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‘Will rehab help me?’ The burning treatment consideration question

will rehab help me

By the time an individual with a drinking or drug problem reaches the point of willingness to call a treatment center, they only have a single question they’re begging to be answered: “Will rehab help me?”

Most of the time, these individuals are desperate, frightened and feeling hopeless. Their relationships have deteriorated, their jobs are gone, their health is in jeopardy and they’ve likely tried any number of other ways to get sober and stay that way, until to go back to drinking or using. With that in mind, they approach the possibility of addiction and alcoholism treatment with equal measures of hope and skepticism.

In other words, rehab is the last house on the block, and while they have doubts it will do any good considering every other effort they’ve made hasn’t resulted in abstinence, they have nothing else to lose, and they’re ready to give it a chance in the last, desperate hope that it will.

If you or someone you know is asking, “will rehab help me?,” know this: It can. With some effort on your part, it will. But there’s more to it than just quitting.

‘Will Rehab Help Me?’ What Is It?

If you’re asking “will rehab help me?,” in order to understand it, it’s important to determine what rehab is. You may be familiar with the terminology, but unless you’ve been to treatment in the past, your frame of reference is probably shaped by what you’ve seen on TV or in the movies. But while “28 Days” may make for a lovely redemption story, you shouldn’t base your opinion of treatment on what Sandra Bullock experienced in it.

According to the organization Start Your Recovery, “‘Rehab’ is a general term for intensive, supervised programs designed to help people stop using drugs or alcohol and give them the tools they need to live a healthy life. Rehab can help you or someone you love step down from addiction safely and stay sober after detox.”

It’s important to understand, however, that “the length and form of treatment varies, based on your personal situation and dependence on drugs or alcohol. No single treatment works for everyone. It’s important to figure out if rehab is right for you and then choose a program that meets your needs.” Furthermore, the organization goes on to point out, “Rehab isn’t just about getting off drugs or alcohol. Therapy is the key to long-term success. Most rehab programs include therapy — both in groups and individually — along with counseling, which can help patients improve their relationships with loved ones. Therapy will also give you tools to figure out and overcome the triggers that lead you to drink or use drugs.”

By this point, you’re probably thinking, “wait … therapy? Counseling? I just want to know will rehab help me!” That’s a completely justified response, but to understand why these components of addiction and alcoholism treatment are necessary, you’ve got to first understand what these drinking and drugs have done to your brain. The National Institute of Health puts it this way: “A healthy brain rewards healthy behaviors … by switching on brain circuits that make you feel wonderful, which then motivates you to repeat those behaviors. In contrast, when you’re in danger, a healthy brain pushes your body to react quickly with fear or alarm, so you’ll get out of harm’s way. If you’re tempted by something questionable … the front regions of your brain can help you decide if the consequences are worth the actions.

“But when you’re becoming addicted to a substance, that normal hardwiring of helpful brain processes can begin to work against you. Drugs or alcohol can hijack the pleasure/reward circuits in your brain and hook you into wanting more and more. Addiction can also send your emotional danger-sensing circuits into overdrive, making you feel anxious and stressed when you’re not using the drugs or alcohol. At this stage, people often use drugs or alcohol to keep from feeling bad rather than for their pleasurable effects. To add to that, repeated use of drugs can damage the essential decision-making center at the front of the brain. This area, known as the prefrontal cortex, is the very region that should help you recognize the harms of using addictive substances.”

In other words, your brain is compromised. Drugs have messed with the wiring, so to speak, and unfortunately, it’s not as easy a fix as taking medicine to rewire it correctly. That’s where therapy comes in, and if you’re wondering, “Will rehab help me?,” that’s how it will do so.

So How Will Rehab Help Me?

will rehab help me“I’m asking will rehab help me, not about therapy!” Duly noted, but the latter is a large part of the former. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that everything you do in treatment is a form of therapy, from fitness therapy in the gym to activity therapy on a ropes course to lectures on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other processes to intense sessions with loved ones in family therapy.

