You or your loved one are ready to tackle recovery and begin to move forward from the toll that addiction has taken on your lives. But you might have some hesitation before you enroll in an addiction treatment program. Perhaps you know someone who has attended a drug addiction treatment program and later relapsed. Or perhaps you’ve heard rumors about disreputable treatment practices or programs that only care about how much money they can make from their clients.
There’s no doubt that there are a variety of myths and misconceptions about addiction treatment, and there’s also no denying that there are unscrupulous and unethical treatment providers to avoid, just as there are in every industry. That’s why it’s critical that you fully understand the ins and outs of any potential addiction treatment program before making a decision to move forward.
To help, we’ve put together a list of some of the most common misunderstandings about addiction treatment so you can approach your choice with the facts, not rumors.
Here’s a list of the myths and misconceptions we’ll be tackling in this article. You can read the article from start to finish or you can navigate between topics by clicking on the links below:
While everyone’s recovery is different, the majority of people benefit from the structure and support of a professional addiction treatment program. We explore what to look for when you’re searching for the right program for you.
You’ve probably heard the rumor that many addiction treatment programs exist to make money, not help people. While there are unethical actors out there, the majority of treatment providers are dedicated to client success.
Don’t let concerns over your personal finances stop you from seeking treatment. Most treatment providers accept insurance, and if they can’t meet your needs, they will refer you to a treatment program that can.
You might have heard the myth that when an individual relapses, their recovery ends, too. Luckily, that’s not true. Professional addiction treatment programs understand that relapse is a fact of life and develop strategies and plans to help clients manage their risk.
Withdrawal is a major concern for many people overcoming addiction, and some may try to manage their withdrawal process themselves. We explore why that’s a bad idea, and why most addiction treatment providers will recommend a medically-supervised alternative.
Many people believe that rehab is useful only for individuals who are recovering from “hard” drugs like opioids. But any addictive substance can lead to harm. We discuss why addiction treatment is a good option for anyone struggling with substance use.
As much as we wish otherwise, there is no magic cure for addiction. Instead, reputable treatment providers will work closely with clients to help them learn to manage their risks and create a new sober lifestyle.
- Myth #8: Addiction and mental health issues are two different problems and need to be treated separately
You might not associate rehab with mental health treatment, but ethical treatment providers understand that people struggling with addiction are often also managing mental health complications. Find out more about why dual diagnosis/co-occurring disorder treatment is so important.
Another common misconception is that once an individual completes addiction treatment, they are on their own. In reality, ethical treatment providers will ensure their clients are equipped for the real world through aftercare programs and more.
While undertaking addiction treatment can be daunting, one concern that’s more myth than reality is the idea that rehab means disconnecting from family and friends. In fact, most treatment providers include family and friends in group therapy and more.
Top 10 Myths and Misconceptions About Addiction Treatment
Without further ado, here are our top 10 myths and misconceptions about addiction treatment.
Myth #1: Most people don’t need rehab to recover from addiction.
Undertaking addiction treatment requires a significant commitment of time, effort, and resources on the part of everyone involved, from the individual in recovery to the treatment provider to family and loved ones. Typical residential addiction treatment lasts for at least 30 days and can require up to a year or more of care and support. Outpatient addiction treatment can last for months at a time, and membership in 12-step groups usually requires weekly meetings and check-ins.
All in all, it’s understandable why people who are considering addiction treatment would believe they can handle recovery on their own. After all, spending multiple weeks focused on recovery — while working hard on staying sober — can be daunting. It might seem easier to just try to manage your recovery on your own, where the stakes are lower and there is no one holding you accountable.
But studies show that finding outside support for recovery is critical for success. In fact, research shows that the more services that a treatment provider can offer, the better the outcome for clients.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends programs that incorporate some of the following aspects:
- Therapy and counseling
- Treatment based on evidence and research
- Case management
- Peer support or 12-step groups
- Aftercare program
- Support for co-occurring mental health challenges
- Medical support
- Family therapy
- Job placement assistance
Addiction treatment providers should also work with clients to ensure they are putting key skills into practice and are engaging with treatment on a deeper level. This means sober events, outings, and gatherings are also important during the recovery process, allowing clients to practice real-world skills and develop long-term social connections.
One additional major benefit of seeking professional addiction treatment is the opportunity to build a community of like-minded people in recovery. When individuals try to recover on their own, they often experience a sense of isolation that actually harms their chances at long-term recovery.
Finding support from others who are also undergoing recovery from addiction can be highly motivating and encouraging. This is one of the reasons that 12-step and peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are so popular.
