You’ve recognized your problem. You’ve made a commitment to get help. You're ready, then, for these ten tips to avoid sabotaging your drug and alcohol treatment while you’re in rehab.
It’s important to remember that addiction treatment is about more than just showing up. While “addiction is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine,” , it doesn’t present through conventional diagnostic methods. By the same token, treatment for it doesn’t follow standard health care modalities like it would if you showed up at the hospital for a heart problem. In those situations, medical professionals conduct tests, run procedures, provide medication and generally do all of the work to return you to some semblance of health before you’re discharged.
When it comes to drug and alcohol treatment (alcoholism, by the way, is also considered “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestation” ), those afflicted have to put forth some effort. Because addiction and alcoholism involve various behavioral traits, emotional components and spiritual malaise, treatment is about more than just nursing a physically ill body back to health and sending the patient on his or her way.
It takes work, and without the willingness to pitch in, patients can and do set themselves up for failure. The following are a list of suggestions to help them avoid sabotaging the treatment process.
Be Prepared to Do Some Actual Work
If you’re a fan of cheesy ’80s television, you might remember a certain cigar-chomping leader of a group of benevolent mercenaries whose favorite catchphrase was, “I love it when a plan comes together!”
As a provider of addiction and alcoholism treatment, we do as well. The most difficult challenge of providing drug and alcohol treatment is often the Admissions process: determining a patient’s needs, examining insurance and payment options, scheduling an intake appointment and getting the individual to our front door.
Once that happens, it might seem everything else is downhill, right? Not so fast.
Again, drug and alcohol treatment isn’t the same as lying in a hospital bed while medical personnel solve all of your problems. Rehab isn’t boot camp, but neither is it a vacation. There are a modest amount of expectations we have of you that will assist us in providing you with the best treatment possible. Understanding this up front will make our jobs and your stay easier.
And look at it this way: The work you’ll be asked to do is nothing compared to the exhausting, up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that was living in active addiction and alcoholism. If you can commit to maintaining a habit that’s slowly killing you even in the face of negative and life-threatening consequences, this will be easy.
We get it: As addicts and alcoholics, we think we know best. We feel like no one understands us. We’ve spent a good deal of our lives feeling like outsiders, and so we’ve developed coping mechanisms that don’t fit conventional narratives. That’s all well and good … but those survival skills aren’t going to serve you well in recovery.
It’s time to face a sobering (no pun intended) truth: Your best thinking has led you to a place where drugs and alcohol have nearly destroyed you, or at the very least made your life unmanageable. If you could “think” your way out of the problem, chances are you would have long before now. Your best thinking got you to where you are … so why not let the treatment staff steer you out of that place and into a better way of life?
You may not always like their suggestions or the assignments you’ll be given. Some of them may seem, at first, to make no sense. But there’s another piece of ’80s pop culture than can be applied here. Remember how, in “The Karate Kid,” Mr. Miyagi had Daniel paint the fence, sand the floor, wax the car? After all of those seemingly arduous tasks, Daniel was angry and frustrated. He saw no point. But then Mr. Miyagi demonstrated that all of that labor was instilling within him the muscle memory he needed to succeed.
That’s an apropos analogy for treatment. Just sand the floor, and let the results manifest when you least expect it.
Follow the Rules
Hey, we get it: Addicts and alcoholics don’t like being told what to do. But as Dr. David Sack points out on the website Psych Central , “Most residential drug rehab centers are highly structured with 24-hour supervision and clear expectations for client conduct (e.g., no fraternizing with staff or clients). While it may seem juvenile to impose these rules on grown adults, they are in place to protect the safety and recovery of every client in drug rehab. Be prepared to temporarily give up a few freedoms in the name of recovery.”
The rules at a facility like Cornerstone of Recovery aren’t arbitrary ones. In many cases, they’re designed to help return you to some semblance of humanity. We know from personal experience — because the majority of our clinical staff members are in recovery from addiction and alcoholism themselves — that the further down the rabbit hole we go in our diseases, the more we shed the trappings of civility, of hygiene, of self-care. Expecting you to make your bed and keep your living areas clean gets you back in the habit of being a responsible, productive member of the community, and that’s one of the primary goals of the recovery process.
We can only help you if we know what’s going on with you. For example, did you know that, according to a 2010 article in the medical journal Depression and Anxiety , “exposure to traumatic experiences, especially those occurring in childhood, has been linked to substance use disorders (SUDs), including abuse and dependence”? However, we can’t treat you for that trauma if we don’t know about it.
