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What are the qualities of a good addiction treatment center?


In a time when a single Google search inundates us with information and an unimaginable number of choices, those needing help for a drug and alcohol problem may find themselves wondering: What are the best qualities of an addiction treatment center?

How, they may ask, do they determine which facility of the thousands of search results delivered is the best answer to a problem they never planned on having? After all, no one wakes up one morning thinking, “Going to rehab today sounds like a lot of fun!,” just as they don’t, as kids, sit around daydreaming of one day becoming an alcoholic or an addict.

But it happens, and what you do about it when you reach that point where you’re ready to do something about it, you want to make sure you get the best help available. So how, then, do you sift through the choices that have been made available to you and determine which one best meets your needs?

We’re glad you asked, and we hope this information might help.

What do they offer?

A good place to start would be to examine the levels of care that a drug and alcohol rehab offers. Some don’t provide safe, comfortable medical detox from drugs and alcohol, and those that don’t usually require you to be clean and sober for 72 hours before your admission. If that’s the case, is that possible for you? More importantly, is it safe?

Consider: Withdrawal from certain drugs — alcohol and benzodiazepines, for example — can be life-threatening. While going through withdrawal unassisted is no fun no matter the substance, those two in particular can cause seizures and even death, and if you’re not sure whether the amount you’re drinking or using puts you at risk, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and seek out a facility that provides medical detox.

On the other side of residential inpatient treatment, does the facility offer any sort of continuing care? Most reputable drug and alcohol treatment centers provide Intensive Outpatient programs that allow patients to extend the safety net of their introduction to the recovery process. Those that offer IOP with on-campus Support Living are, by and large, facilities that are committed to a full continuum of care, from addicts and alcoholics still in the throes of their disease to ones with a well-established foothold in sobriety.

What does treatment involve?

A successful drug and alcohol treatment program works with patients to identify and meet their needs. While the substances are often the same, the issues that precipitate and are caused by addiction and alcoholism are vast and varied, and a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment isn’t going to work for everyone. It’s important to ask, during an initial inquiry, what residential inpatient treatment entails. Some standard metrics might include:

  • One-on-one counseling;
  • Group therapy;
  • Educational lectures;
  • Family therapy;
  • Activity therapy;
  • Fitness therapy; and
  • Aftercare planning

In addition, some of the most successful treatment programs combine both traditional abstinence-based models of 12 Step recovery as conceived by Alcoholics Anonymous eight decades ago with evidence-based psychotherapeutic tools. Does a facility offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy? Is there any emphasis on Trauma Therapy? What other therapeutic methods does the clinical staff use to help patients address some of the issues that are at the root of their addiction and alcoholism?

There are numerous treatment methods and modalities that can be brought to bear on addiction-related issues, but the programs that provide patients with the most benefits often use a combination of them. Remember: It’s not about the substance; it’s about why we continue to use those substances in spite of a growing number of negative consequences, and until we get to the core of that conundrum, anything else is putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

What are the credentials of the staff?

In a 2017 article for the Huffington Post, Stephen Estes — the co-founder and CEO of WeRecover, writes that a good starting point is finding a facility at which the clinical director has at least a master’s degree: “While many sober people without master’s level degrees in behavioral health have opened rehabs and built great programs, more often than not these programs are not evidence-based,” Estes writes. “If you are looking for Alcoholics Anonymous, then go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But rehab should be much more than just the 12 Steps. A solid rehab program should be rooted in evidence-based modalities, and the greatest chance you have of finding a rehab that offers such modalities is to look for a facility whose clinical director has at least a master’s level degree in a relevant field.”

Always remember: It’s OK to ask these questions. You’re not insulting the reputation or the work of any particular facility; if anything, you’re seeking reassurance that the place in which you’re investing your time, money and health is equipped to offer you a fighting chance at staying clean and sober in the long run. If a facility doesn’t have those details readily available on its website, don’t hesitate to inquire about it when you call to gather more information.

Does the facility accept insurance?

If a facility is strictly private pay, you might want to dig a look a little deeper into it. While there are a plethora of addiction treatment options around the country, those that utilize private or government-sponsored health insurance are most likely to use evidence-based treatment models that have a reputable success rate. Insurance companies that offer behavioral health benefits won’t send you to a treatment facility that doesn’t have a quantifiable success rate. Why? Because the whole goal of treatment is to correct addiction and alcoholism, and if an addiction treatment facility is unable to do so, then those companies have to spend more money to get you help.