Luckily, many treatment providers also include activities that help build teams and interpersonal relationships within their programs. Some providers use athletics and outdoor activities to help forge these connections, while others use programs like equine therapy to help clients learn personal responsibility and commitment to others in a group-like setting.
There’s no one-size-fits-all program that fits everyone’s individual recovery needs. But addiction treatment programs do work, and with the right provider, most people can reach the path of long-term recovery.
Myth #2: Drug rehabs only care about making money from clients.
While some unethical and predatory addiction treatment providers want to trick and manipulate their clients so they can make more money, the vast majority of treatment providers have their clients’ best interests at heart.
For example, at Solution Based Treatment & Detox, our first priority is finding the right treatment program for our prospective clients. While we specialize in evidence-based treatment supported by peer groups and sober adventures, we know that our model doesn’t fit everyone’s needs. That’s why we refer prospective clients that aren’t a good fit for our program to other treatment programs that we trust.
When searching for an addiction treatment provider, it’s important to ask some crucial questions to understand if they are an ethical and responsible business. We recommend asking questions including:
- Does the treatment provider have a specific treatment philosophy or approach?
- Can the treatment provider share client testimonials from alumni?
- Does the treatment provider have a network of alumni who remain connected to the program?
- Does the treatment provider communicate out-of-pocket and insurance costs clearly and without confusion?
- Does the treatment provider employ licensed and certified clinicians and medical professionals?
- Does the treatment provider offer additional services like case management and aftercare?
If the answer is no to any of the questions above, you may want to consider another provider. A reputable treatment program will be able to explain how and why they use particular treatment approaches and will employ certified and licensed staff with experience in the recovery field. Another major red flag is an unwillingness to clearly discuss financial commitments prior to enrollment or offering any sort of unusual financial arrangements or benefits to attend the program.
Finding the right addiction treatment program is a major undertaking. Remember that an ethical treatment provider will always answer your questions as fully as possible. If you feel that a provider is not sharing crucial information or is being evasive in answering your questions, look elsewhere.
You should also consider providers that have been accredited by independent third-party organizations like the Joint Commission and LegitScript. But don’t take these certifications at face value. Make sure to ask many questions to make sure the program is the right fit for you. Even if a program has been certified, that doesn’t necessarily mean their treatment philosophy, approach, and offerings are right for you.
Myth #3: Drug rehabs only take wealthy clients.
When you envision addiction treatment, you might think of a celebrity enjoying a luxurious retreat as they get their substance use under control. Or you might think of a program that charges exorbitant fees and is far outside your price range.
The good news is that there is an addiction treatment provider out there for nearly everyone’s budget. While high net worth individuals do have luxury options to choose from, there are also plenty of addiction treatment providers that cater their services to clients with less disposable income.
Most addiction treatment providers also accept insurance, meaning they can provide high-quality services that are then reimbursed by major insurance policies. This typically lessens the out-of-pocket costs for clients and makes treatment more accessible to more people.
Even if you don’t have a private or employer-based health insurance policy, there are addiction treatment providers who accept payment on a sliding scale or work with government health insurance plans like Medicaid and Medicare. Make sure to ask any prospective treatment provider about their payment and insurance policies.
Most treatment providers offer a variety of different payment options, including:
- Out of pocket or cash pay
- Insurance reimbursement
- Government-funded insurance
- Sliding scale payments
As we mentioned above, it’s important that any prospective treatment provider answer any payment-related questions thoroughly. If you feel that you aren’t getting clear answers about how much you will be expected to pay for treatment, find a different provider.
Don’t let a lack of funds — or fear of being rejected over your income — stop you from seeking out treatment. If you need help, there are resources available to you and people who want to help.
Myth #4: Relapse is a sign that addiction treatment has failed.
Like any chronic health condition, there is always the risk that addiction will flare up and cause a relapse. A relapse occurs when an individual who has previously been sober turns back to the addictive substance once more. This may be because they experienced an addictive trigger, such as a person, place, or emotion associated with their previous substance use, or had difficulty coping with stress, anxiety, or other challenges. In some cases, a major life challenge, such as the loss of a loved one or the ending of a relationship, can also lead to relapse. It’s important to remember that relapse is not a sign of failure, but rather an opportunity to revisit treatment and strengthen recovery.
Remember that relapse:
- is not a sign that addiction treatment has failed or that you’re unable to recover
- is an opportunity to assess what’s working and what’s not in your recovery
- is a chance to reconnect with your treatment team
- is not an excuse to give up on recovery altogether
- is a chance to strengthen your connections to peer support groups and loved ones who are supportive of your recovery
When a client relapses, an ethical and responsible treatment provider will ensure they receive support and additional treatment during a difficult time. This is because providers understand just how challenging avoiding addictive triggers and relapse really is.
