Even if you have all the resources you could hope for and choose the most respected program in the country, no drug rehab can do the work of recovery for you. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your time in drug rehab:
Stay Positive. People often come into rehab feeling defeated and hopeless, especially if they have been through treatment before and relapsed. Celebrating your willingness to try again and the courage it takes to ask for help can set a positive tone for your recovery.
Set Realistic Expectations. It is understandable to hope that 30 days in drug rehab will “cure” a drug or alcohol problem, but it is not the reality for those with a chronic brain disease like addiction. Recovery is more than freedom from drugs and alcohol; it’s a new way of life that requires new modes of thinking, behaving, and interacting with self and others. Know that recovery is a lifelong effort – one that gets easier with time.
Follow the Rules. 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.
Open Yourself to the Wisdom of Others. People struggling with addiction have a great deal in common. Even if you feel all alone, you’re not. Millions of people have recovered from addiction and have a lot to offer in terms of helpful suggestions and stories of encouragement.
In drug rehab, the staff and therapists are experts at recovery and many have overcome addictions in their own lives. They can teach you about the disease of addiction and practical strategies to manage cravings, relapse triggers and other issues that may complicate your recovery.
Learn from every resource you have available to you, including other clients, staff, your therapist and your 12-Step sponsor. You can fight the process or be a partner in it, but know that recovery is challenging enough even with your full cooperation and participation.
Share Your Story. Sharing personal details of your life can feel uncomfortable at first, but healing starts when you tell your truth in a safe, supportive environment with others who share in your struggles. Even if you keep quiet at first, you’ll get more out of group sessions and 12-Step meetings if you ultimately offer feedback and get to know the people around you.
Be Willing. Willingness is a core principle in addiction recovery, even for those who end up in treatment as a result of prodding or ultimatums from family, friends or an employer. Willingness means being open to suggestions, trying out alternative therapies such as massage and acupuncture, and doing the recommended readings and therapeutic assignments even if you’re reluctant.
It means pushing yourself to participate in activities even when your natural inclination is to isolate. It also means being honest even when it’d be easier to tell a therapist what you think they want to hear or fake your way through the program. By pushing beyond your comfort zone, you’re more likely to develop the skills for lifelong recovery.
Get Involved. A typical day in drug rehab is filled with educational lectures, individual, group and family therapy sessions, support groups, and sober recreation. While most rehabs will monitor your attendance, they won’t pick you up and force you to go. But it’s in your best interest to attend as many groups and activities as possible, whether mandatory or voluntary – you’ll likely gain something even if you don’t feel like being there.
When formal treatment ends, follow through on aftercare and relapse prevention plans by continuing to attend therapy sessions and 12-Step meetings and leaning on your social support network.
Stay Humble. One of the greatest obstacles in recovery is complacency. As you grow stronger in your sobriety, remember where you were just a few weeks or months ago. Thinking that you’ve beat addiction forever is a sure sign of trouble ahead.
While humility is a virtue in recovery, shame and self-blame can be destructive. Most recovering addicts have hurt people and done things they aren’t proud of, but learning to treat yourself (and others) with compassion and forgiveness will be an important part of your recovery.
Welcome Family into Treatment. If your family is willing and able and your drug rehab offers some type of family program, encourage loved ones to get involved. They will be a crucial part of your social support system after treatment and can dramatically improve your chances of long-term success.
Don’t Give Up. Recovery is hard. Chances are there will be times when you desperately want to quit. Someone will say something that you don’t want to hear, or you’ll discover parts of yourself you don’t want to face. These are the challenges that push you to the next level of healing. A common saying in recovery is “Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens.”
People often wonder, “What is rehab like? Does it really work?” While the answers differ based on the type of program you choose, much of the experience depends how much effort you put in. Simply choosing the best drug rehab doesn’t guarantee success. Those who commit to the process and do the sometimes difficult work are the ones who find the experience profoundly life-changing.
David Sack M.D. is board certified in Addiction Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine. He is CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a network of high-quality addiction treatment centers that includes the drug rehab treatment center Promises, The Ranch in Tennessee, The Sexual Recovery Institute, and The Recovery Place in Florida.
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Last reviewed: 2 May 2012