So what do insurance companies look for in the treatment facilities with which they contract? Typically, a combination of traditional and evidenced-based therapies that give patients the best chance at long-term recovery. Insurance companies require regular updates on their clients, and if those updates don’t show improvement in a patient’s condition — i.e., progress in recovery — then the likelihood that those companies will renew their contracts are slim. Treatment facilities that routinely turn out patients who get clean and sober and stay that way have higher success rates, which obviously makes them more reputable institutions.

Some of the major commercial insurance providers that treatment centers might accept include:

More importantly, many reputable treatment centers have a way for you to fill out insurance verification or pre-certification forms online so that a potential admission is streamlined.

How does a facility rate success?

On the surface, many addiction treatment centers will claim high “success” rates — 80 percent or higher, but those numbers are often qualified. How, for example, does the facility define success? How long do they track patients after discharge? What factors can raise a facility’s success rate?

By and large, the “success” of addiction and alcoholism treatment is contingent on the quality and length of care that a facility provides. Facilities with a broad spectrum of traditional and evidence-based therapies; attention to co-occurring disorders; family counseling; and continuing care programs will more than likely have higher success rates. Those that encourage patients to stay for an optimal amount of time — medical detox, 30 days of residential inpatient treatment, followed by 60 days of Intensive Outpatient — will typically have higher success rates. Facilities that offer Aftercare — support groups open to alumni, who are encouraged to attend and take part in various recovery-related events and activities — will have higher success rates.

At Cornerstone of Recovery, the premier model of “success” can be found in our Aviation and Professionals programs. Clients of those particular treatment tracks are motivated by outside socio-economic factors, but the conditions of their treatment often lead to better results.

“First, they are generally highly motivated for recovery, as their careers depend on their success,” Cornerstone Clinical Director Scott Anderson says. “They usually have many years invested in training for their careers and are compensated well in their professions, so these individuals are motivated to maintain their ability to practice in those fields. These groups also have very strong support systems in place, including ongoing monitoring for drug/alcohol use, mandatory treatment protocols, ongoing involvement with physicians and mental health professionals, structured aftercare programs and strong peer support systems.

“At Cornerstone, we can document success rates in the 85 % to 92 % range for our impaired professionals and airline pilots. We also have high success rates with similar populations where there is support for the full continuum of treatment from detoxification through residential and even extended treatment along with monitoring and ongoing supportive therapy following primary treatment. Our success rates in these populations are in the 80 % range.”

What emphasis is there on physical recovery?

Successful treatment programs that pay equal attention to patients’ physical needs as they do to their emotional needs give those individuals a better chance of success. Does a facility have a Fitness Program? Are patients encouraged to take part in exercise therapy in order to bring wasted or seldom-used muscles back to life? Are they educated about how exercise promotes the release of natural endorphins, which can elevate the moods of addicted and alcoholic minds?

And what about diet? The food served at an addiction treatment center doesn’t have to include filet mignon and lobster, but it can’t be an afterthought, either. Quality treatment facilities provide nourishing meals three times a day so that patients receive proper nutrition and don’t go through their days hungry. Many addicts and alcoholics are malnourished when they come to treatment, and if the whole goal is to return them to better emotional health, then the physical component can’t be overlooked.

How does a facility look and feel?

It may be impossible to tell from pictures on a website or in a brochure, and even video isn’t always an accurate indicator of what a particular facility is like. If it’s possible, call and ask for a tour; any reputable drug and alcohol rehab will be more than willing to show you the campus and discuss the process patients go through while in the facility’s care.

If you can do that, pay attention to what you see and hear. Do other patients seem content? Are people friendly? Is the campus clean and peaceful? Does it feel sterile and clinical, more like a hospital or an institution? Do staff members offer greetings and take the time to answer questions? What are the patient rooms like? What’s the dining hall like? How accommodating does everyone seem to be?

Granted, an hour tour won’t give you the full scope of what a particular treatment center is like, but it may help ease your mind about an admission — for yourself or a loved one.

While there are certainly numerous other factors involved in determining whether a particular facility offers quality treatment, receiving answers to these questions will go a long way in determining whether a rehab is a “good” one or not. Don’t forget, you can always consult the Google reviews or Facebook reviews of a particular organization and see what others have to say as well.

The most important thing is to take your time in deciding on one — but not too much time. Yes, there’s a lot to consider when you’re trusting a provider with changing a life — yours or a loved one’s — but it’s critical that once a decision has been made to seek help, you find that person the assistance they need as expediently as possible.

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