If you’ve ever tried to stop using an addictive substance before, you’ve probably had some setbacks. Perhaps you were able to stay sober for a little while, but then relapsed and returned to the addictive substance once more.
The reason addiction is so difficult to overcome is that our brains quickly become accustomed to the presence of addictive substances in our bodies, which even changes the way different chemicals and parts of our brains work. As a result, it’s very difficult to go “cold turkey” without professional support.
But even if you receive professional treatment, you can never entirely eliminate the risk of relapse. An ethical and licensed treatment provider will provide you with tools, resources, and strategies to minimize your relapse risk, but will never promise that you will be relapse-free. In fact, they will emphasize that relapse is a constant risk.
They will also do everything they can to support your new recovery lifestyle. This help can range from providing case management services such as school and work placement to offering alumni groups for ongoing support. Most providers will also connect program graduates to 12-step or other peer support groups in their area, so they can benefit from social connections and mutual help. The more support you have from your community, friends, and family, the more likely you are to be able to maintain your sobriety for the long term. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you do relapse, many treatment providers, including Solution Based Treatment & Detox, provide a treatment guarantee program that provides aftercare and additional treatment for clients who relapse at no cost to the client.
It’s always worth asking any prospective addiction treatment provider about their relapse avoidance training and support. Many programs have specific training to manage addictive triggers and other relapse risks, while others provide long-term support for clients after they leave treatment. If you find a program that downplays or neglects relapse risks, look elsewhere. And no addiction program should ever promise you that they can “relapse-proof” your recovery.
Myth #5: It’s safe to detox on your own and then enter rehab.
One major concern that keeps many individuals from seeking out addiction treatment is the need to undergo withdrawal, or the process in which the brain and body re-adjust to life without an addictive substance. Depending on the substance, withdrawal can begin within a few hours or a few days after the last use.
One reason that withdrawal is so intimidating is that it can be an extremely disruptive and uncomfortable process. In some cases, withdrawal can even be life-threatening, particularly if the person is stopping their usage of highly addictive drugs like alcohol or opioids.
For this reason, many individuals may avoid withdrawal by continuing to consume their addictive substance of choice, even if they would like to quit. In other cases, they try to handle the process by going “cold turkey” and managing withdrawal on their own.
Unfortunately, this period of time in which the body rids itself of addictive substances, also known within recovery programs as detoxification, or detox, can be difficult and dangerous to manage alone.
Withdrawal experiences vary depending on the drug but typically include flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, nausea, and headache. In some cases, such as withdrawal from alcohol, this process can lead to conditions like delirium tremens, in which individuals experience extreme confusion, hallucinations, and high blood pressure, and can even lapse into unconsciousness.
Common withdrawal symptoms are:
- Body aches
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Anxiety or irritation
- Emotional instability
If individuals choose to manage withdrawal on their own, they run the risk of becoming too ill or weak to seek appropriate medical care or to ensure they are consuming enough food or fluids to stay safe. This is particularly important if they are nauseous and need to replenish vital fluids. Even with support from family or friends, individuals may not receive the proper care they need to safely undergo detoxification.
Because of these risks, most treatment providers will recommend that individuals enrolling in treatment complete a medically-supervised detox program prior to beginning treatment. This ensures that the individual undergoing withdrawal is monitored by a medical team that checks their vitals, administers fluids as needed, and may even be able to administer medications to more safely manage the process.
If an individual does need more advanced medical care during the detoxification process, professional detox treatment providers can make sure they get help faster and easier than an individual could at home.
Once an individual has undergone a supervised detoxification process, they are also able to fully commit to a recovery program in a way that someone who has not gone through detox cannot.
For these reasons and more, medically-supervised detoxification is a key component of most reputable addiction treatment programs.
Before undergoing any withdrawal process, make sure to talk to your doctor or another medical professional.
Myth #6: Rehab is only intended for “hard” drugs like opioids.
Many people believe that rehab is only suited for individuals who are struggling with addiction to so-called “hard drugs” such as opioids, methamphetamines, or heroin. But addiction takes many different forms in different people, and even substances that may be widely available, such as marijuana, or legal, such as alcohol, can become dangerously addictive.
Though drugs such as opioids are highly addictive and have a strong effect on brain pathways and neurotransmitter chemicals, individuals can show patterns of addictive behavior when taking many different types of substances.
Regardless of whether the drug is considered a “hard” drug like heroin or a pharmaceutical drug such as codeine or benzodiazepine, any addictive substance that is causing negative and harmful impacts to an individual should not be ignored.
