This is certainly a fair question because so many families have been misinformed about the recovery process and what the struggle of recovery can be like for the typical drug addict or alcoholic.
In a perfect world, here is what would happen:
A person would develop a problem with drugs or alcohol. Their problem would escalate over time and the consequences that they face due to that problem would get worse and worse. They would deny that they are actually having a problem at first, but at some point it would become tougher and tougher to deny that they are hooked.
Their denial might stretch out even further than this, of course, because even though they might admit to having a problem, that does not necessarily mean that they fully accept their condition as a true addict and are fully willing to take action to fix it. This is the final level of surrender and acceptance of the disease and until the person reaches this point they are not likely to agree to treatment.
Now once an addict or an alcoholic reaches this point of surrender and they agree to go to rehab, most people would assume that they go to rehab, get fixed, get cured, and come home and then stay clean and sober forever.
Certainly if this is not the case with most rehabs, then the general population assumes that perhaps you could spend more money, find a better rehab, and thus get better results. Surely it is possible to throw enough money at the problem in order to get good results, right? Surely you can buy your way into sobriety, no?
This is how it works with almost everything else in our world, so this assumption is not uncommon. And, the assumption makes sense. If you want to change how you look you can spend thousands of dollars on surgeries and cosmetics and stylists and so on and nearly anyone can transform their look, their body, their image. Too busy to work out? You can spend thousands on surgeries to sculpt your body into the shape you desire. So the thinking goes–surely we can spend enough money on the addiction problem to just eradicate it, no?
So in a perfect world, in the world that we expect to see happening, our assumption is that money can buy success, or it can at least buy us an approximation of success. We believe this to generally be the case with most things because that is how the majority of our world operates. You have money, you buy your way into just about anything.
So it can be shocking for the general population to realize that this does not hold true for addiction treatment. You can spend up to a little over two thousand dollars per DAY in a luxury drug rehab center, or you can go to a rehab that is set up to serve homeless people who have no insurance and no income at all. Surprisingly enough, the success rates of those two extremes are pretty much identical. Sure there are going to be some slight variations of course, but the bottom line is that throwing more money at the problem does not necessarily produce results. This is extremely frustrating to the world at large because, as I pointed out, we are used to being able to solve problems by simply throwing money at them.
The fact that we cannot just take a struggling addict or alcoholic and send them to the best rehab in the world and expect to see decent results just seems unfair to most people. It’s not right. Surely the best rehab in the world should have a significantly higher success rate than the free homeless shelter rehab with a few cots set up in a church basement, set up with no funding and basically relies on free donated AA Big Books?
Truth be told, if you study the industry and you live through an addiction and you find yourself bouncing out of a variety of rehabs (much like I did!) then you will come to realize that money cannot solve the addiction problem. It has to do much more with the addict or alcoholic’s level of surrender. If they have hit bottom and they are eager for treatment, then it matters little how much money you are spending on a rehab. If they have not surrendered to addiction and they are not done using drugs and alcohol yet and not done having fun yet, then it does not matter where you send them. You can send them to the absolute best rehab on the planet and spend millions of dollars on fixing their addiction and it is all going to be for nothing. They are not ready to get sober yet and so they are going to walk out of rehab at the end and go tie one on. They were not ready and no amount of spending or money spent on rehab could have made them ready.
That all said, rehab is not a total sham, and it is not without value.
Attending inpatient rehab ultimately saved my life, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling. But obviously it is not a magic bullet, and you should never treat it like one.
More likely than “the magic bullet outcome” you will see a person go to rehab for the first time, only to relapse. This is considered “normal.” Why? Because it is so tough to overcome addiction, and most people who think they may have hit bottom are actually nowhere near their true bottom. So they attend rehab and they try to stay sober and they do not put in the massive effort and massive lifestyle changes that are necessary to overcome their addiction. They thought they were ready to change but really they had only “half surrendered.” So they leave rehab and they relapse.
This happens all the time. This happens a lot. This happens frequently.
And yet, I still recommend rehab. Emphatically. I know it probably sounds like I am talking down about the treatment industry, and that it is some sort of scam, but ultimately I do support the idea of going to treatment. It is the best solution we have right now and it is the most powerful disruption for starting a new life in recovery.