Far too often, we diminish or downplay the major life events from our past. We may think we’ve moved on, or that it’s pointless to dredge those events back up, but more often than not, they’re what we call “life traps”: emotional wounds that haven’t fully healed. Even though they may have happened years ago, they still cause us pain because we’ve never dealt with them, and in many cases, drugs and alcoholism become a way to escape or numb that pain.
Don’t belittle or ignore your pain. Let us help you process it. We can do that, but we need you to tell us about it first.
Take Advantage of Treatment Opportunities
By that same token, if a particular treatment process is recommended, don’t refuse it. At Cornerstone of Recovery, we have trained trauma therapists that use specialized techniques to help patients process trauma and begin to heal from it. “We help them identify their negative thoughts about themselves because it’s that negative thought that’s maintained some of the pain associated with the trauma, but it’s also impacted relationships, their ability to meet goals in their lives and their ability to fully participate in their lives,” says Sara Ridner , one of Cornerstone’s trauma therapists.
If, during the course of treatment, a counselor or staff member recommends you for trauma therapy — or any therapy, really — take advantage. After all, did you ever refuse trying a new drug or brand of liquor when you were using and drinking? Probably not. So if you had no problem eagerly accepting and consuming a substance that was contributing to your destruction, why in the world would you say no to something that might offer you some relief?
Poor health is a common trait of many addicts and alcoholics who go to rehab, but a quality addiction treatment center will have a Fitness Program or exercise routine that helps address the body’s physical wear and tear, in addition to therapy to treat emotional damage. Writing for Harvard Health Publishing , Dr. Claire Twark says that “in my experience, many patients with various substance use disorders have found that exercise helps to distract them from cravings. Workouts add structure to the day. They help with forming positive social connections, and help treat depression and anxiety in combination with other therapies.” Although your body may protest, your brain will benefit, because exercise helps release natural feel-good endorphins, and that’s a healthy replacement for a system in disrepair because of addiction or alcoholism.
Explore the Possibility of Psychiatric Care
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse , “because drug abuse and addiction — both of which are mental disorders — often co-occur with other mental illnesses, patients presenting with one condition should be assessed for the other(s). And when these problems co-occur, treatment should address both (or all), including the use of medications as appropriate.” A quality addiction treatment program will assess whether you might suffer from depression, from bipolar disorder or from any number of psychiatric issues that may contribute to your alcohol and drug use. Many undiagnosed psychiatric problems drive those who suffer to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and unless those problems are addressed within the confines of a treatment center’s Psychiatric Services program, they’ll continue to be unresolved.
Lean On Your Peers
One of the tropes of recovery is this: The opposite of addiction isn’t abstinence; it’s community. As addicts and alcoholics, we isolate from those who care about us, and our actions and choices while drinking and using serve to push them even further away. In rehab, patients are introduced to a community of peers, all of whom are on the same recovery journey, and that shared experience can forge powerful bonds. According to a publication from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration , “the natural propensity of human beings to congregate makes group therapy a powerful therapeutic tool for treating substance abuse, one that is as helpful as individual therapy, and sometimes more successful.” Some of the most powerful therapeutic moments occur outside of the confines of formal lectures or processing groups, and some of the first relationships patients build in recovery is with their peers.
Make a Plan
While a 30-day stay in residential inpatient treatment is seen as the gold standard, the complexities of insurance coverage don’t necessarily guarantee treatment of that length. Because of that, patients should start thinking seriously about what comes after they complete inpatient. It’s not something they have to do alone; a quality drug and alcohol treatment center will provide counseling staff members that help patients start planning for Aftercare relatively quickly. At the very least, you should enter into post-treatment planning with the recognition that returning to the environment in which you drank and used might come with certain risks, and that the open-mindedness you have for inpatient treatment could and should extend to suggestions for follow-up care.
Don’t Leave Before the Miracle Happens
It’s important to understand that at some point during your rehab stay, you’re going to want to leave. That doesn’t mean it’s not working; that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you; it just means that you’re uncomfortable. And as addicts and alcoholics, we don’t like discomfort — hence the reason we drink and use in the first place.
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to that discomfort. Bad news first: It’s unavoidable. You’re dealing with some serious life trauma in the form of addiction and alcoholism, and to right that ship takes a complete overhaul of how you live, how you think, what you feel and what you believe. It’s not necessarily easy, and it certainly doesn’t happen without getting out of your comfort zone.
The good news, however, is that on the other side of all of that change is a freedom you’ve never known before. Getting there may seem impossible, but over the 30 years we’ve treated addicts and alcoholics here at Cornerstone of Recovery, we’ve seen people come in broken and leave as a walking miracle. It’s why we’re still in business, and why we do what we do.
Because that’s a miracle available to anyone. If you’re willing to follow these 10 tips to avoid sabotaging your drug and alcohol treatment, it can happen for you, too. Promise.