Personally, I have talked myself out of going to alcoholism rehab many times.
After all, what can they possible do that you cannot do for yourself, right? Treatment is just like a form of imprisonment, you are locking yourself away for a while so that you don’t drink any alcohol. Surely I could do this on my own?
Not so. Obviously, the reasons for going to treatment are deeper than just locking yourself up. If you want to get clean and sober then you may have to consider these additional reasons.
The first reason not to skip rehab: The opportunity cost of continued drinking is too great to ignore
Let’s say that you don’t go to treatment. As an alcoholic, you may find a brief period of sobriety, but as per your usual pattern you always relapse eventually. You keep drinking alcohol and you continue to self medicate.
What exactly is the real cost of this? You may justify it to yourself and decide to just keep drinking for a while. Maybe you can quit down the road a ways, right? You’ll just drink for a few more months. Or maybe you can keep drinking for the next year, and you will quit next year. You put it off and you put it off some more. Before you know it you have drank your life away.
So what exactly is the true cost of that?
It is a difficult cost to pin down exactly, but my point here is that the cost of continuing to abuse alcohol is far too high. In fact, the cost of it is so high that I would urge you to do whatever it takes in order to get clean and sober.
The amount of misery and pain that you will experience in the next ten years of drinking alcohol is really intense. It is a whole lot of unnecessary pain and struggle. Not to mention the wasted life, the wasted time, the wasted money. The negative impact that your drinking will have on your relationships. And so on. It all adds up, and the cost is just way too high. Living as an alcoholic is a terrible way to live. You miss out on so much joy, so many opportunities.
To make a meaningful comparison you must compare the pain and misery of addiction with the joy of recovery. If you get clean and sober then everything gets better. This is difficult to describe accurately to a struggling alcoholic because nearly every single aspect of your life will improve in some way. So it is not just that you will be happier on a day to day basis. You will also be healthier. Your relationships will improve. You will find new spiritual meaning. You will find gratitude in life. And so on. Everything gets better, not just one or two things. It is a total life transformation and you cannot accurately describe it to someone who is currently stuck.
It would be more accurate to say: “Look, you are drunk right now and you are struggling and miserable but I can show you another way. But you have to trust me that it will get better.”
The alcoholic might say “But how will it get better? If I quit drinking I will be miserable!”
And there is really no good answer for that, other than to tell the alcoholic that things will get better if they give sobriety a chance, and that they have to “trust in the process.” That gets repeated over and over again because it is the truth: Recovery is a process and if you trust in it then eventually your life will get better and better.
But you start out from ground zero. You start out from a point of total misery. And so it is very discouraging to the alcoholic who wants to be happy again.
If you skip rehab then you are likely to stay stuck in the misery, justifying it to yourself and arguing that you would be just as miserable while sober. This is a lie that you tell yourself in order to justify more drinking. The truth will set you free. And that truth is that you can be happy in sobriety if you give it a fair chance. This is true for every alcoholic, no matter how much they think they depend on drugs or booze for their happiness.
The second reason not to skip rehab: It is the most focused and concentrated amount of help that you could possibly get in 28 days or less
There are actually several options for the struggling alcoholic.
They could, for example, just wander into an AA meeting and start attending those religiously. They could get a sponsor in AA and start asking for advice and doing what they are told to do. They could go to meetings every day and show up early and make the coffee.
Or they could go find a therapist who is willing to see them twice a week and talk to them about their problems. Maybe if they are highly motivated they could even take action based on these discussions, and in doing so, change their life. They could use therapy to overcome their alcoholism.
Or they might keep screwing up their life with alcohol so much that they end up in jail for a certain period of time. While in jail they would be forced to stop drinking alcohol and maybe they would adopt AA or find religion or simply decide that they don’t want to go back to the madness.
And there are other ways that a person might stop drinking alcohol.
And then there is inpatient treatment. The 28 day program. These places usually have a medical detox center as well in combination with residential treatment.
So what makes inpatient treatment so special?
I would argue that inpatient rehab is different than the other options listed above in that it is the most specific and concentrated form of help that you can get.
In other words, rehab is the probably the best option for a struggling alcoholic. There are other options, but none of them are nearly as focused as inpatient rehab.
When you commit to going to a 28 day inpatient program, you are gifted with 28 days of continuous sobriety. This is powerful and should not be dismissed out of hand. Look at the other options for getting sober and realize that nearly none of them offer this same guarantee. The only one that comes close is going to jail, and honestly that option has so many problems associated with it that it is not worth considering (not seriously anyway).
How else can you take the most hopeless alcoholic in the world and guarantee him 28 days of sobriety? Inpatient treatment allows for this to happen.
I have heard people talk about an alcoholic before and say how they are so addicted that they could not possibly make it a week sober under any circumstances. Nonsense! I don’t care how desperately addicted a person is to alcohol, they can sober up if they go to detox and stay in rehab for a few weeks. That is the whole point; they walk you through the process, hold your hand during the whole thing, and protect you from the threat of relapse. They don’t sell you beer at inpatient rehab. That’s kind of the point. They protect you from yourself. This is powerful and if you stay for 28 days then that is a powerful foundation for rebuilding your life. At least you give your body and your brain 28 days of clarity that it could not have got otherwise.
The third reason not to avoid alcohol rehab: You will set yourself up for failure by thinking that you can do it on your own
There was a time when I really thought that I could do it on my own. I had actually been to rehab for about 10 days and I was off the booze for a while. My plan was to never drink alcohol again because clearly it was not good for me. I realized this much at least, though I was nowhere near true surrender.
