It is perfectly understandable that family and friends of a loved one would ask this question when someone in their life is struggling with alcoholism:
“What is the best alcohol treatment available today?”
It is only natural that we would ask this question because most services that are on a sliding scale in terms of quality. You can get three different levels of quality at the local drive in car wash. If you go get a massage you can pay extra for a deeper and longer massage. And we all know that there are probably expert car washes out there that (for example) wash the president’s car. You could pay hundreds of dollars instead of five bucks and get a really professional job done.
This may seem like a strange example but it should give you an idea of how we think about services. In our consumer-driven society, we believe that we can solve any problem if we just pay more money. At the top tier there should be some ultimate solution for every problem, something that is only available to the super wealthy, some level of service that cannot possibly be beat.
With alcoholism rehab, it doesn’t really work that way.
Is there a magic cure for alcoholism at any price?
Simply throwing more money at the problem of alcoholism or drug addiction does not, unfortunately, solve the problem.
There is no “cure” for alcoholism at any price. It doesn’t matter if you are the son or daughter of the president of the United States. Even that level of health care does not buy you some secret technique for overcoming alcoholism that is for some reason withheld from the rest of the world.
Now it is true that some treatment centers cost more than others.
Given our consumer driven culture, you would expect to see a corresponding increase in the rate of sobriety for more expensive treatment centers, right?
But no such correlation has ever been proven to exist. I have never seen a study that supports this idea.
For example, sometimes a celebrity may attend the finest treatment centers on the coast which cost thousands of dollars per day, and they get out only to relapse immediately. Years later when they have reached a true bottom, they may check into a homeless shelter that also includes some form of treatment, and it is then that they finally get clean and sober. Their level of surrender was much more important than the actual rehab that they attended. This is a truth that you will likely experience for yourself in your own recovery journey.
Has the alcoholic reached a state of total and complete surrender? If so, then any treatment center should work just fine for them. If not, then no treatment center on the planet can possibly help them.
From what I understand, there are currently no treatment centers that exist that attempt to move a person closer to surrender. No treatment centers are set up to do this, and it may be impossible anyway. The only way to move closer to real surrender is to break through your own denial, reach your bottom by experiencing more and more misery from your addiction. This probably cannot happen “on the inside,” and must occur when you are out in the real world using your drug of choice.
Twelve step recovery versus Christian based recovery
While most of the treatment centers in the world are 12 step based (and are based on the program of AA), there are also many rehabs that focus on Christian based recovery as an alternative.
Which is better?
Most studies that attempt to determine success rates show that it makes no significant difference. Both models have about the same rate of success when it comes to treating addiction.
Therefore, the decision should come down to personal preference.
Obviously, if you have to force Christianity on someone then it is probably going to make it that much more difficult for them to get clean and sober. On the other hand, if they already have a practicing faith in their life, then using Christian based treatment might make more sense.
You will find that 12 step recovery can be a bit “preachy” at times as well. Just because they are not an official religion does not mean that they never act like one. Or rather, it is not necessarily the AA program that is at fault, but the people in the fellowship. The program was written very carefully in order to avoid this very problem, but sometimes the people in the AA fellowship can get carried away when it comes to preaching their solution to other people.
There is a third option as well, which is to reject both forms of traditional recovery, and to find your own path of growth in long term sobriety. This would definitely be the path less taken, and is generally looked down upon by anyone who is practicing a formal program of recovery of any kind. They will warn you repeatedly of potential relapse, if only out of fear for their own sobriety.
Early recovery depends on programs, long term sobriety depends on personal commitment
Instead of being an “either or” kind of problem, I want to suggest the following to you:
Early recovery depends on programs and structures, while long term recovery depends on growth and commitment.
This is blasphemous if you follow any of the traditional recovery programs today. They constantly warn against leaving the program, against leaving your solution behind only to relapse later. They constantly warn against this to the point that some people view them as being cult-like. After all, why would they try so hard in order to get people to stay, unless they were some sort of cult? That is the reasoning anyway.
