to treatment.

But it is generally much harder to pull this off.

Why not make it easier on yourself and go to rehab first, then go find these additional avenues of support? Most treatment centers actually do one step better than this and introduce you to outside support systems. For example, many rehab centers have people from the outside come in to give an AA meeting.

So going to treatment gives you instant peer support. This is usually more important than any of us are willing to admit, at least at first.

The first two times that I attended treatment I would not admit that I needed help from my peers in order to recover. I did not even believe it, actually. But the third time when I finally got sober I realized that this was the very thing that I was missing on the first two attempts (that and surrender + willingness).

What have you got to lose?

If you want to get sober then you are going to have to, at some point, take massive action and tackle your problem.

It cannot be done with little baby steps.

No alcoholic has overcome their problem by just taking tiny little baby steps.

Think of it like getting into the cold swimming pool. It is impossible to inch your way in when it comes to sobriety. If you try to do that you will relapse every time.

The only way to get sober and really change your life is to dive in to the deep end head first. Completely submerge yourself in recovery.

There are people who have danced around the fringes of recovery, maybe they hit a few AA meetings but they continue to drink here and there. This is not real sobriety. It’s not even close.

I hate to make it sound so polarizing but recovery is absolutely black and white. Sobriety is pass/fail. You are either completely sober and working hard on a new life in recovery, or you are completely screwing up and headed down the path to destruction.

If you think you are on a middle path then you are fooling yourself. Eventually you will look back and realize that you were kidding yourself. There is no middle path.

When I was still stuck in addiction I did not believe this simple truth. I believed that there was probably a middle path, a happy medium that any alcoholic or drug addict could probably find if they were willing to search hard enough for it. You know, like learning to control their alcohol consumption while still enjoying it?

I can look back now and realize just how insane that sounds.

To enjoy my alcohol use and control it at the same time….makes absolutely no sense to me. At all.

Normal people can do that.

Normal people can enjoy a glass of wine and not go totally overboard the next day.

And I can fool myself for a while if I want to.

I can drink a glass of wine every day for a few days. Maybe even for a few weeks if I was really trying hard at it.

But eventually (and this is the whole key to this thing), eventually I would go totally nuts. I would go overboard. I would be drinking a half gallon of hard liquor while also using whatever other drugs I could get my hands on.

That probably sounds like a crazy transition, and it is. Yes, I can go from having one glass of wine per day (and seeming like I am both controlling and enjoying it) to suddenly needing a half gallon of liquor while also scrambling to get whatever other drugs I can find. And I still won’t be happy!

This is addiction.

And so you see, even back when I was “controlling” my one glass of wine per day, the storm inside was brewing. The addiction beast was gearing up to take over. And this is what really defines addiction. You can fool yourself for a little while and think that you can control it, and you actually can. But only in the short run.

And this is why we need disruption. This is why treatment makes so much sense. Because eventually we have to break free from the madness and take massive action. And it is very hard to do that when you are stuck in a certain environment.

I had to go to rehab in order to break free from my own addiction. It was not that I had to escape from myself, because you can never really do that. I just needed a certain amount of help and support in order to get past the really tough part. The detox, the early recovery, and the transition back into the real world.

If you have failed to quit drinking on your own then what do you have to lose by giving treatment a chance?

I thought I was giving up my freedom when I went to treatment. But in reality I was discovering it all over again. Sobriety set me free.

And I am no longer afraid.

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