Why rehab doesn't work

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Unfortunately, rehab doesn’t work for every addict. Why a rehab didn't work could be due to a lack of commitment, the wrong treatment programme, or that the individual didn't get enough support.  

Addiction is always destructive and hard to overcome, especially on your own.

Rehab acts as a bridge to recovery. But as mentioned, unfortunately, rehab for alcoholics doesn’t always work, in the short term or long term.  

That doesn’t mean it’s not effective, but there are the nitty-gritty things that you must be aware of before enrolling in a rehab programme.  

It is obvious that going to rehab can be a life-changing experience.  

The aim of rehab is to help people live a drug-free life. Some people achieve sobriety in a rehab programme but after returning home they relapse.

Some drop out of treatment at the initial stages for being unable to resist substance abuse. 

So what could be the reason for giving up on rehab?  

Here are some reasons why rehab might not work:  

1. Lack of participation 

If a person joins a drug addiction treatment programme unwillingly, they are more probable to quit it in the middle and can’t reap the perks of drug rehab.

Defeating addiction demands active participation and submergence in the healing process. If an addict doesn’t embrace or accept the changes they require, to live substance-free, drug rehab likely won’t work for them. 

2. Doesn’t spend sufficient time in addiction treatment 

People who want drugs treatment have usually been addicted for a long time. They and their family members and friends have started to observe how drug use or substance use is impacting their health and life negatively.

Some people join treatment centre before their life falls apart, but a lot of addicts never join. Because the detoxification of drugs and the end of addiction is a gradual process, the recovery and the healing process are too. 

Recovery and abstinence take time. A 3-day programme by insurance companies has been offered because it is most probably to be covered by healthcare.

Still, many people require more than a month to make impressive lifestyle changes necessary to get over their addiction.  

During drug rehab or any medical treatment, an individual manages through problems that lead to substance abuse and problems that arise because of addiction.

To avoid relapse, an addict has to replace old habits, learn new practical skills, and get used to a positive and healthy way of life. 

That can’t happen overnight. Drug rehab usually doesn’t work for people who want more time than allowed by the rehab programme they select. 

3. Rehab programme is not suitable for their individual needs 

People deal with addiction in different ways. Addiction treatment must be tailored to the addict for successful recovery. The best treatment options use a personal assessment to develop a unique treatment plan. 

This treatment plan should focus on: 

  • How addiction affects the alcoholics or patients (their health, life, and relationships) 
  • How the patients deal with the side effects of addiction 
  • What caused the patients to abuse drugs? 
  • Which parts of an addict’s life were affected by the drug abuse and substance abuse? 
  • History of the addict and what medical treatment they have taken in the past 

A rehab programme that doesn’t treat the root cause of drug abuse and other addictions, like co-occurring disorders or trauma, is unlikely to result in a lasting recovery.

Unaddressed and unresolved issues can reappear later and cause a relapse. Addiction treatment that doesn’t manage a health problem cannot heal the addicts. 

Learn more about the Abbeycare alcohol treatment plan here.

4. The patient doesn’t think he has a problem 

Although there are various reasons that someone plans to join rehab, accepting that you have a serious issue. It is common for many people to join a rehab programme without being fully convinced that they are patients.

However, if you never come to the conclusion that you genuinely have an addiction and are helpless over it, the possibility of relapse increases. Ask yourself: is your drug use is stopping you from doing things in life?

Are you limiting your own success by continuously using drugs? If “yes” then you must seek help. If drugs limit you in any way, then seek treatment. 

5. Lack of support from friends or family 

Addicts in outpatient rehab programmes usually struggle to be consistent with their treatment progress if they don’t get enough support from friends or family members.

Some people leave an inpatient rehab programme and are shaken by the difference in the atmosphere of the rehab centre and home life.  

Without enough support from your family, it can be extremely difficult for people to achieve and maintain sobriety and that's when rehab doesn't work.

This is specifically the case if they live with people who are patients. It can be difficult if their friend or family do not pay attention to their recovery process.

Preventing relapse is extremely challenging without encouragement. 

why rehab doesn't work

That’s the main reason why aftercare is offered from periodic check-ins to ongoing substance abuse counselling to many people in the recovery process.

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous with their related twelve-step programmes can also be helpful to stay sober and prevent relapse.

These groups offer group therapy and connect people to share their stories with their team members and remind each other of the moral principles, strategies to handle stress, and coping skills learned in rehab programmes. 

6. Drug or Alcohol cravings 

With medical treatment, the vast majority of addicted individuals crave drugs or alcohol, and this may remerge even after detox months or years later.

Cravings are mental or physical urges to use alcohol or drug that are very tough to resist.

That’s why addiction treatments usually start with detoxification to prevent relapse by reducing cravings so that recovering people can focus on coping mechanisms.

The medication-assisted treatment uses light drugs that relieve withdrawal symptoms or create an adverse reaction to alcohol or drug abuse. 

The aim is to weapon recovering people to get over the stronger substance (liquor, heroin, etc.) and eventually living a substance-free life.

In other words, through MAT drug addicts with severe cravings during drug and alcohol treatment can have a successful recovery. And this is the only rehabilitation treatment that can prepare them to stay strict in sobriety if withdrawal symptoms return. 

7. A Traumatic Event 

A traumatic event can cause an addicted individual to turn to substance abuse as a way to handle stress even after or during drug rehab.

Despite the healthy habits and strong coping skills for everyday stress, the mental and physical effects of trauma may be too severe for an addicted individual to resist their old methods of comfort.  

What Is Rehab?  

