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Rehab: Does it really work?

Jackson closed his office door and sat down before his computer. Taking a deep breath, he typed “find a rehab” in the search bar. He shook his head in disbelief at the millions of search results. Then he saw articles about how to choose the right rehab facility, questions to ask about insurance and even a government helpline to call. He spent some time clicking around, reading testimonials and learning about different facilities nearby. It seemed like too much information, and he didn’t even know how rehab worked. His cousin, Marty, had tried rehab, but then he relapsed. Going to rehab would mean taking time from work and leaving his wife to hold down the fort with their kids. How would she juggle it all? What if they sacrificed and rehab didn’t work for him? Was rehab really worth the time and stress on the family and money? Or was it just a scam?

Researching Overwhelm

Does Rehab Really WorkIn this age of instant information, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by options and opinions about rehab. On the internet, hundreds of stories and opinions are shared, and websites can cough out statistics that seem to support whatever opinion or quick fix they might be selling.

Research should be fixed closely to your own story, family and needs. Since committing to a program has a direct impact on your schedule, family life and bank account balance, finding a treatment option that’s a good fit can be narrowed by asking the right questions .

Is rehab effective or are people just trying to make money?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, most people who get into and remain in treatment not only stop using substances, but they also improve their occupational, social and psychological functioning.1

Research also shows that individual treatment outcomes depend on the extent and nature of each individual’s substance use disorder. Your successful recovery depends on the type of treatment you obtain to address your specific problems, and the quality of interaction between you and your treatment provider. In other words, rehab can be highly effective, but choosing the right option is crucial.

Choosing a rehab program

  • Do other patients recommend them?

    Hearing from those who have completed a program will give you a good feel for what a program is like. Read and consider online reviews, and even ask for references if you feel it’s necessary.

  • Are they willing to individualize your treatment program?

    If you have some personal needs that could use additional support, be sure and ask. Some rehab programs offer personalized programs that consider employment or school needs, gender, sexual preferences, age considerations and more.

  • Do they use an evidence-based approach?

    Evidence-based treatments are based directly on scientific evidence. Dozens of multiyear studies have shown that evidence-based treatments and practices, such as CBT and DBT, can reduce symptoms significantly for many years after discharge from treatment.2

  • How do they define success?

    According to experts like Siobhan Morse, Division Director of Clinical Services for Foundations Recovery Network, you should be wary of words like “success rate” when you’re reading a rehab’s website. “Success rate is a fairly ambiguous term,” says Siobhan.3 Expect more specific outcomes to be detailed, and look for a program that allows patients and families to define their own success. The rehab organization should also be able to point you to their specific research outcomes, such as this 2017 report by Skywood’s family of treatment centers, Foundations Recovery Network. If the program you are considering can’t give you specific research outcomes for participants up to one year after they completed their rehab, you may want to keep looking. (You can also listen to this podcast with Siobhan Morse about decoding success rate myths)

  • How long should I remain in rehab?

    It may be tempting to complete your rehab stay as quickly as possible, such as in 30 days. But studies strongly indicate that how long you stay in rehab is a major predictor of how well you’ll fare after you leave. Staying in treatment for a longer time period can be even better. Participants who stayed in rehab for at least 90 days were 1.5 times more likely to be successfully abstinent during their first year in recovery.4

Three reasons why most people put off rehab

1. “It’s not a good time.”

It’s easy to think that tomorrow, or next week, or next month will be better. Waiting for next payday, or to finish a project at work, or until your child’s soccer season is over all sound like great reasons to delay treatment. While there will be some legitimate reasons for being intentional about your rehab scheduling, remind yourself that there will never be a perfect time. If you wait until all the lights turn green to move forward and get healthy, you might delay until it’s too late.

2. “What if I relapse after rehab?”

If you define success strictly based on whether or not you relapse, you might be missing the mark. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma.1 Relapse does not equal failure. Understanding that treatment for an substance use disorder typically requires continual evaluation and modification – just like any other disease – is key to implementing a long-term, lifetime approach to good health.

3. “I just don’t feel ready.”

Feelings can be misleading at best, and destructive at worst. Consider why you searched the internet for treatment options today. Is it your family? Your marriage? Your job? Your health? Try to see the big picture, and think about what is best for your life long-term. Feelings can flip-flop and your addiction disorder can cloud your thinking, but a decision based on facts can lead you toward the road of recovery.

How do I know if I’m ready to commit to rehab?

  • Engagement: Are you willing to engage in your own recovery? Defining what your own success looks like, communicating your needs and giving input on your treatment plan are all examples of engagement.
  • Attitude: Are you open to learning and growing? Are you willing to consider looking at things in a new way? Are you willing to take advice of your trusted providers?
  • Determination: Are you ready to stop making excuses? Are you willing to do what it takes to take the next step?

It’s not too late. Remember, recovery is a life-long journey. Your addiction disorder can affect your relationships, your job and your future. But you know what else can? Treatment that is designed with you in mind for the long term. There is hope, and it can start today.

By Cindy Coloma


1“Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Accessed October 21, 2018.
2FRN 2017 Results: Our Methods, Principles, Practices, and Results.” Foundations Recovery Network, Accessed October 20, 2018.
3Recovery Unscripted Episode 2: Decoding Success Rate Myths.” Foundations Recovery Network, Accessed October 22, 2018.
4When Drug Rehab Doesn’t Work.” Michael’s House, Accessed October 21, 2018.