I don’t believe that AA is a “real” cult at all, because the vast majority of the fellowship would never try to harm another human being. I have been to enough meetings and known enough people in the fellowship (hundreds) that I realize that AA is nowhere near being a real dangerous cult. But at the same time, they do have this sort of fear-based response built into them when it comes to their members abandoning them. They don’t want you to leave because on some deeper level it is a threat to their own sobriety.
That said, I think being in a program of any kind in early recovery is definitely a bit plus. I recommend that everyone start out in rehab, then proceed to embrace whatever recovery solution is being offered there–be it AA or a Christian based program. I don’t see any problem with that in early recovery.
The problem that I see is when you get caught up in any sort of program that claims to be a lifelong solution (which they all do claim, as a matter of fact). Just keep coming to these meetings, one day at a time, and your life will get better and better. I believe that is true, until it is not. After a time I got to the point where my one hour AA meeting was a waste of my time. Not that it was entirely worthless, mind you, because it was not worthless. It just was not the best use of my time any more in long term recovery. There was something better that I could do with that hour, there were alternatives that gave me more bang for my buck in terms of personal growth and development.
Also, I was getting sick of hearing the same things over and over again. I had already learned 99 percent of the lessons that I was being taught in the daily grind of AA meetings. Now it is true that I could try really hard to extract a new lesson from the meetings if I put a huge effort into it, but this was no longer worth it. I could spend that hour doing something more meaningful and productive, such as exercising or connecting with other recovering alcoholics online.
Support is very important for early recovery. But if you depend on support for your sobriety after multiple years clean, then what does that really say about the strength of your recovery? Not much. You can do better than to depend on programs to keep you clean and sober forever. This doesn’t mean that you should never go to such programs in long term recovery, it just means that you should not be dependent on them for your sobriety.
Disruption, detox, stabilization, then…..what?
There are no secrets at rehab. There are no secret treatments available for alcoholism.
I have been to a few different rehabs. I have lived in rehab. I worked in a detox and residential treatment center for several years. I got to know a doctor, an addictionologist, who has been working the field of treating substance abuse for over 40 years. He is always excited about possible new developments, possible new drugs to help treat addiction. But the basic landscape of treating alcoholism remains largely unchanged over the years. It is the same today as it was five years ago, ten years ago.
Here is the process of recovery:
* Disruption. This is surrender. The alcoholic reaches a point where they break through denial. They make a decision. “I am going to stop drinking.” They ask for help. This is disruption. They have made a decision (or it was made for them) to disrupt their pattern of addiction.
* Detox. The alcoholic goes to treatment (or a hospital) and they stop drinking. Their body goes through withdrawal and after a few days (or possibly a week) they are completely off of alcohol and other drugs. Their body is physically free from the addictive substance. They have physically detoxed. Now it is a mental game to fight the first drink.
* Stabilization. Short term rehab (and long term rehab does the same thing, only on a greater scale) gives the alcoholic time to adjust to being sober. At the same time, they try to teach the alcoholic how to resist the first drink. How to reach out for support instead of relapse. How to prevent relapse using tools.
This is the recovery process. There are no secrets beyond this. You make a decision to stop, you get medically detoxed, and then you may stay in rehab and adjust to sobriety for a few weeks while you learn about how you can avoid relapse.
What else could there possibly be? This is the extent of treatment. You get sober through detox, then you try to learn how to hold onto sobriety.
To some extent it all comes down to relapse prevention. Surrender is universal and you either have hit bottom and broken through your denial, or you have not.
Detox is universal as well. There is no magic rehab that somehow gives you a better detox than others, that for some strange reason gives you a better chance at long term success. Detox is detox. There are no magic cures.
And to be honest, most rehabs are pretty much the same when it comes to teaching relapse prevention. They all push you to embrace some form of support–whether that is a church community or the AA program. There is no special treatment center that has found a way to double or triple success rates by teaching something different than this. If there were, then the rest of the treatment center industry would quickly adopt that new technique.
In reality, the most effective treatment comes down to individual follow through. Everyone who goes into rehab can easily get excited and find the “pink cloud” (where you feel especially good early in recovery and are overly optimistic). But it is the person who is still passionate about sobriety a few months after leaving rehab that will do the best. But how can you teach and promote follow through? How can you convince people that they need a deep level of commitment? It is difficult, or maybe impossible.