Residential rehabilitation which in other words is known as rehab describes a drug treatment centre or treatment facility that is offered in a residential setting.

Rehabs are often abstinence-based and provide a strong programme of care and support aimed at people who have difficulty in staying sober and living a life free of drugs or substance abuse.  

In the addiction treatment field, modern-day rehab is designed to deliver a variety of rehab programmes and treatments to patients suffering from mental illness or any chronic disease because of substance use disorder.

Depending on your needs, a rehab program can last for 30, 60, 90 days or more. To decide the type of treatment a prospective inpatient receives, all rehab facilities look at their medical histories, records of previous treatments, mental health issues, and psychosocial evaluations.

 Traditional models of these treatment programmes offer the person having a complete break from their recent circumstances and living at a treatment facility and in a medical community that is away from their drug-using environment.  

Modern-day rehab centres are growing across the world, which involves supported housing provision associated with structured treatment and other local services. Some rehabs also offer residential treatment in stages. 

Read our complete guide on “what is rehab”, if you plan to enter a rehab programme or get your loved one enrolled.

Can an Alcoholic be Sectioned? 

Forcing someone into rehab should be the last treatment option. It is important to note that the willingness of an addicted person to enter treatment is the first step in recovery.

If you get them into treatment against their will, they will likely become unresponsive to treatment. Except when deemed a danger to themselves or others can an alcoholic be sectioned. 

However, an alcoholic can be sanctioned under the mental health act if viewed as a serious danger to others or themselves. 

For an individual to overcome drug dependence through abstinence, they have to undergo some effective treatment methods by joining a treatment centre.

They have to actually admit that they are suffering from alcoholism and want to stop drinking.  

In Europe and UK, an individual who can’t be committed to a detox facility by a friend or family member can be sanctioned.

But, even after being sanctioned because the court ordered and held in a psychiatric ward, specialist treatment and personalized medical care without an alcoholic’s will to recover cannot work.

A drug rehab programme works when an individual admits his alcohol dependency and participates in the drug addiction treatment plan willingly for a quicker recovery.  

Getting Someone into Alcohol Rehab 

While you cannot force your loved one into rehab, you can employ the help of a professional interventionist in getting someone into alcohol rehab.  

You also need to educate yourself on the adverse effects of alcohol abuse. Alcoholics are known to be clever in defence of their addiction. But that’s because they probably do not know that alcohol addiction is a potent cause of cancer and can damage the brain cells.

When you speak to them as someone who understands their addiction’s short- and long-term effects, you are more likely to convince them to seek help. 

In that case, you can offer them support and encourage them to join a drug rehab. For someone who is addicted and needs a non-confrontational approach, choose the right time, and place and make sure the person will listen to you.

Talking to your loved one about their addiction and explaining the consequences of refusing treatment can help. You can be strict with them like moving them out of the house or not giving them the money.  

In some circumstances, you can force an addict to enter rehab. For example, if they are under 18, then as a guardian or parent you can enter them into an alcohol treatment centre without their will.  

How to Drug Rehab at Home 

If you will not employ the service of a professional addiction specialist who understands how to do drug rehab at home safely, treating drug addiction at home is not safe. 

Those who wish to do drug rehab at home due to the lack of time or privacy concerns can ask for at-home options in their rehab program. 

Receiving treatment for drug addiction at home is perceived to be more effective. Therefore they are motivated to commit to long-term sobriety. 

Addiction specialists, doctors and nurses would visit at-home inpatients regularly to keep them on track with treatment. 

To drug rehab at home, you must look for alternatives to using and drinking alcohol to learn to stay sober while enjoying a drug free life. 

For example, altering alcohol with alcohol-free drinks like non-alcoholic beers. Trying muscle relaxation techniques to fight stress which you are having in the first place.

Exercise, guided meditation, deep breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and massages are all substitutes to the release you might experience when you initially choose a drink.  

Make alternative plans with friends to hang out instead of visiting bars. You can go on bowling, hiking, seeing a movie and many more.

These alternatives will assist you to feel good and achieve better health and muscle relaxation for long term recovery without genuinely introducing substances that lead to addiction. 

Let’s face it, there are various alternatives that people turn to in traumatic events and other social situations when they feel as they are drinking without risking their health.

You can still avoid the glaring temptation of drugs while finding ways to have fun with your friends and family. 

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Home 

Because of the considerable danger involved, home treatments for addiction are not medically approved. Many people decide to go ‘cold turkey’ when they cannot afford the cost of rehab or feel they can reverse the addiction. In reality, this technique is deadlier than most people think. 

If you have to receive treatment for addiction at home, you need to enrol in a rehab program that offers at-home treatment plans. Should the cost be a barrier, you can ask your insurance provider to cover the cost of your at-home rehab treatment. 

Alternatively, for drug and alcohol treatment at home, people consider detoxing, tapering, drinking water, eating healthy, clearing their schedule to have free time to focus on their recovery. 

They opt for at-home detoxification because that makes the difficult situation look easier to address. There’s often no place safe-feeling and more comfortable.  

While detoxing at home tapering is focused as a safe alcohol withdrawal treatment. A healthy diet is followed to have the energy and nutrients which were previously missing.

Drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated is the best home remedy to fight against alcohol withdrawal. Your body loses water when you sweat excessively or vomit.

In detox as a drug and alcohol treatment at home, your body loses electrolytes.  

Drinking beverages or other sports drinks that contain electrolytes can help replenishing them back. Finding support from you family to handle psychological and physical symptoms can help to avoid relapse. 

Time spent at home with your friends and family can have magical effect on your health and drinking habits.  

Last Updated: February 1, 2022

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.