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What to Expect When You Enter Rehab

I went into rehab to save my marriage, but I wound up saving myself." - Michael Douglas

What is Rehab?

Entering rehab can be an intimidating, but necessary step in the addiction journey. When outpatient interventions have failed and the substance abuse has persisted or resumed following a period of attempted abstinence, more intense treatment is often necessary. So what is rehab exactly? For many, rehabilitation programs prove the ideal environment to focus on the physical, psychological, and social aspects of healing. Without the distractions and demands of day-to-day life, rehab can provide the perfect kick-start to a successful, long-term recovery.

Cost, geographical location, and treatment offerings can all play a role in where an addict receives services. There are, however, some elements to the inpatient recovery process that are fairly universal:


If you enter rehab when you are actively abusing substances, your body will experience a period of detox. Merriam-Webster defines detox as the removal of “a harmful or intoxicating substance from someone or something.” This timeframe during which your body rids itself of drugs or alcohol varies greatly in severity and duration. At times, the process requires medical monitoring and licensed facilities will have the appropriate resources available. For others, however, the symptoms are uncomfortable, but require no intervention from the medical staff.

The withdrawal symptoms that surface during the detox process present quite differently from person to person based on the length of the addiction, the substances used, the health status of the addicted individual, and the quantity of drugs or alcohol that were being abused.

I had been drinking since I was 12 or 13-years-old, and I actually managed okay as a pretty heavy drinker my whole life. One night, my son died in a car accident. Over a few days, I drank myself into a stupor. To this day, I don’t remember his funeral. When I realized I didn’t remember it, I was completely disgusted with myself and sought treatment. In recovery, I am now a present father to my two little girls, my wife, and the memory of my son. - Stanley, College Professor

The Therapeutic Program

After getting through the detox process, you will be introduced to the specifics of your program. Typical inpatient stays average 28 days, but there are exceptions. Standard schedules at a rehab facility incorporate:

Individual Therapy ­– In individual therapy sessions, you will be given the opportunity to process the intricacies of your addiction. As you process the psychological, physical, and social implications of your diagnosis, you’ll also explore healthy coping strategies to ensure long-term success. You and your therapist will formulate individualized goals for treatment that contain measurable and achievable outcomes.

Group Therapy – The group therapy experience will vary greatly from one treatment facility to another, but is considered an integral part of the recovery process. Receiving support and feedback from those that have navigated similar struggles often serves as a turning point in treatment. Regardless of whether your rehab facility utilizes a 12-step approach or an alternative treatment modality, you will likely engage in a minimum of one group session a day.

Family Therapy – Most treatment programs encourage family involvement at some point in the rehabilitation process. Often called “family meetings,” these sessions are facilitated by a treatment professional with hopes of encouraging healthier communication and family dynamics. In addition to highlighting the progress being made in treatment, these sessions also provide loved ones with invaluable education regarding the implications of aftercare. By clearly defining family roles and boundaries before you reintegrate into day-to-day life, a great deal of stress can be alleviated.

Psychiatric Care/Medication Management – If you present with co-occurring disorders (ie-mental health diagnoses in addition to the addiction), appropriate medical care will be provided. Likely, an initial psychiatric evaluation will be completed to confirm the presence of a dual diagnosis and the prescribing doctor will determine if medication is indicated. Medication use will be closely monitored throughout the rehab stay.

“Seeking treatment was not easy for me. I was a classic ‘in denial’ addict. As a stay-at-home mom, I drank wine all day, but nothing really seemed to be wrong. One day, my teenager daughter and husband had a mini-intervention with me. I felt so embarrassed and guilty. I think I was drinking because I was lonely and a bit depressed. However, the community I’ve found in recovery and through AA has been incredibly supportive. I’ve regained my happiness and heath.” -Victoria, Stay-at-Home Mother

Possible Program Options

As addiction treatment grows more individualized, many programs are adopting a holistic approach to recovery. Facilities across the United States now offer:

Art and Journaling Therapy – A growing body of evidence suggests that art and journaling can be profoundly therapeutic. Many facilities now offer group and individual sessions that incorporate creativity and artistic self-expression.

Meditation – Long since embraced by Eastern cultures as a form of healing from suffering, meditation has made its way West. With an emphasis on presence and self-acceptance, regular meditation is proven to reduce stress levels and encourage healthier lifestyles.

Biofeedback – This method involves connecting electrodes to various parts of your body in an effort to monitor stress responses. By noting these fluctuations in the presence of a trained professional, immediate suggestions can be made for reducing stress levels and achieving greater control over the brain. Typical interventions include relaxation breathing, visualization, and meditation which, through the course of treatment, will ideally become your “go-to” response in stressful scenarios.

Nutritional Education – Health, fitness, and nutrition are essential considerations during the recovery process. Years of substance abuse takes a tremendous toll on the body, and in addition to the emotional “repairs” that must occur, equal attention should be paid to the physical healing process. Many rehab facilities now incorporate physical self-care into the treatment planning process.

Yoga – If you wish to incorporate elements of both mindfulness and fitness into the recovery regime, yoga proves the perfect option. A time-tested practice, yoga carries countless benefits that range from stress reduction to physical strengthening.

“My identity shifted when I got into recovery. That’s who I am now, and it actually gives me greater pleasure to have that identity than to be a musician or anything else, because it keeps me in a manageable size.” - Eric Clapton, Musician

Planning for Aftercare

While great strides can be made in the rehabilitation setting, it is essential to create a comprehensive aftercare plan that encourages continued progress. As the inpatient program winds down, the treatment team will work with you (and in many cases your family) to secure a comprehensive discharge plan. Recommendations may range from sober living houses to intensive outpatient programming.

Deciding to enter rehab is a difficult decision. Enlisting support from your loved ones as you explore the wide variety of treatment offerings will make the process feel less daunting. If you’ve experienced minimal success through outpatient programs or simply sense that you would benefit from a more focused and intensive therapeutic experience, it’s time to start researching your options. Rest assured, you can individualize this process and participate actively in the formation of your treatment goals. Albeit a scary step, enrolling in the right rehab program could lead you to the healthy life that you deserve.

“From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem like I had it all. It was actually a very lonely time for me because I was suffering from alcoholism…I’ve been the lead in movies, on television shows and nominated for an Emmy. But the best thing I can say about me is that people who can’t stop drinking come up to me and say, ‘Can you help me?’ And I can say, ‘Yes.’” -Matthew Perry, Actor

jen-anderson-addiction-counselorJen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.


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