30-Day Addiction Treatment Is Not Enough

We need to begin the discussion about 30-day addiction treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and why thirty days isn’t enough time for long-term effective and lasting sobriety. There is a saying, “We don’t get sick overnight, and we don’t get better overnight either.”

Personal Experience with 30-Day Treatment

I admitted myself into a thirty-day treatment center In California. I had not drawn a sober breath in two and half years. Not only had I on a daily basis pumped my body full of alcohol, Xanax, Adderall, Vyvanse, Cocaine, Marijuana, Clonazepam, Dextroamphetamine, Valium, Vicodin, OxyContin, and Ecstasy, I also had not slept or eaten in two and a half years.

Mentally, I was spun out, emotionally I was bankrupt, and I physically was on the verge of dying. I was delusional, malnourished, sleep deprived, financially bankrupt, traumatized and confused. The first thirty days were about stabilization. I was pumped full of vitamins and supplements, and I was fed three healthy meals a day. I slept 8 hours a night and returned to some semblance of normalcy.

30-Day Treatment Success Rates

Clinical studies show that 30-day treatment centers only offer a success rate of about 10% after one year. According to researchers, within 3-4 months after staying in rehab, those who attempt to gain sobriety return to using a substance.

I was terrified when I began to approach the end of my thirty-day stay. Even though I was feeling better and hadn’t had a drink or a drug in 30 days, I knew it wasn’t enough time to keep me from relapsing. The first week I spent detoxing. The second week I re-learned necessary human skills and the third week I was able to sit through groups without having panic attacks.

The fourth week I spent worrying about my aftercare plans. Thirty days was not enough time to learn and implement the skills I would have to master to stay sober, nor was this enough time to deal with trauma I had experienced when I was using or build a community that would support me as I journeyed through sobriety. The one thing I learned in residential was that I couldn’t get sober on my own and I couldn’t stay sober on my own…so why were they releasing me after only 30 days?

Falling Into Old Habits After Treatment

I knew that if I returned to my old haunts and surrounded myself with old friends, it would be a matter of hours at best before I fell back into old habits. I would have driven to the pot shop or paid a visit to my old psychiatrist and filled a prescription, fooling myself into thinking that maybe this time I wouldn’t abuse my pills or perhaps this time I wouldn’t drink. So many people relapse moments after they leave residential treatment. Why is that? Why is it that insurance companies have gotten to the point where they only cover 28 days, usually less of residential treatment? Why have treatment centers become a revolving door for addicts and alcoholics? If we stand behind the belief that we are helping people, why do we seem to set them up to fail?

The Importance of Residential Treatment

Residential was a necessity for me. I needed to be locked away, protected, treated, healed back to life, but residential only played a small part in my recovery. It took me two and half years of daily using to get as sick as I was. By the time I got out of residential treatment, I still couldn’t formulate full sentences, and my thoughts were still fragmented and confusing. I was paranoid, anxious and scared. I was afraid of relapsing, and I was frightened of sobriety.

Around the 30-35th day of sobriety, the addict’s brain begins to enter post-acute withdrawal. Symptoms vary from person to person but include anhedonia and dysthymia. Anhedonia is the technical term used to characterize the inability to feel pleasure. Dysthymia is the technical term used to describe a consistent, low-grade form of depression. Alcoholics, methamphetamine addicts, and heroin users all struggle with the same problems. Anhedonia and dysthymia last for around three months following getting clean.

Why Long-Term Treatment is Necessary

It took six months for the cravings for speed to dissipate. If I hadn’t been living in structured sober living and attended intensive outpatient, I would have given into those cravings. I made many mistakes in early sobriety, but because of the aftercare treatment I had, I survived and stayed sober through every one of those mistakes. My aftercare treatment was where the real recovery began for me. I found a community of like-minded people who were in it for the long run like myself. I was able to get one on one therapy where I dove into underlying issues that contributed to my disease. I was able to join the work-force again, and I was ready to begin paying off my debts, I was able to get a sponsor and start working the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous.

I am an impatient, impulsive, stubborn and arrogant person. I want the quick fix to everything. I want to feel better immediately, I expect my life to bloom out of the charcoal and debris I burned it down into, and I want what I want, and I want it now. I tried to buy into the fantasy that a 30-day stint in a luxury residential treatment center would fix all my problems at once and I would be healthy, gorgeous and unstoppable. But, the healing process takes time. A lot of time. And a lot of patience. And a lot of humility, open-mindedness, and willingness. These qualities require time to cultivate, nurture and grow.

Having the Right Peer Group is Key

I have the gift of seeing from the other side now. I get to see people come into addiction treatment, just like me, and think they can jump back into the work-force, or start dating again or return to school. They’ll say they just finished a 28-day program and only need outpatient once a week. These people almost always end up relapsing. In my experience, it takes a minimum of a year of consistent, structured, intensive treatment to build a strong and lasting foundation for recovery.

It is crucial that we begin this discussion and begin the process to lift the veil on what real recovery requires and entails so that we can save lives and help people instead of tossing clients through a brutal revolving door.

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