I lived in long term rehab for 20 months at the beginning of my recovery. You would think that this level of support would give you some impressive success rates when it comes to beating alcoholism. But I found this not to be true. In fact, it was rather depressing to see just how few of my peers made it in sobriety along with me. Out of 40 or so people that I lived with in long term rehab, maybe only 2 or 3 others are still sober today. And honestly I am only sure of one of those.
Early recovery is pretty standardized at this point. You surrender, you detox, you get stable in short term rehab. They introduce you to support (such as AA or Christianity). Then you leave treatment and you are expected to follow through on what you learned, to reach out and embrace a new way of life, a new recovery solution. Obviously the rehab itself cannot cure anyone, it can only point you in the direction of long term recovery. It can show you the way, but you must walk the path yourself. And walking the path to long term recovery is a tough battle that takes real commitment. Most people underestimate the difficulty by a huge amount at first, and they also overestimate their own abilities. Therefore it normally takes a few tries at recovery before most alcoholics really “get it.” It took me 3 tries.
How much support do you need in early recovery?
You may ask yourself: How much support do I really need in early recovery?
One way to find out is to get clean and sober, then see how you do with very little support. If you relapse quickly, then it means one of two things:
1) You did not surrender fully, or
2) You need more support in early recovery.
I say “more support” as in:
* Going to an AA meeting (or even two) every single day, rather than just once or twice a week.
* Living in long term rehab or a sober house rather than just going to short term treatment.
* Actively working with a sponsor and talking with them every single day rather than just having a sponsor in title and never using them for help.
* Getting heavily involved in a religious community (if that is your recovery path) and really dedicating some serious time to that organization.
Most people who get sober the first time are not willing to make these sort of commitments. They want to quit drinking and they are hoping for their alcoholism to just fade away, so that their normal life can come back to them without a lot of hassle or complication.
But this is impossible. You can’t just stop drinking and expect life to return to normal. In fact, there is no “normal,” not after alcoholism or addiction. Now you must try something new, find a new way of life entirely, and embrace a new solution so that your new life involves constant personal growth and change.
“Change is the new normal.” Try that one on for a while. If you want to stay sober, then you have to embrace constant change. It never really ends. You gotta keep pushing yourself for the long haul to make positive changes.
What can motivate you to engage in long term growth?
If you want to find the best treatment for alcoholism, then you need to answer this question for yourself:
“What will motivate me in the long term to engage in personal growth?”
That may seem like a funny question to someone who just wants to leave alcohol alone. But that is where the solution is at.
If you can find a way to push yourself to keep making positive changes, then you can overcome alcoholism.
Just leaving alcohol behind is not enough. Just stopping is not enough. If it were, then there would be no treatment centers.
Alcoholics stop drinking all of the time, for various reasons. They end up in jail. They go on a long bender and need a day or two to recover. They pass out and wake up sober, having to go to work for the day. Alcoholics stop drinking all the time. The problem is staying stopped.
Anyone can go to rehab, to detox. There are no secrets there. Rehab is rehab. They spin you dry and get you stable and try to teach you how to use a support system such as AA. But they don’t have any magic tricks that they hold back from the public knowledge. They don’t have an ace up their sleeve that will help you to overcome alcoholism. It is all support and hard work and determination. You either embrace a new life of sobriety or you do not. No can force you to want recovery.
If you can find a way to motivate yourself to pursue personal growth in the long run then you can find a new life of sobriety. Many recovering alcoholics don’t get this. They think it is all about support, and their recovery stops right there. They embrace the support system but they fail to pursue long term personal growth. They think it is about quitting drinking, not changing your whole life.
The correct path involves personal growth and positive change. You must embrace a path of personal growth and strive to improve your life and your life situation. Not just for a month or two but on a permanent basis. When you live this way then life just keeps getting better and better. Some people in AA or other programs can live this way but most people get stuck in the “support phase” instead. The key is to embrace positive change, to keep pushing yourself to make improvements in your life. This is the path to long term relapse prevention, a path that does not depend on programs or outside support at all.