Demystifying Drug Rehab: What To Expect

If you’ve been putting off going into rehab to take care of a drug problem, maybe the underlying reason is that you’re conflicted and confused about what actually happens during treatment.

Since there’s no effective way to get past addiction without help, getting a clearer picture of what to really expect during drug rehab is a good place to start.

Read more to demystify drug rehab and know what to expect.

What drug rehab isn’t

First, however, let’s spend a minute or two talking about what drug rehab isn’t. If you’re expecting a miraculous cure, or even think that such a thing is possible, this is one myth that you’ll need to dispel right away. There’s no guarantee that just by going into rehab for a problem with drugs — any kind of drug abuse or addiction, whether illicit drugs or prescription drugs used non-medically — that you’re going to be forever free of addiction.

The truth is that drug rehab can help get you started on the path toward healing, but rehab itself is not a cure. It never has been and it never will be.

At least, until some scientist perfects a foolproof vaccine or medication that once and for all eliminates addiction. That may be quite some time coming, and it is best not to count on it happening.

Another misconception that some people have is that drug rehab is somehow the “in” thing to do. Witness the publicity that surrounds celebrity rehab comings and goings and you’ll get an idea what we’re talking about. Drug rehab isn’t a spa holiday. It’s not a vacation, although you will be removed from your drug-using milieu. It’s not something that you’ll brag about (or shouldn’t) to your friends and acquaintances.

No, drug rehab is serious business and should never be entered into lightly.

Okay, now that we’ve covered a few things that drug rehab isn’t, let’s delve into what drug rehab is.

The real experience

In essence, drug rehab, or a drug rehabilitation center or facility, is a place that you go to begin the process of overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. Many people refer to drug rehab as the place where they go to get clean and sober.

There’s quite a bit involved in drug rehab, and the experience and the process will be different for each individual. That’s’ because there’s no single treatment program or plan that works for everyone.

  • Evaluation and assessment — When you go into drug rehab, there’s the evaluation and assessment phase, when all kinds of information is taken about your drug and alcohol history, your medical history, family background, including any family history of drug or alcohol abuse or addiction. There’s also a physical examination. That’s to correlate your stated drug use with the actual chemical substances in your body. This enables the professionals to design a drug treatment program to best meet your needs. You sign the necessary papers and the process of quitting drugs begins.
  • Detoxification — The first phase is detoxification, which is literally purging your system of all the drugs you’ve ingested. You have to be clean and free of drugs for the next phase to begin, which is treatment. Depending on the type of drugs you’ve been using, strength and frequency, and whether or not you have dual diagnosis (more than one drug, drug and alcohol addiction, drug addiction and mental health problems), the detox period may last from two to three days to two weeks. Heroin addiction, coupled with other diagnoses, is tougher to quit than an addiction to marijuana, for example. Your discomfort from physical withdrawal will be managed so that you are as comfortable as possible, but don’t think that it will be simple or easy. After months or years of ingesting toxic chemicals, which is what drugs and alcohol are, your body and mind have gone through quite a bit. Those harmful substances take their toll. Getting them out of your system may be unpleasant, but your detoxification will be medically monitored to ensure your safety. But once the substances are out of your body, you go on to the next phase — in other words, that’s where the real work begins.
  • Education and Counseling — Why did you begin using drugs in the first place? You will learn what caused you to start using. More important than why you began using is learning what you can do to prevent your using in the future. This involves learning coping skills so you can deal with the stresses of daily life, the triggers that cause you to run back to drugs, techniques you can use to prevent and overcome drug cravings. Don’t think that just because you get clean and go through treatment that somehow the drug cravings will magically disappear. It doesn’t work that way. For some newly-recovered individuals, they may not experience drug cravings for a long time, while others get them right away or frequently. In some cases, drug cravings go away and recur months or years later. But you will learn how to combat them, and it’s important that you pay special attention to those skills and techniques — because you will need them the rest of your life.

Your treatment program will consist of individual and group counseling, educational lectures and activities, physical exercise and group activities, family counseling (if appropriate), entertainment and other events. The program will seek to restore balance in your mind-body-spirit, so that you are able to leave treatment and resume your life — albeit with a lot of changes. You will have to give up your drug-using friends, quit frequenting places where people use drugs and alcohol. Instead, you will be making new friends, among who will be your allies in your support group meetings. It is through the strength and assistance of these members of your support group that you will be able to weather and endure the many challenges that come your way following treatment when you are in recovery. They are your lifeline, your own personal insurance policy to help you keep on the path of abstinence.

Relapse prevention — Drug rehab also includes a thorough and intensive discussion and preparation of a relapse prevention plan. During this phase, you learn how to identify triggers or stressors that prompt a return to using, and develop a plan to counter those triggers. These include actions on how to deal with problems and situations that are bound to occur once you leave treatment and are in recovery. The focus is on freedom from alcohol and drug use as well as lifestyle changes.

Relapse prevention also encourages you to participate in 12 step recovery groups as an immediate and ongoing part of your recovery. To begin to put what you’ve learned during drug rehab to practice, you need the support of friends and allies. Some of these allies may be people you met during treatment and with whom you have a lasting and permanent bond. Your family, friends and allies will be there to help you get through the tough times ahead, when you need someone who understands what you’re going through and can help you over the hurdles.

Family therapy — Part of any effective drug or alcohol abuse treatment program is to recognize and counsel family members and significant others on their particular needs. When one person is addicted to drugs or alcohol (or a combination of drugs and alcohol), the healthy family dynamic is disrupted.

