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Treatment questions: Can you keep your laptop while in rehab?

can you keep your laptop while in rehab

“Can you keep your laptop while in rehab?” Many potential patients considering drug and alcohol treatment ask this question, and it’s an understandable one.

After all, in this digital day and age, not being able to use a computer or a smartphone can cause emotional distress. Four years ago, the BBC news organization called it “digital anxiety”: “Some people grow nervous about losing the connectivity their (computers) give them, because they feel they have to monitor a future threat, or political news,” the report states.

Whether it’s a smartphone or a laptop, these devices help us feel connected to the wider world, but when it comes to drug and alcohol treatment, that connection can prove to be a distraction. Can you keep your laptop while in rehab? For treatment to be effective, the answer is usually no.

Why? Let’s discuss.

The Nuts and Bolts of Rehab

Let’s be clear: Drug and alcohol treatment is designed to address a very specific, life-threatening issue; namely, the substances patients consume that are damaging their abilities to have healthy relationships, hold down jobs and interact with the rest of society in a way that’s productive and responsible. And in many cases, addicts and alcoholics are dealing with a number of issues that require far more than simple abstinence. For example:

  • In a 2010 study of 587 Atlanta women published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, the “data show strong links between childhood traumatization and SUDs (substance use disorders), and their joint associations with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) outcome.”
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Data show high rates of comorbid substance use disorders and anxiety disorders – which include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance use disorders also co-occur at high prevalence with mental disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychotic illness, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.”
  • According to the American Psychiatric Association, “People with a substance use disorder may have distorted thinking and behaviors. Changes in the brain’s structure and function are what cause people to have intense cravings, changes in personality, abnormal movements, and other behaviors. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control.”

These are just a few of the auxiliary issues wrapped up in drug and alcohol abuse, and effective treatment is designed to address those issues. In fact, effective treatment is meant to do exactly that, because if abstinence was the only goal, then anyone with a problem could stop using or drinking, walk away and never go back. Unfortunately, addiction to drugs and alcohol doesn’t’ work like that: As the NIDA points out, “Research has shown that long-term drug abuse results in changes in the brain that persist long after a person stops using drugs. These drug-induced changes in brain function can have many behavioral consequences, including an inability to exert control over the impulse to use drugs despite adverse consequences – the defining characteristic of addiction.”

In other words, not only are there underlying issues often tied to drug and alcohol addiction, the very nature of addiction involves changes in the brain that make continued use increasingly likely as time goes on and that addiction goes untreated. However, the NIDA also points out that “research indicates that active participation in treatment is an essential component for good outcomes and can benefit even the most severely addicted individuals.”

And therein lies the crux of the answer to the question, “Can you keep your laptop while in rehab?”

Can You Keep Your Laptop While in Rehab: What Is Active Participation?

can you keep your laptop while in rehabAsk yourself this: Even without a drug or alcohol problem, how often do you find yourself distracted because of your smartphone? If the answer is “often,” do you think having unlimited access to your laptop in a treatment center is going to be any less distracting?

Numerous studies have found that regular computer use can be problematic: A 2016 study published in the journal Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that “A high proportion of computer use at work may be associated with depressive and anxiety disorder.” In addition, a 2017 article in Scientific American reported that “new research by scientists at Michigan State University suggests that laptops do not enhance classroom learning, and in fact students would be better off leaving their laptops in the dorm during class.”

It stands to reason, then, that if computer use can be problematic at work and school, it can act as the same deterrent toward productivity and education in treatment – two essential components, given that the therapeutic process involves more than mere abstinence.

Most traditional residential inpatient programs for drug and alcohol treatment last roughly 30 days, give or take, which isn’t a whole lot of time to deal with months or even years of substance abuse and all of the accompanying trappings that have contributed to it. As a result, counselors, therapists, medical staff and others who are part of this process need your undivided attention in order to give you as much information, education and therapy as they can in a relatively short span of time – which means limiting the distractions that may occur if you have your laptop in treatment. (Or your cell phone – many treatment programs don’t let you use your phone, either.)

That’s not to say that accommodations can’t be made. In many instances, the rules are set in place to help the treatment process be as effective as possible, but they aren’t meant to be punitive. And in certain circumstances, staff members understand that you need access to your email or to the internet in order to take care of personal business that can’t wait 30 days – paying bills, for example. Still other individuals have job or school responsibilities, or even legal obligations, that require them to monitor their email, and in those cases, exceptions can be made on a limited basis.

Many facilities have computers that can be used by the community, and while they’re limited as to what specific websites can be accessed, you may be allowed to access the internet with staff oversight. In addition, some treatment facilities will allow you to bring your laptop and secure it in a storage locker that’s accessible only by staff and yourself, and you may be granted permission to access it periodically – again, under staff supervision – to take care of personal, vocational or legal responsibilities that can’t wait until you complete inpatient treatment.

However, if you’re wondering, “Can you keep your laptop while in rehab?,” the answer is usually no. You can bring it, and you can access it under limited conditions if absolutely necessary, but the focus in treatment is on you, the problems associated with your drug and alcohol use and the therapy you need to overcome them.

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