The idea behind a wilderness treatment center is that you get a bunch of addicts and alcoholics and you drag them out into the middle of nowhere and attempt to treat them for their addiction. The idea is that they will benefit from the interaction with nature, but also benefit due to the distraction free environment and isolation.
In many cases, these types of treatment centers are almost always exclusive to teens and adolescents. This is because they have evolved into drug and alcohol rehab facilities from “troubled teen” type shelters, in some cases. In a lot of cases, these types of places were originally set up to just handle troubled teens, and the idea that they could be used to treat addiction has evolved over time as drug use has increased among young people.
Does it work?
Yes and no. The wilderness treatment centers don’t seem to offer any revolutionary success rates when it comes to treating addiction and alcoholism. They are not far better or far worse than traditional treatment approaches.
As always with young people, the isolation aspect can be very important, because the peer pressure from friends can be such a huge influence among kids. Simply having a cell phone these days can make it that much harder to recover. In that respect, the wilderness idea can be beneficial.
The problem is that we don’t stay in treatment forever. It is merely a short break from reality, even if the program is 28 days or even longer. For a teen, coming out of a wilderness program after 90 days or even six months is not going to have a life long impact. The urge to return to old friends is going to be strong.
So what is the solution? Long term treatment makes more and more sense for treating addiction and alcoholism, but there are many drawbacks. One, it is more expensive than regular treatments. Two, most are not willing to attend because of the length requirement. Three, it makes it harder to treat more addicts because existing addicts stay for so long.
Young people especially would benefit greatly from long term treatment, but they are the least likely to want to commit to a longer stay. A wilderness treatment center might be just the break that they need from their peer influences, but in most cases it will not be enough to really change their life on a massive scale. The pull of old friends can be too strong, that is why it is so beneficial to make new friends in recovery (more common in long term treatment).