9 Things To Expect In Drug or Alcohol Treatment

By Beth Leipholtz 02/22/16

Going to rehab is anything but predictable. It’s scary, frustrating and confusing, yes – but not predictable.

7 Things To Expect In Treatment

I still remember my first day of outpatient treatment so clearly, to the point that I panic a little bit when I think about it. I drove to the treatment center and literally could not bring myself to get out of my car and walk inside. It took me 20 minutes to walk through those doors, but I finally did. The entire night was every bit as awful as I had anticipated (which may have had to do with my negative attitude). Treatment continued to be awful, until I decided it wasn’t going to be. Once my attitude changed, so did what I got out of those treatment sessions.

Still, while at treatment I had to examine parts of myself that I never had, and be asked questions I’d never thought about. Almost nothing can prepare you for that type of experience apart from just taking the plunge. However, these nine things will give you an idea of what to expect when in treatment.

1. Expect to be uncomfortable. There was a moment literally every time I went to a group session that I felt uncomfortable, especially at first. As time progressed, recovery terminology and conversations became more normal to me, but I still had moments of disbelief. I’d just stop and think, “Am I really here? Is this really happening?” I think that discomfort is a normal part of treatment and recovery. In my experience, it’s never gone completely away. I still confront it occasionally.

2. Expect to second guess your addiction. There were so many times when I thought I had come to terms with having an addiction, then I would turn around and question if I really did. This usually happened when someone else spoke up in group and discussed their active use. I would compare it to mine and wonder if mine was really that bad, if I really had a problem. I sometimes thought it was an overreaction that I was in rehab. As time has passed, I’ve learned that I cannot compare my experience and my addiction to anyone else’s. If it was an issue in my life, that is enough of a reason to be in treatment.

3. Expect to feel embarrassed and ashamed. I don’t think there is any way around these emotions. When confronting mistakes made in addiction, there is almost always shame involved. Shame is a hard emotion to navigate since it often stems from something that happened in the past and cannot be undone, so it seems as if there is no way to combat the emotions stemming from it. In the beginning, I was also ashamed to admit that I was in rehab. I saw it as a weakness and something that people would make judgments about. But today I don’t feel that way. I often talk about my experiences, and I do so with a sense of pride. For me, feeling that shame was an essential part of being able to feel proud of where I am today.

4. Expect to be challenged. It’s the job of the people in the group, as well as the counselors, to call you on your shit. Addicts can recognize lies you tell, since they often have told them themselves. People will tell you when you’re not being honest, when you’re not telling the whole truth, when they think you actively need to be doing more in your recovery. For me, this was the most difficult part of all of treatment. When I wasn’t ready to come to terms with things on my own, I sure as hell wasn’t ready to hear what my problems were from other people. It did the opposite of make me open up – it shut me down. It’s hard to hear your shortcomings from other people, especially strangers, but it’s part of the process.

5. Expect a big bill. Treatment isn’t cheap, even with the aid of insurance. My outpatient treatment alone was $11,000, and after insurance we were still left with about $2,000 to cover. Inpatient treatment is much more expensive, but the exact price really depends on the type of facility where the treatment takes place. Either way, treatment is not cheap.

6. Expect to want to give up. This point isn’t quite so motivational, but it’s realistic. There were moments in treatment where I was just like, “Screw it.” Sometimes I said it out loud and sometimes I didn’t. On certain days the whole process of sobriety just seemed so looming, like I couldn’t possibly achieve that milestone of “recovery” that people talked about. It seemed too hard, too impossible. So I wanted to just give up and go back to life before treatment. But today, I am so glad I pushed through those “screw it” days. I think they are an essential part of everyone’s path because they make you more grateful for the present and how far you’ve come.

7. Expect to meet incredible people. I definitely don’t stay in touch with everyone from treatment, and some have even relapsed and gone back to using. But there are a few people from my time there who I still talk to on occasion. The people in the same situation as you will be the people who you can draw strength from when you lack it, and vice versa. Peer support is an important part of recovery, almost a necessity.

8. But don’t except them to all stay sober. Sadly, many of the people I was in treatment with have relapsed or gone back to using. According to the Los Angeles Times, 40 to 60 percent of people relapse after going through a treatment program. It’s easy to get caught up in other people’s recovery and think you could have done more, but in the end you need to worry about your own sobriety.

9. Expect to change. After all, the whole point of going to treatment is to put a stop to a toxic behavior. But when I say change, I meant it in a bigger way than that. While in treatment, I began thinking about the world differently. Things that were said or taught there had a way of sneaking into my mind while I went about everyday tasks. Where before I had been someone private and closed off, I found myself opening up to people around me and sharing my story willingly, even with people who were not in recovery. I became happy again. I learned to like the person I was becoming. Coming into treatment, I didn’t want to change. Now I couldn’t imagine still being that sad, uncomfortable person. I’ve changed for the better. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.