Why? Because it works! Consider what the experts say:

  • Writing for Psychiatric Times in 2011, Hasse Karlsson wrote that “so far, nearly 20 studies on brain changes after psychotherapy for depression, anxiety disorders, and borderline personality disorder have been published … drawn together, these system level studies suggest that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectic behavior therapy (DBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy alter brain function in patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD).”
  • A 2017 study published in Translational Psychiatry, according to Forbes, “suggests that people who have cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) have measurable changes in the way certain regions of the brain are connected … this is the latest in a growing body of evidence suggesting that talk therapy not only has significant and lasting effects on mental health, but that these changes can actually be measured in the brain.”
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), therapy as part of addiction and alcoholism treatment is vital: “Behavioral approaches help engage people in drug abuse treatment, provide incentives for them to remain abstinent, modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse, and increase their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues that may trigger intense craving for drugs and prompt another cycle of compulsive abuse.”
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) goes on to add that the most common therapeutic environment found in a treatment facility may even be more effective than one-on-one counseling: “The natural propensity of human beings to congregate makes group therapy a powerful therapeutic tool for treating substance abuse, one that is as helpful as individual therapy, and sometimes more successful. One reason for this efficacy is that groups intrinsically have many rewarding benefits — such as reducing isolation and enabling members to witness the recovery of others — and these qualities draw clients into a culture of recovery. Another reason groups work so well is that they are suitable especially for treating problems that commonly accompany substance abuse, such as depression, isolation, and shame.”

In other words, therapy — and all of its various components — is at the heart of an effective drug and alcohol treatment program. Furthermore, if you’re asking “will rehab help me?,” you need to understand that the help you need for a drug or drinking problem most certainly needs to include something besides just safely weaning you off of those substances in a medical detox setting.

Understanding the Difference Between Abstinence and Recovery

In understanding what rehab can do, it should be understood that when we discuss addiction or alcoholism — or substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD), to use more medically and scientifically accurate terms — we’re talking about diseases. As previously mentioned, it causes observable biological changes in the brain, just like other illnesses cause observable changes in other parts of the body.

And as the University of Pennsylvania Health System points out, addiction and a disease like diabetes have some things in common, “Can diabetes be cured? No. It can be managed successfully with proper treatment. But treatment is lifelong. It’s chronic, it’s progressive, it’s characterized by relapses … and if untreated or mistreated, it can and will result in death … addiction is no different.”

Rehab is the first stage of treatment — through education of those afflicted by an AUD or SUD, and by the motivational constructs that become a building block for maintaining recovery after rehab is complete, according to a 2002 article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs: “Clients in treatment are often ambivalent about quitting substance use, especially early on. Identifying important life domains and assessing the deleterious effects of substance use in these areas may hasten or strengthen the decision to become abstinent.”

In other words, group therapy lets you know you’re not alone. It gives you a community of peers who deconstruct the delusion of uniqueness from which so many addicts and alcoholics suffer. (“How will rehab help me? Nobody understands what I’ve gone through or what I’ve done!”) Therapy helps address life traps, traumas and other stuck points for which alcohol and drugs have become a panacea. And a new way of life is introduced that will hopefully be built upon once treatment is complete.

It’s not always guaranteed — the human brain, and more importantly the decision-making process that’s still somewhat compromised, even after 30 days of treatment, can quickly fall back into old patterns and habits, as that Journal of Psychoactive Drugs article points out: “Later on in recovery, there is a risk of believing one is recovered and testing that by having ‘just one’ substance use episode. While some individuals in recovery may be able to return to controlled substance use, many are not. Therapists should work with clients on keeping in mind the potential consequences of any future substance use.”

There’s that word again: therapy. But change is inevitable, even with a drug or alcohol problem. If you’re asking “will rehab help me?,” then obviously you know you need help. And hopefully, your problem isn’t so bad that your life is in complete ruins. But if it’s gotten to the point that you’re ready to go to addiction or alcoholism treatment, or you’re at least considering it, then it’s getting to that point. Will rehab help you? Most likely, but given what you’ve already lost because of alcohol and drugs, what could possibly be the harm in seeing for yourself?