It takes a lot to overcome an addiction. You need to disrupt your entire life. For the typical addict or alcoholic, just wandering into an AA meeting is probably not enough to completely overcome their addiction and change their entire life all at once. Sure, it is a step in the right direction. Sure, you could make it work that way if you took enough massive action following the AA meetings. But for most people they need a greater amount of disruption in order to overcome their addiction. Inpatient rehab provides this disruption. You are removed from your disease for up to 28 days and put in a completely safe environment and surrounded with others who are actively pursuing recovery with you. It may not be a perfect solution and it may not be a magic bullet but ultimately inpatient rehab is the best thing we have going.
Now then, let us consider the costs of treatment and how they stack up to the costs of addiction.
The cost of continuing on in active addiction
So when you talk about the cost of treatment you have to consider two things really:
1) The cost of that rehab compared to other rehabs.
2) The cost of continuing to use your drug of choice versus long term sobriety.
Now here is the thing:
If you actually leave rehab and you never use another drink or a drug in your whole life, then pretty much any amount of money that you spend on that treatment is negligible. Even if it seems really expensive at first it is probably a bargain compared to your ongoing addiction.
In other words, the cost of continuing to use your drug of choice is extremely high.
Most people might think about this in terms of dollars spent on their drug of choice. For example, maybe they drink a twelve pack of beer every night and it costs them about ten bucks. (How much does beer cost any more, I have no idea? I used to buy a case of Natural Ice for like 13 bucks in my heyday, have no idea what it is now!)
So anyway, ten bucks per day is a certain amount of money spent each year. Because the person argues that they get enjoyment from this, they could simply say that this ten dollars is part of their entertainment budget. Whatever. So they spend almost 4 grand per year on booze.
But does that really represent the total cost of that person’s addiction? Four thousand per year? Or are there other costs involved?
You had better believe that there are other costs involved. Not only are there more monetary costs, but there are indirect costs such as missed work, perhaps secondary addictions like smoking cigarettes or marijuana (that would be eliminated in recovery as well) and so on.
Then there are additional costs due to unforeseen consequences to the drinking. If you abuse alcohol for long periods of time then at some point you will have additional costs based on legal or medical expenses based on long term alcohol abuse. The question is not “if” but only in “when” you will incur these additional costs.
Most drug rehab centers do a group exercise where they try to get everyone in treatment to sit down and objectively figure out what their addiction has cost them in US dollars. Most people who are a bit older get estimates that range from a quarter million dollars all the way up to a million bucks. People who are younger tend to find estimates ranging from fifty thousand dollars on up. This exercise generally figures in the costs of drugs and alcohol, but also legal and medical costs and also figuring in missed work expenses and so on.
But there are other costs involved with continuing to use drugs and alcohol as well. For example, opportunity costs. This is the price that you pay in NOT doing some positive things in the future because you continue to use drugs and alcohol. For example, in my recovery I have achieved a number of goals that would never have been possible if I had continued to drink and use drugs, such as:
* Built a successful business.
* Completed a bachelor’s degree in business.
* Found meaningful work in the treatment industry.
* Started a recovery community that helps hundreds of people each month.
* Started exercising and ran three marathons.
These positive goals that I achieved represent just part of the opportunity cost of continuing to use drugs and alcohol. Had I never got clean and sober, none of those goals would have been achieved. I would have just endured eleven more years of chaos and misery instead, with nothing positive to show for it and only negative experiences. This is an enormous cost that really reflects on the overall quality of life that you can expect from being clean and sober versus continuing to use in active addiction.
So it is not just the dollars and cents and the money that you spend on drugs versus the money that you might spend at a rehab. Instead you have to consider your quality of life and what the future would hold for you if you spend the next decade clean and sober. To be honest I did not necessarily push myself all that much and I accomplished some pretty amazing things. Eleven years is a long time and I did–at times–try to push myself to take massive action. But really in the long run I benefited mostly by the fact that I was simply taking positive action and maintaining steady recovery. If you are a drug addict or an alcoholic and you go an entire decade without touching any of that stuff, you are going to accomplish some amazing things. There is just no way around it. You cannot help but be productive and take positive action while you are staying clean and sober.
Recovery is a process. Treatment is a process. It would be nice to check into rehab and expect to stay clean and sober forever. It generally does not work that smoothly. I went to 3 rehabs before I “got it.”
But the cost of continuing in addiction is far too high to ignore.