Family members often try to dismiss or deny the problem as much as the person afflicted. They may feel embarrassment, anger, shame, pain and heartbreak over the situation and be unable to deal with it constructively. The fact that they couldn’t stop or control their loved one’s abuse only compounds the problem in their minds. Many times, family members enter into an unhealthy co-dependency with the abuser.

Family programs designed to help address critical issues of drug and alcohol dependency may include one or more of the following: individual counseling sessions with a therapist, family support group, and multi-family group support meetings. Family members are also encouraged to join other support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Alateen, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and others.

Types of drug rehab facilities

Treatment for alcohol or drug addiction is available in two basic forms — on an outpatient basis or as a resident at a treatment center specializing in addiction treatment. How do you know which option is best?

Outpatient drug rehab — If you have a drug or alcohol problem and cannot be away for long periods of time solely for inpatient addiction treatment, outpatient treatment may be your best choice. Outpatient treatment was developed as an alternative to the standard residential treatment program. Included in outpatient therapy is treatment for the addiction, as well as counseling and help with daily living.

While outpatient treatment facilities are all designed to help the individual trying to quit alcohol or drugs, they may differ in the types of treatment they offer. Many include some or all of the following:

  • Treatment for the addiction — whether alcoholism or drugs
  • Incorporation of 12 step programs
  • Sober living facilities
  • Relapse prevention

The purpose of drug rehab is to get the person to stop the addictive behavior, understand and address the underlying causes for the behavior, and gradually learn how to change old patterns and habits that helped fuel the addiction.

In order to be accepted into an outpatient treatment program, there are certain requirements that generally must be met. You must:

  • Accept responsibility for your drug and/or alcohol problem and all actions associated with it
  • Express a genuine willingness to attend counseling several times a week
  • Completely abstain from drugs or alcohol at least 72 hours prior to entering the outpatient treatment program
  • Not previously been a participant in an outpatient treatment program

If you cannot or do not meet these criteria, you are probably better suited for inpatient or residential care treatment.

Inpatient drug rehab — As the name implies, inpatient (or residential) drug rehab involves entering a specialized facility for the purpose of overcoming addiction. Staff members are all professional, certified counselors and case managers who use the latest assessment tools and advanced treatment protocols. Lengths of stay in residential treatment facilities vary and are flexible, depending on the individual client or patient’s needs. In other words, how long you stay in treatment depends on the length and severity of your drug addiction.

It’s important to recognize that inpatient services are typically provided by a licensed hospital or addiction recovery center. Residential treatment facilities, on the other hand, may not have the same stringent requirements or standards of medical care.

Course of treatment is intensive and involves a multifaceted approach. Each treatment facility has its own treatment array, but all include one-on-one counseling, group therapy, educational discussions and lectures, relapse prevention and sessions or counseling based on an individual’s needs on a case-by-case basis. Many include some or all of the following:

  • Initial assessment or evaluation
  • Treatment plan developed for the individual
  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Educational groups for drug and alcohol use
  • Process groups
  • Groups that are gender-specific
  • Activities for post-graduate clients
  • Planning for transition and aftercare
  • Short- and long-term structured aftercare planning
  • Weekly family events
  • Lifetime aftercare planning
  • Court liaison and/or early release for drug and alcohol offenders

Where to find treatment

Looking for a drug rehab center that will work for you is not that difficult. A good place to start is the Treatment Facility Locator maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This is an online searchable database that includes drug and alcohol treatment facilities across the United States. You can also call their toll-free treatment referral helpline at 1-800-662-HELP and speak with a representative who can assist you by directing you to local treatment facilities, state agencies for treatment assistance, answer questions or send you information.

Other sources for finding treatment are your doctor, local health agency, health care provider, even a friend who has gone through drug rehab with good results.

Drug rehab requires commitment

Now that we’ve more or less demystified drug rehab and you have a better idea what to expect, it’s important to talk about commitment. Recovery experts say that your commitment to drug rehab must be complete and total in order for your treatment to have a chance to be effective.

Enrolling in a drug rehab program only makes sense if you wholeheartedly intend to be fully present and genuinely involved in doing the hard work that it takes to get clean, learn about the disease of addiction, and how to overcome it and remain free of drugs.

How long until you are drug-free?

How long will it take for you to get clean and drug-free? This depends upon the individual, the type of drug or substances causing the addiction, frequency of using and length of addiction, and other factors. Treatment may last 30-60 days, or it may take six months. But continuing care, aftercare and support group meeting attendance go far beyond treatment. It is recommended that recovering addicts regularly attend support group meetings for at least two years following treatment. Many of those in recovery make attendance at support group meetings a weekly priority — and more often during times of crisis.

This is not a bad thing. In fact, when you look at all the positive things you will be able to achieve when you’re clean and drug-free, your support group should be at the top of your list. Through the friendship and support of others just like you who have gone through the same process of overcoming addiction, you will be better able to map out your own future, achieve your long-buried dreams, and be the best you can possibly be.

But your healing path toward recovery can only begin when you make that tough decision and enter drug rehab. It may not be what you expected, but it’s certainly not anything that you can’t do. Give drug rehab the time it requires. Be prepared to make lasting changes in your life. Be open-minded, optimistic and be willing to work hard.

Following drug rehab, when you enter recovery, the next chapter of your life begins. You have a clean slate, a fresh beginning, a future that’s yours to create and enjoy to the fullest — drug-free.

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Brought to you by Elements Behavioral Health

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