It should come as no surprise to certain people that the best path to recovery from alcoholism is generally drug rehab or an inpatient treatment center.
The problem is that there is a whole other group of people in this world who really have no idea that this is the case. Sadly, there are many struggling addicts and alcoholics who never even try to go to treatment at all, and simply go through their lives in misery, tragically dying at the hands of their addiction.
This is not to say that there are no alternatives to inpatient rehab. There are several. And some of them may actually work out for certain individuals. But on the whole, the best option for most people is inpatient treatment.
Let’s find out why…..
Most treatment options do not address the scale and intensity of the problem
As I mentioned above there are at least a dozen alternative solutions to inpatient rehab.
When I was struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, this was like music to my ears. Why? Because I really, really, really did not want to go to inpatient rehab. To put it simply, I was scared. I was afraid of rehab. So I would grasp at straws for alternatives, such as counseling or therapy.
The problem is that those alternatives are never as intensive as inpatient rehab. How could they be? With inpatient treatment, you are addressing the problem 24/7. You are staying in a controlled facility, day and night, and focusing 100 percent of your time on the problem of your addiction. You cannot get any more intensive than that, other than to increase the duration (as with long term rehab). But you certainly cannot get any more focused and intensive than inpatient treatment.
Each option that you try other than inpatient rehab becomes less and less intensive. You have outpatient treatment of course where the person goes home each night rather than to stay over in the rehab. Then you have counseling or therapy where the person may just have an hour or two each week of help. Or you could go to 12 step meetings on your own which, while helpful to some, may only represent about an hour or so each day of working on the problem.
So each alternative to rehab is sort of a “lessor solution.” None of them match up to the full impact that you get from staying in a facility for up to 28 days straight, focusing entirely on your problem the whole time.
Now here is the thing:
Most people believe that this intense focus that you get with inpatient rehab is not even necessary! People tend to believe just like I did at one point–that surely they can overcome their addiction without having to check into a rehab facility. They think to themselves: I’ll just use one of these less intensive methods (such as counseling for example) and then I will try really, really hard at it. That way I can avoid the humiliation, or inconvenience, or whatever they are against when it comes to inpatient rehab.
I can tell you right now that this line of thinking is flawed. I know this because I experienced it first hand, and I tried to take those same short cuts when I was struggling to find recovery. None of it worked for me. What I was doing was underestimating the problem and overestimating my ability to overcome the problem.
We all do this, at least at first. Reality has a way of teaching us the truth.
And what is that truth? That recovery is tough. I learned this the hard way after going to a couple therapists and 3 different rehabs over a period of several years. I was not really surrendered for all of these efforts, but that is sort of the point. Because I was “not ready” to get clean and sober, none of the stuff that I tried would work for me. I did not have a very good chance at staying clean and sober because I was not willing to do whatever it takes.
So this was a rough ride for me because at one point I decided that my drinking really was getting the best of me, and that it would be nice to be free from alcohol in my life. So I started making some effort to actually get sober, but I was still not at that point of full surrender. This is the point at which you start to learn, because then you see what does not work. Going to therapy once a month does not work. Wishing that things were different does not work. Going to rehab and then leaving with the intention of not drinking but deciding you want to keep smoking dope with all of your old friends does not work. These are things that I had to learn the hard way. These are things that you cannot just learn by being told–you have to actually test some of it for yourself in order to really “get” the lesson. I admit that I am a very stubborn person and I believe that other addicts and alcoholics may be somewhat stubborn as well. I learn very well but I don’t necessarily learn super fast. Sometimes I have to bang my head into the wall several times before I realize that it is hurting me. This is addiction.