Some of the most common substances that addiction treatment providers cover include:
- Opioids (including “street” drugs like heroin)
- Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium)
- Club Drugs (MDMA, LSD)
- Stimulants (Amphetamines)
Because addiction affects the way that the brain functions and “rewires” pathways in the brain to encourage repetitive drug-taking, any individual who is struggling with addiction can benefit from treatment, regardless of the substance they are using.
This is particularly important if an individual’s chronic substance use is harming the individual, their loved ones, and their personal and professional relationships. Addiction, regardless of the substance, can lead to long-term physical, mental, emotional, and legal consequences, including job loss, physical injury, emotional trauma, and alienation from family and friends.
There is no stigma in seeking out treatment for substance addiction. You should not feel ashamed to seek help, no matter the addictive substance. Instead, feel proud that you are taking a proactive step to help yourself and others overcome the challenges of addiction.
Myth #7: Addiction can be cured with the right treatment program.
Though we all wish drug addiction could be magically cured through a single round of addiction treatment, the reality is that addiction is deeply connected to the brain and the risk of relapse can last for a long time.
To understand why addiction is so powerful, it’s helpful to understand how drugs affect the brain and body.
Though every drug’s specific impacts are different, the general process of addiction begins when the drug enters the bloodstream and causes significant changes to brain chemistry. In many cases, drugs cause the brain to boost the production of specific neurotransmitter chemicals which change the way the body’s nervous system acts.
Some drugs, such as opioids, cause the brain to send out high levels of dopamine, a pleasure-creating chemical, while also blocking pain signals. This is why opioids are so effective at managing pain but also why individuals who take opioids on a regular basis have a difficult time stopping their use.
In other cases, such as alcohol, drugs slow down the brain and body while also releasing dopamine, creating a sensation of relaxation and pleasure, and encouraging individuals to continue consuming the drug. Alcohol and other drugs also cause parts of the brain that govern self-control and decision making to become less active, which can lead us to engage in risk-taking behavior.
Over time, individuals who take drugs on a regular basis will develop tolerance or a condition in which the brain and body become accustomed to the presence of the drug and need higher doses to reach the same effect. This occurs in both addictive “street” drugs like heroin and pharmaceutical drugs like opioids. Tolerance also occurs with legal drugs like alcohol.
If individuals continue their regular consumption of drugs, either recreationally or medically, they face the prospect of developing an addiction to these substances. Addiction will often lead to strong cravings for the drug and individuals may start to associate drug-taking with particular people, places, and emotions. At the same time, individuals may start to engage in harmful or reckless behaviors in order to fuel their addiction. This is why many people struggling with addiction lose their jobs, struggle with personal relationships, or get into financial trouble.
Addiction treatment programs can help individuals better learn to understand and manage these addictive behaviors. But no addiction treatment program can fully eliminate addiction. Instead, individuals must work hard over a long period of time to build new habits, skills, and coping mechanisms as their brain adjusts to a new sober lifestyle.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment” guide notes, the brains of addicted people experience “changes that persist long after drug use has ceased.” This is why cravings and triggers are so challenging for individuals in recovery for years after they complete treatment. This is also why it is so critical for individuals to select an addiction treatment provider who will set them up for long-term success through aftercare programs, peer support groups, case management services, and alumni networks.
Myth #8: Addiction and mental health issues are two different problems and need to be treated separately.
When many people think of addiction treatment, they may not immediately associate recovery with mental health care. In popular culture, “rehab” is a place where individuals focus on overcoming addiction to drugs and alcohol, not deal with emotional or mental health issues.
In reality, however, there is a strong connection between addiction and mental health challenges. As research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates, “about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.”
In some cases, individuals may develop addictive behaviors to compensate for intrusive or scary thoughts, emotions, stress, or anxiety. In other cases, individuals may experience an increase in mental health complications as a result of active addiction.
It may not always be possible to determine whether addiction or mental health challenges were caused by one or the other, or whether they stem from the same life circumstances, genetic predisposition, and personal experiences.
But even if we can’t always determine where these challenges come from, we do know how to treat them effectively. When an individual is experiencing addiction alongside a diagnosable mental health challenge, treatment programs refer to this as a “dual diagnosis” or a “co-occurring disorder.” In some cases, academic literature may also call this “comorbidity.”
Regardless of what this is called, research shows that experiencing these two challenges at the same time is common. Some of the most common mental health challenges that occur alongside addiction include:
- Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Not every treatment program is equipped to treat every mental health disorder. Most reputable treatment programs, however, can help clients who struggle with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress alongside addiction. Some treatment programs even have a particular focus on trauma and its long-term impact on addiction. If an individual is struggling with more complex mental health disorders, a treatment program may work with an outside mental health provider or refer the client to a higher level of care.