What I decided to do instead was to use other drugs instead of alcohol. This would keep me from wanting to drink, or needing to drink (so I thought). It was a plan anyway, and it is a strategy that nearly every alcoholic and drug addict will experiment with at one time or another during their addiction. I just happen to try it right after I left an inpatient rehab program.
At the time, I was also not willing to follow up with treatment. They wanted me to do all sorts of things for my recovery, including going to AA meetings for the rest of my life. I had not yet hit bottom and therefore I was not willing to do this, or anything else for that matter. It was just all too much work and I was not ready to put in the effort. That is why I tried “the marijuana maintenance program” instead, which is to say that I tried to use enough drugs every day that I would not have to use alcohol.
It worked for a short while, maybe a month or two, and then I went back to drinking. The problem is that I got all worked up emotionally one day and I could not seem to properly medicate myself without resorting to alcohol. I just had to use alcohol. I failed for at least two reasons:
1) You cannot replace one drug with another and expect for it to work out well. Alcohol is a drug.
2) You cannot leave treatment, do nothing more for your recovery, and expect for it to work out well.
Both of these points were working against me. In fact, either point by itself was enough to cause me to relapse. If you are replacing one drug with another then you have already failed, as total abstinence is the only real way to build a foundation for recovery (in my experience anyway).
Second of all, if you are not willing to take massive action after leaving rehab in order to continue your recovery journey then you are setting yourself up to fail. Some people have the wrong impression of this, they believe that going to rehab is how you fix your addiction and after you leave a 28 day program you would be all set. This is completely wrong. The day you walk out of a 28 day program your real challenge begins. The 28 days in treatment helps you to create a foundation, but ultimately it is just a starting point of a whole lot of work. It takes real effort to maintain sobriety.
Rebuilding your life from scratch? You need a “hard reset”
I contend that the struggling alcoholic has several difficult tasks in front of them:
1) They must decide to sober up once and for all.
2) They must commit to rehab and take action by checking in to treatment.
3) They must follow up this treatment with massive action to stay sober.
4) They must rebuild their life so that they enjoy life without drinking and drugs.
This last point is what I mean by a “hard reset.” The alcoholic has to rebuild their life from the ground up.
Before I went to treatment, I was a total mess and my whole life revolved around drinking and drugs. Everything that I did was in relation to my addiction. All of the people that I associated with had to do with drinking or drugs. My whole life was wrapped up in addiction.
How do you fix that? They have a saying in recovery: “The only thing that you have to change is everything.”
Funny but true. If you try to change some things but not everything then you will fail. The reason they say that you must change “everything” is because you change from the inside out, your whole personality shifts, and this is what causes such a huge transformation. In fact, you may still eat the same sandwich for lunch each day as you did while you were drinking. But now you have a different appreciation for your health, for your day to day experiences, for sobriety. Your attitude changes in recovery. So how you perceive the world changes drastically once you are living sober. Everything changes.
It takes a lot of effort to rebuild your life from scratch. Going to rehab is a shortcut to building this foundation. It makes it a whole lot smoother, and I think that it also makes it a tiny bit easier. But realize that just going to treatment does not give you a free pass to joy and serenity in recovery. If you want those benefits then you have to work for them. It takes real effort, whether you go to rehab or not. Just checking into a 28 day program does not insure you joy and contentment in your recovery for the rest of your life. Continuous effort is required for that.
There is this idea that you must reinvent yourself in recovery. And you have to keep reinventing yourself, over and over again. If you stop reinventing yourself then you get lazy and you are in danger of screwing up all over again.
We cannot stand still in our recovery. After you leave treatment you are always on this mountain slope for the rest of your life. You can either trudge up the mountain slope towards recovery, or you can slide back down the hill towards relapse. Those are your only two choices. If you stand still then guess what? You are sliding down the mountain towards relapse.
We don’t get to stand still in our recovery. If you are standing still then we have a label for that, we call it “complacency.” Complacency leads to relapse.
So this is a lot of work and a lot of effort but going to inpatient rehab can at least set you up with a foundation to get started on this journey. Without this foundation you may find yourself relapsing before you even get started. That was the position that I found myself in; I could not string together enough days sober to even get a foothold in recovery. I had to check into rehab so that I could experience this “hard reset” in my life and start rebuilding from scratch.
Certainly some people in recovery were able to “reset” their life without going to rehab. For example, I know people who just simply went to AA meetings and were able to rebuild their lives based on that alone. I could not do it that way, I needed more help. You have to be honest with yourself about how much help you really need.
Inpatient treatment is the best option for most people
If you are a struggling alcoholic then deep down you probably know the truth of this already. Any struggling alcoholic has tried their best, they have tried to sober up, they have tried to control their drinking. They have tried on their own to turn their life around and they have failed.
If there is no problem then there is no problem. If you can sober up without rehab then by all means, do it! I found that I could not do it and eventually I had to get really honest with myself about that.
I would urge you to be really honest with yourself. Anything else is a form of denial. Look at your life and realize the truth of your situation. If you are able to walk away from alcohol and drugs without seeking help then you should definitely do it. Is the problem that you just don’t want to do it, but you believe that you could if you wanted to? If so then that is a form of denial. Don’t fool yourself this way.
Admit the truth to yourself: That you have tried to sober up and you have not succeeded in doing so. Maybe you can do it for a while but eventually it all falls apart. You need help in order to change your life.
Inpatient treatment is not a magical cure for alcoholism, but it is generally the most powerful treatment option we have available. You could try other things to fix your drinking problem but none of them are as powerful as inpatient rehab. It may feel like an overwhelming commitment to check into rehab for 28 days, but look carefully at the alternative. A lifetime of misery and chaos is not worth it for any cost. You owe it to yourself to give sobriety a fair chance.