What I am really getting at here is the idea that the treatment should match the scope of the problem. Addiction and alcoholism are not little problems. They are big problems. In fact they are so huge that for most people they will be the biggest problem that they have ever faced in their entire life. This was definitely the case with me. When I finally overcame my addiction it was not with a 10 day rehab or even with a 28 day rehab…..it was with a long term rehab that I lived at for almost 2 full years! Now compare this final solution of mine to when I was still stuck in denial, before I had sought any help at all, and I really believed that I was still in control of my addiction and could stop any time that I wanted to! Just think about how truly naive I was back then and how much intense treatment I actually needed in order to finally break free from my addiction. This is because we tend to overestimate our own ability and we underestimate the disease’s power. All of us do this. It is hard wired into us as part of our survival mechanism. We believe we are stronger than our addiction. It is only through a long hard path of failure that we can finally see the truth–that overcoming our addiction is going to be the fight of our lifetime. It was only after going to rehab several times and then failing and relapsing that I was able to see the true scope of the problem. To see how truly difficult it was going to be and then adjust accordingly. I had to become willing to embrace treatment as my solution. I was only willing to do that after I had tried and failed several times.
This is why I think so many people who go to rehab end up relapsing and make it look like a revolving door. At first, I realize that you want to cry out against this and say “Why can’t they invent a rehab or a treatment that actually works the first time? Why do people go to rehab and then relapse and then have to go back? What is the point of all that? Why not find a way to fix it the first time? Don’t we have medical advances and psychologists working on this problem? Where is the progress?”
That is a common reaction, especially from people who have little first-hand experience with addiction or alcoholism, and I can totally understand it. If I am honest with myself then I realize that I had the same sort of reaction before I was actually addicted myself. I figured that alcoholics were just lazy people who needed to snap out of it. Seriously, that was how I thought when I was younger and had not yet been exposed to drugs or booze.
But addiction is horribly complicated, and it is driven by a capacity for self destruction. How do you help someone who is determined to sabotage their own life by self medicating themselves to death? Not an easy task by any means. You have to keep in mind that when you deal with addiction and alcoholism, you are dealing with irrational behaviors.
I can remember at one point in my recovery journey that we looked closely at our irrational thoughts that we each had. I was amazed to see that I actually had a big one: The worst thing in the world was if someone did not like me. We took a test and I scored the max for having this as an irrational thought. For me, this was a fate worse than death, if someone did not like me. And so I was able to see how that was part of what drove my alcoholism and my drinking. I was able to see how that anxiety was part of what I was trying to medicate.
Addiction is complicated, and therefore any solution has to be complex as well. We all want for this to be false; we want for recovery to be simple and straightforward. But just take a look at the classes that you attend during a 28 day program. They talk about holistic health. They talk about the 12 step program and spiritual growth. They talk about exercise and fitness and nutrition. They talk about emotional balance. They talk about how to manage your social life and find healthy connections. They talk about sponsorship and finding support after you leave rehab.
And on and on and on. Really what I outlined in the last paragraph is just scratching the surface. Now ask yourself: “Why would a short term rehab take the time to address all of those different issues in early recovery? Why overload the struggling addict or alcoholic with so much information?”
Because it all matters! Recovery is complex, as is addiction. You can’t “cure it” with a one step solution. It takes a massive effort and a serious investment into a lifelong solution. This is likely the biggest problem you have ever faced! Therefore it deserves your full attention in order to overcome it. Your solution should match the scale of the problem.
If you are in the fight of your life to overcome drug or alcohol addiction, you can’t just go to therapy for an hour a week and expect to move mountains. It takes more than that. The scale of your solution should match the scale of your problem. For most people, this means inpatient treatment. The only question is: How long do they need in rehab?
Inpatient treatment is one of the few methods that lends itself to massive action
You need to take massive action in order to overcome an addiction.
Your life is made up of a series of actions; a series of habits. As a struggling drug addict or alcoholic, you are now set in your ways and you have a certain way that you live your life. You have your routines. You self medicate on a regular basis. You have friends that might go along with this. You may have a job that allows you to live this way. Your whole life is sort of set up around your addiction.
