“Drug rehab works, but it takes work”

Question:

Does length of stay in a good drug and alcohol rehab make a real difference?  

Answer:

Unequivocally, Yes! 

Facts:

A round number for days in treatment is a myth. And it comes at a great cost. Cycling people quickly through treatment translates into easier insurance authorizations. It also causes more relapses and significantly lowered success rates.  Already in the late nineties, a broad study called the DATOS project (Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Studies) published through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) pointed to short stints of treatment for cocaine dependence as a culprit for low success rates. The study, a five-year project with the collaboration of four top science teams, clearly showed the benefits of treatment running for 90 days and more. A UCLA project following 1167 teens in drug treatment associated more positive outcomes with extended stays in treatment. Shari Roan summarized the issue at the L.A. Times 12 years ago. Unfortunately, little has changed in how treatment programs are advertised.   

Here’s Why: 

Drug and alcohol treatment are like most things in life. What is very common is not always that good. Take people looking for an effective drug and alcohol treatment program. They will google drug rehab, drug treatment, detox and residential programming in my area or any other keyword that pops to mind. Invariably, their search results will spit back endless lists of 30-day treatment programs. It sounds perfect. Go away for a month and come back changed forever. What is a month in the grand scheme of things?  

Except that a month is almost never enough time.  

Like a defective used car, a fresh coat of paint and a nice round low number can only hide a rusted engine for so long. Eventually, it starts to sputter, and you are at the mechanic weekly. Then, it goes kaput and you are looking for another dealership.  

The analogy is cute. But when you apply it to human life it is jarring. Sometimes there is no other dealership option, and sometimes there is no new car to buy. When someone is in treatment we need to capitalize on every moment and make sure that they have the best chance of sustaining recovery. There are no guarantees they will make it back. 

When someone enters addiction treatment, he or she is suffering from a disease.  It needs to be identified, treated, and healed. It requires understanding triggers and bad behavior patterns. Many times, detox is needed before anything can get started. Only then can the healing begin to take root. It takes time and is different for everyone. Some have used longer, and habits are more deeply ingrained. Others have a weaker support system and need more ammunition to fight the street when they go back out. There are environment factors, genetic factors, and mental health factors.  

You cannot take someone’s unique struggles, background, possible co-occurring disorders, and throw it an industrial cardboard box.  You cannot take everything contributing to their specific Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and brand it with a 30-day cheap stamp that comes out in the wash. The only magic formula is understanding that there is no such thing as magic. Each client’s needs must be properly identified and everything possible must be done to meet them.  Hard work, real commitment, and clinical excellence.  

And time.    

Anecdotally, people on the ground all testify to the importance of understanding each person’s situation regarding length of treatment decisions. Clinicians liken 30-day treatment to planting seeds and yanking it out of the soil just as it is about to take root. For the flower to blossom and the tree to bear fruit, the process must be entirely completed. Years of experience have taught them a simple truth. Drug rehab works but it takes work. Recovery is a journey without shortcuts, and every client has their own journey.  

So, does length of stay in a good drug and alcohol rehab makes a real difference? 

Not only does length of treatment make a difference, it is a key to sustained recovery. The facts back it up, the stories back it up, and common sense backs it up.  

Effective drug and alcohol rehab centers do not reckon with days, they reckon with people.  

Positive outcomes inevitably follow.  

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Brooke Abner,

Motivational Coach