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Drug treatment: How many times will you go to go to rehab before you realize it isn’t working?

This is going to make some people mad. I’m going to say it anyway.

Why do addicts and alcoholics go to rehab over and over and over if it doesn’t work for them? If you had cancer and you did 10 rounds of treatments and they weren’t working, would you keep going?shutterstock_266332601

I know you are going to say relapse is part of the disease. But if you relapse over and over and over and over, why go back to the same treatment? At a certain point you have to stop blaming the disease for your relapse and realize the treatment you are doing for your disease simply isn’t working.

Stop going to rehab. Stop paying tens of thousands of dollars for a treatment protocol that isn’t working for you. I’m not saying that rehabs don’t work. They do – for some addicts and alcoholics. Treatment will work for the highly motivated addict or alcoholic who won’t be distracted by the cushy, resort-like facilities that offer massages, tai chi, golf “therapy” and meditation on a Florida beach.

Don’t misunderstand me. Detox is medically necessary for some – especially those addicted to opioids or will suffer from delirium tremens when they stop drinking. There are those, too, who – like me – have other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar and depression. Medical supervision and rehab can be vital for their recovery.

Some addicts and alcoholics will use those 28 days to completely turn their will and lives over to a higher power. They are going to do the work that needs to be done to stay clean and sober. They will study, humble themselves and come to realize that addiction can kill.

But for many addicts and alcoholics, rehab is a vacation. It’s a chance to clean out their system so they can go back at it after 28 days. They didn’t want to get clean in the first place. Someone – spouse, parent, judge – told them they had to do it – or else.

So what the hell. What’s not to love about being sent an all-expense paid rehab in Florida in February for a month? For 28-days you get everyone off your ass – and you get tan! Someone cooks your meals and you have a clean bed!

And holy cow – if relapse is really part of the disease and it’s expected – I can come back over and over and over! And my parents’ insurance is going to pay for it! Rehab is awesome!

Here’s the truth. Rehabs are businesses. For-profit businesses. They exist to make money – and get people clean and sober. Trust me, if they weren’t making money they would not be there. They are making so much money that Wall Street investments firms and national treatment conglomerates are gobbling them up.

This is not to say there aren’t some truly wonderful, selfless people working at rehabs. There are. Lots of them. They get a paycheck, but they love what they do and are doing God’s work for a fraction of the money they could make doing something else. Their work is a calling – not a career. These people are saints.

However, it has gotten to the point where a lot of people believe that you must go to rehab to get clean and sober. I go to 12-step meetings these days and I am the only one in the room who didn’t go to rehab. I tell them it wasn’t too long ago that there were no rehabs like we have today. The rehabs of yesterday were not cushy. They were not places you would ever want to go back to. Ever.

And then I tell them that they, too, can get clean and sober and STAY clean and sober without going to rehab. And it’s FREE! They will freely give to you what was freely given to them. But you will still have to go to work everyday, buy your own groceries, cook you own meals and wash your sheets.

You will have to drive yourself to meetings. You will have to sit in rooms beside other addicts and alcoholics who don’t have all their teeth, smell or are a different color than you.

There are no dues or fees for this kind of sobriety. Money is not a part of the equation. Neither is insurance. You are expected to be honest. It won’t take a urinalysis test to reveal a relapse. You will admit it yourself, out loud, in front of a crowd. You will start over. And over. And over if necessary.

There will always be a seat for you and you will be told – by people who care about you – to keep coming back. They went through the same thing and if they can do it, so can you. Just keep coming back. Our primary purpose is to carry the message to other alcoholics and addicts still out there – not to make money.

This treatment program comes down to honesty, humility, personal responsibility and a belief and trust in a power greater than yourself. Best of all, this program has a proven track record of success. In fact, it is so successful that those pricey rehabs use it.

It is the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A lot of you in AA probably just gasped. My God! She isn’t supposed to write about the program! She’s violating Traditions 10, 11 and 12! Yes I am and I will probably get a lot of hate mail about it. But I look at it like this: those pricey rehabs depend on us to keep quiet.

If we tell the world that Tradition 6 says AA ought never lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property or prestige divert us from our primary purpose, where would they be? If we tell the world that Tradition 8 says AA should remain forever nonprofessional, how could they justify their whopping profits?

Their marketing and advertising, including those billboards on the interstate, will never use the phrase Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. They will say they are “12-Step based programs” – and then they will truck their clients to AA and NA meetings.

What’s my point? I just want people to know, remember, that they can get clean and sober without going to rehab. If you don’t have insurance, we can – and will – help you. We will open our arms. We will welcome you. We will always save a seat for you.


Drug Rehab sign available from Shutterstock.







Drug treatment: How many times will you go to go to rehab before you realize it isn’t working?

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2015). Drug treatment: How many times will you go to go to rehab before you realize it isn’t working?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Sep 2015
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