This takes an incredible effort to overcome. This is inertia. Your whole life is now geared towards addiction. Your habits are geared towards self medicating. How do you overcome this pattern of self destruction? How do you reverse these habits and routines that make up your life of addiction?
You do it by taking action.
That is the only thing that can work. You have to take new action in your life in order to overcome these old habits and routines.
But you can’t just take a little action and expect it to work out well. Remember the scope of the problem: it is massive. Addiction and alcoholism are massive problems. And therefore they demand that you take massive action.
Inpatient rehab is, by definition, taking massive action. If you check in to rehab then you are already into action. You have committed to at least being in rehab full time. This is huge. Now the next step is to actually listen and participate and then follow through when you leave rehab on the new things that you learn there. But actually going to rehab in the first place is huge. This is the best step that you could possibly take because it is the most intense and comprehensive solution.
All other solutions for addiction are “less than” when you compare them to inpatient rehab. None of them are as good.
Outpatient treatment methods and other alternatives do not offer a controlled environment
One of the biggest stumbling blocks with addiction is the temptation factor. There is that huge beer and liquor aisle at the grocery store that is just calling your name when you walk by. There is that corner liquor store that you have to drive by every day that you used to stop at. There is a never ending series of temptations out there that is always calling to you.
Inpatient rehab solves this problem (at least temporarily). While you are in the controlled environment of rehab, you don’t have to deal with temptations at all. This is huge.
With all of the other solutions, you are not in a controlled environment. You are out in the real world, with all of the temptations that come along with it.
A certain percentage of your mental energy has to be available to overcome these temptations. And that will distract from how much you can focus on learning this new life and learning how to live in recovery. The temptations are a distraction. Even if you do not give into them at first, they are still wearing you down, in a sense. They are taking up mental energy that is better spent elsewhere.
When you are in an inpatient facility, all of your mental energy is spent learning how to live a new life in recovery. There is no temptation to deal with.
Inpatient rehab offers the most options for follow up care
What works for one addict in recovery may not work for the next person. We are all unique and this is definitely evident when you look at people who are living successfully in long term sobriety.
For example, I know people in long term recovery who are very religious. They attend church services and they are heavily involved with a church community. They don’t really do the AA or NA thing at all any more. But they got their start at inpatient rehab. They still dried out in a detox like everyone else.
I know other people in long term recovery who are heavily into AA or NA. They do meetings each week (sometimes every day) and they are into sponsorship. And most of them got their start in a detox or a rehab.
I also know people like myself, who try to live a life of creative recovery, a life of personal growth, without an alliance to either religion or 12 step programs.
And there are also people in recovery who base their program entirely on physical exercise. They have found a path that works for them, and it does not involve religion, AA/NA, or personal growth. They just do their own thing and exercise like crazy and it is enough for them. But again, such people usually get started in a medical detox facility or at rehab.
See the common thread here? Nearly everyone starts out in treatment, detox, or a rehab of some sort. But many people find unique ways to live in recovery in the long run. We don’t all have to end up at daily AA meetings in long term recovery.
That said, inpatient treatment offers you the best chance to get started on this new life–regardless of what your follow up plan is.
Long term rehab is best set up while in short term rehab
If you do happen to need long term treatment (as I did) then you would do well to get this started by first going to a short term rehab of 28 days or less.
This is how I was able to get into a long term facility. We set it up while I was at a 10 to 14 day program in an inpatient treatment center.
Not everyone will need long term rehab. But if you do, the best place to get it set up is while you are in a short term rehab.
It is hard to build a foundation of recovery without an inpatient stay
My belief is that–while you could actually get clean and sober without going to inpatient treatment–it is very hard to do so without the foundation that you get from an inpatient stay.
Think about it:
You get 28 days of sobriety, right off the bat, just for attending rehab. This is a solid start on a new life. If you are serious about recovery then why would you not give yourself this massive advantage? If you just try to do it on your own without this 28 day “head start,” then you are fighting an uphill battle.
Treatment works, for those who want it.
How bad do you want it?