Even though rehab may be expensive, successful treatment has nearly infinite value (compared to the alternative). If you compare sobriety to addiction, the cost imbalance is enormous. From a financial standpoint, addiction generally costs somewhere between ten thousand to one hundred thousand dollars per year. Even people who are homeless and have no steady income generally spend at least five to ten thousand per year on their drug of choice.
If you go to rehab and you stay sober for even a few years, this is generally going to pay for itself within a very short time frame. This is true even if you just figure in straight financial costs. If you look at opportunity costs, emotional costs, and quality of life arguments, then it really starts to tip in favor of going to rehab (at nearly any price).
What you might be purchasing when you check into rehab
At most addiction treatment centers you are buying inpatient treatment.
What do you get?
It will vary a bit from rehab to rehab, but for the most part, you are going to get:
* Stability. A safe environment. Drug and alcohol free. No temptations.
* Medical safety. Medical staff. Doctor supervision. Medically controlled detox. Safety and comfort through the withdrawal process.
* Exposure to 12 step meetings. Of course this varies but it is quite common. Something like 80 or even 90 percent of rehabs have in-house 12 step meetings, either AA or NA or both.
* Counseling and therapy. Pretty standard. You get assigned someone who develops a treatment plan for you, and tries to help you individually.
* Inpatient rehab generally lasts from about 10 to 28 days. Some people only go for detox, as little as 3 days. Not real helpful for most people. Some go on to long term solutions and live in rehabs or halfway houses or other arrangements for months or even years (I personally lived in a long term rehab for 20 months one time. Very helpful for me, at the time. It worked for me.)
What you are not purchasing is a guaranteed result. This is why the question even exists: “Is rehab worth the money?” Of course it is worth the money to someone like myself, who has been clean and sober now for over eleven years and benefited greatly from going to rehab.
To people who have attended luxury rehab centers and never stayed clean or sober a day in their life, it is probably not worth it. But on the other hand, I would argue that such people SHOULD in fact keep going back to rehab. At some point they might “get it,” and if so then all of the previous costs are fully justified. I don’t care if it costs you ten million dollars….sobriety is worth it. Especially long term sobriety. The quality of your life and the opportunities that you enjoy in recovery have an infinite value. You cannot put a price on them. The alternative is to be miserable in addiction and eventually die from it.
Successful recovery might require multiple trips to treatment
Part of the cost of treatment is the idea that you might have to go more than once.
Our sense of fairness cries out in protest against this fact, but it is what it is. Most people have to go to rehab more than once before they finally make it in recovery. Call it the cost of doing business, if you like.
It doesn’t matter though. I went to three rehabs, and if I had to do it over again I would go to three more rehabs in order to finally get the reward of long term sobriety.
It takes what it takes. I know people who have been to treatment over fifteen times. I encourage them to keep going. At some point they might get it. If and when they do get it, then all of the previous costs are justified. There is no point when it becomes wasteful if one day you achieve meaningful sobriety. No cost is too high for a reward that has nearly infinite value.
The time investment of staying in rehab
Before I got clean and sober I used to argue against the time investment of staying in rehab for 28 days or even longer. I thought it was outrageous and a big waste of time.
Again, this is just a variation on the money argument. If you think that staying in treatment for 28 days is a waste of time, then you are not miserable enough yet in your addiction. At some point I was willing to go to jail or prison for several years because I did not know how to control myself and I was such a screw up and I was so miserable in my addiction. Once you hit that sort of bottom then you will probably not mind so much about the bit time investment of staying in rehab for so long.
Eventually I got to the point where I became willing to live in rehab for almost 2 years. Looking back it was the best “investment” I ever made in my life. I would do it again if I had to, and I recommend it to others. Time spent learning recovery is time well spent. It is not “wasted” time, as I used to believe when I was still drinking.
Can you afford to keep using your drug of choice forever? Where is it leading you?
Treatment may be expensive on the surface but you really need to look at the ongoing cost of addiction.
Project out five years, ten years from now. How much will you spend in a decade if you stay on a path of abuse and addiction?
Consider the opportunity costs as well. Just look at someone who has been successful in their recovery for multiple years, and look at all of the goal and positive experiences that they have achieved.
You cannot afford to miss out on that.
Recovery is worth it. So yeah rehab is worth it, even though it is not perfect, and can be expensive.