Is it possible for an alcoholic to recover without going to rehab?
If you think about the history of addiction treatment, you will realize that there was once a time when the only real help for alcoholics was AA meetings. They really came before addiction treatment centers, and of course there were people attending meetings back then who were actually staying clean and sober. So obviously it is possible to sober up without going to a rehab.
That said, I do not recommend that any alcoholic try to deliberately avoid rehab. That is a foolish and stubborn thing to do, and there is even some medical risk involved with the detoxification process when it comes to alcohol (as well as certain other drugs). This is especially true if the alcoholic happens to be taking anxiety medication, such as Xanax or Valium, along with their alcoholic drinking. If that is the case then there is quite a bit of risk when it comes to the detox process, and I would urge any real alcoholic to get themselves to inpatient treatment.
If the alcoholic in question has ever noticed that they are jittery or shaky when they haven’t had a drink for too long, then that is someone who is at serious medical risk when it comes to quitting drinking.
Now aside from the fact that there is actual danger to your health for avoiding rehab, I would argue that the real reason that the alcoholic needs treatment is so that they can learn how to live a new way of life. Just drying out in a detox center is not necessarily going to change anyone’s life, and in order to be able to go back into the real world and sustain sobriety, you need to figure out how you are going to completely change your lifestyle.
One of the biggest things that happened for me when I went to rehab is that I was introduced to AA and NA meetings. Up until this point, I had tried to get involved in AA but I was just too shy and introverted to be able to pull that off. It was too intimidating, too scary, for me to be able to walk into an AA meeting–while I was basically still a drunk, no less, and be able to instantly feel comfortable and welcomed in a group of strangers. So when I went to rehab, there were AA meetings in the facility every day, and therefore I was able to kind of ease into the format.
If someone is defiant about not needing to go to inpatient rehab then I believe that is a huge red flag as far as their level of surrender.
You see, succeeding in addiction recovery means that you first have to surrender. And when a person surrenders finally, they cannot do it halfway. If you surrender partially then you will relapse and fail. The only way to make long term sobriety work out is to surrender fully and completely. In AA literature they say that you must surrender “absolutely.”
Therefore, if someone is saying “yeah, I would like to be sober, but I’m not going to rehab,” then that is a clear sign that they are holding back. Something is not quite right in terms of total surrender.
People have all sorts of excuses as to why they can not or should not go to rehab. I used to say that I could not afford to stop working at my job and go to rehab for 28 days. For one thing, I argued, I would lose my job. For another thing, I continued to argue, I would lose out on all of that income.
But guess what I needed the income for? To drink and buy drugs, of course.
Sure, everyone needs money to live their life as well, but this was really just a rationalization about how I did not want to face sobriety. I was scared. And because I was so afraid to face reality without the crutch of alcohol, I was willing to make up any excuse I could find in order to avoid treatment.
I also used the excuse of “I have been to rehab before, and it doesn’t work for me.” This of course means that I was of the belief that rehab should work as if by magic, without any bearing on the individual’s own level of surrender. But the truth is that rehab is only going to work if the person wants for it to work, and they have to provide the motivation and the surrender themselves.
Which is really just another way of saying that, if you are still in denial, even just a tiny bit of denial, then no treatment center is going to be able to help you produce a lifetime of sobriety. They may dry you out temporarily, and you might even coast through a few weeks or months of quasi-sobriety, but in the end you have to surrender completely if you want to really turn your life around.
I had a million and one excuses as to why I should continue to self medicate with alcohol, and I also had a million reasons why rehab would not fix my problem. In a sense, I was right: Rehab wasn’t going to help me because I was not ready to change my life. I was stuck in denial and I had no intention of quitting.
It wasn’t until I reached a point of miserable desperation that I finally became willing to do anything. I believe I even said this when I asked for help: “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” I was completely defeated and completely miserable. I had tried my hardest to make myself happy with drugs and alcohol, and I had failed. And so I had this crushing moment of defeat in which I got a glimpse of my future, and I realized that it was never going to get any better, things were never going to really change for me, and that I was just going to be stuck chasing after this tiny moment of “happiness” that happened every once in a while when I got high. And then after that tiny little peak of “happiness,” I would go back to being miserable again.
I also realized that the way to make drinking fun again was to take a week off completely. But having to do that after every drinking episode would become a roller coaster of misery that was only dotted by the occasional peak. I could finally see that, if I continued to try to self medicate, no matter how I went about it or what my drinking schedule was, I would end up being miserable about 99 percent of the time.
I did not want to live this way any more. And I was so sick and tired of it all that I was finally willing to do whatever it took.
And I already knew that this meant going back to rehab, going to meetings, and total and complete abstinence.
I was terrified of all that, but I was even more scared of what the crushing misery was going to do to me. I did not want to die at the hands of alcoholism.
So I chose rehab. And it finally worked.