Treatment programs typically employ licensed professional therapists to assist with clients, and they can use a variety of different therapeutic techniques to help clients manage their addiction and mental health challenges. These techniques include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT), which helps individuals learn to develop positive behaviors to replace negative patterns, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT), which helps individuals manage disruptive and negative emotions.
Myth #9: Once you have completed rehab, you are on your own.
Another barrier to entry for some individuals is the misconception that addiction treatment ends the moment you step out the door of the treatment center for the last time. Many people believe that addiction treatment providers are only interested in their active clients and don’t care about their alumni network.
In reality, however, most treatment providers spend considerable time educating and preparing their clients for long-term sobriety, as well as providing them with resources for support and stability.
For most providers, a key component of their program is preparing clients for life in the real world. That’s why so many treatment programs offer multiple tiers of addiction treatment services, from residential to outpatient. A client may start in a residential program but “step down” to an outpatient program. Usually, there are multiple different levels of outpatient programs, too, to ensure an easy transition for clients as they build up their sobriety.
Additionally, most providers have aftercare support programs built into their treatment levels, so that clients leave the program with the resources and support they need to stay sober outside of treatment. These resources can include help finding housing, jobs, educational opportunities, and 12-step or other peer support groups to attend on a regular basis. Some programs even offer support for ongoing legal challenges, too, that stem from addictive behaviors.
Once a client leaves a program, whether residential or outpatient, they are typically invited to join the provider’s alumni network. Sometimes this network is virtual and online, other times it involves weekly in-person meetups or monthly check-ins. Many providers have a dedicated alumni coordinator who answers phone calls or emails from program graduates who need support in their recovery.
Outside of the program itself, the recovery community nationwide is highly active and welcomes new members. Whether through a local Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous chapter or another type of support group, people in recovery want to help each other. You may find that you, too, are inspired to give back to the community through these groups.
Myth #10: You don’t have access to family or friends while in rehab.
While addiction can take a tremendous toll on our interpersonal relationships, we might also worry about leaving our loved ones behind to attend addiction treatment. What happens if we get cut off from our friends and family, unable to make a phone call, send an email, or respond to a text message?
While every treatment program is different in the amount of contact they permit with the outside world, the goal of addiction treatment programs is to promote recovery, not run away from the real world. In many cases, it would be counterproductive to encourage an individual to cut ties and connections to their loved ones.
For this reason, many treatment programs incorporate family therapy into their clients’ recovery plans. Family therapy can take many forms, from group discussions to one-on-one work with a therapist or clinician. In many cases, family members, friends, and loved ones have a safe space to discuss the toll that addiction has taken on them, as well as the opportunity to share their thoughts and fears.
At the same time, the individual in recovery has the opportunity to mend broken relationships and express gratitude for loved ones who have stood by them. If they are struggling with dysfunctional family relationships, family therapy may be an opportunity to explore those relationships on a deeper level and perhaps even develop solutions.
Addiction often thrives in isolation and causes many deep rifts between friends and family members. Luckily, addiction treatment programs are able to begin the healing process. A successful family therapy program allows individuals and their families to:
- Safely discuss past challenges and trauma associated with addiction
- Heal breaches in trust caused by addictive behaviors
- Understand the science behind addiction
- Have candid conversations and establish future boundaries
- Discuss relapse risks and how to avoid addictive triggers
Incorporating family members and friends into the recovery process is integral for long-term healing. If you’re concerned about the risks of isolating from family and friends during recovery, have an honest conversation with treatment providers to understand how they incorporate family therapy into the treatment process.
Questions to Ask When Choosing A Drug Rehab Center
Finding the right treatment program isn’t a snap decision. But going into the process with information and education can make a huge difference in identifying a program that will work for you. Remember, a reputable addiction treatment provider will be able to answer the majority of your questions completely and candidly.
Among the key questions you should ask any provider are:
- What is your primary treatment philosophy? How do you put that philosophy into practice?
- What therapeutic modalities do you use? What makes your treatment approach unique?
- Do you use treatment approaches based on research and evidence (evidence-based)? If not, what approach do you use?
- How many clients do you admit at one time?
- How do you provide additional services to your clients, like aftercare, alumni programs, and case management?
- Are you accredited by an independent third-party institution like the Joint Commission?
- Do you incorporate individual, group, and family therapy into your treatment programs?
Remember, knowledge is power when searching for an addiction treatment provider! While myths and misconceptions are tempting, don’t fall for them. Always ask any treatment provider that you’re considering the direct questions you need to be answered to make an informed decision.
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