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What's Wrong with Addiction Rehab: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

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pitfalls-addiction-rehabIt’s no secret that the addiction rehab space is riddled with problems: "Counselors with little education and less oversight are using outdated and sometimes harmful techniques; there are no national standards for credentialing or training counselors and most treatment centers, even those with extensive financial resources, do not always use best practices.”


These strong statements are from author Anne Fletcher. In her book Inside Rehab, Fletcher reveals the good and the bad state of care in addiction rehab facilities.

Here are the most common programmatic pitfalls seen in modern-day addiction rehab. We’ll show you why these conventions are problematic and suggest positive alternatives. 

Pitfall #1: Typical Addiction Recovery Programs Are Full of Distractions

If you’ve been researching an addiction recovery program, you’ve probably seen some appealing marketing campaigns. Luxury programs boast about their infinity pools, oceanfront views, spa-like amenities and celebrity attedees.

But what if those so-called perks actually detract from addressing the core of addiction?

In vacation-oriented programs, participants will go from a volleyball game to a massage to an evening 12-Step meeting. However, these recreational activities represent a procrastination from the real emotional work required for healing.

Additionally, some addiction rehab programs extend the length of participants’ stays unnecessarily. In most 90-day addiction recovery programs, there’s a great deal of “padding” in the calendar.

People pay a lot of money for 90-day inpatient rehabs, and in return they may be largely paying for spa-type luxuries or, at worst, glorified babysitting…neither of which contribute to a strong success rate for recovery.

Pitfall #2: Typical Addiction Recovery Programs Lack Focus for Real Work

Though you may have a lot of fun in luxury addiction rehabs, you probably won't have much time scheduled to work with licensed professional counselors to address the core issues that fuel your addictions.

Participants may head home rested and suntanned, but without significant emotional progress or healing.

The real issue in residential addiction treatment is not the length of time spent on-site. Rather, the essential question is: does the addiction recovery program help to heal the underlying issues that leads people to turn to substances for relief?

Research shows that certain addiction treatment modalities are much more effective than others.

For example, take the contrast between peer-based and professional treatment programs. While laymen-led groups do offer helpful opportunities to connect with supportive peers, often the leaders of these groups lack the skills and training necessary to address deeper emotional issues.

Pitfall #3: Typical Addiction Recovery Programs Have Loose Admission Standards

addiction-rehab-pitfallsSimply put, many addiction rehab programs are seeking to keep beds filled. Their unspoken business model is “as many people as possible for as long as possible.”

As a result of this “more, more, more” mentality, admission standards are very lax.

Often addiction recovery programs will welcome anyone who wants to come for any reason. While on the surface this may seem like a good idea, the reality is that people have plenty of motivations for coming to rehab … and not all of them are conducive to real recovery.

Some people are driven to go to rehab because of ultimatums set down by their loved ones, so they go because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t.

And some people just want an escape from their problems, or a chance to enjoy spa amenities or hook up.

Others are simply going to addiction rehab in order to get out of trouble with the law. If their rehab stay is court-ordered, they may check the box and fulfill the requirement without a real desire to heal.

In short, some people aren’t intrinsically motivated to do the work, which detracts from the experience of those who are really interested in healing.

Pitfall #4: Typical Addiction Recovery Programs Lack Continuity

In many addiction rehabs you’ll see a revolving door as people start and end treatment at all different times. Once again, the reason for this lack of continuity is not because it’s helpful to those already in the addiction program, but because the rehabs themselves make more money that way.

If facilities maintain open, rolling admissions, they stand a better chance of keeping all beds filled at all times and billing accordingly.

But their participants pay the price.

When people enter and leave frequently, it’s highly disruptive. Programs that intake and discharge clients daily create a distracting and disjointed experience.

Pitfall #5: Typical Addiction Recovery Programs Rely on the 12-Steps

Since 12-Step treatment is the industry standard in addiction rehab, you’ll find plenty of programs that shuttle participants to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings.

Though many people have been helped by these groups, the overall effectiveness of 12 Step programs has been called into question in a number of studies.

As we wrote in our blog post 12 Steps vs Non 12 Step Rehab: Making the Right Choice in Addiction Treatment, “For many years, 12 Steps based recovery was the only option for individuals seeking alcoholism or addiction treatment. That history influences its ubiquity today … [But] published success rates of 12 Step programs can be as low as 5-10%.”

That said, it’s difficult for an industry that has done “business as usual” for 75-plus years to try new approaches, even if these approaches are evidence-based.

For example, research shows that going to meetings does not constitute effective treatment for individuals with dual diagnosis (a mental health concern coupled with substance abuse).

Changing protocol means a departure from what is known; it represents a step into unfamiliar territory. But since the status quo isn’t working, it’s time for change.

Another Approach to Addiction Recovery

After reading this list, you may be thinking, “These pitfalls are everywhere! How am I supposed to find a program that does things differently?”

While it can be difficult to find a rehab program that delivers on its promises, don’t be discouraged. A few facilities really do support lasting recovery. And when you know what to look for, you dramatically increase your chances of finding what you need.

We don’t claim to be the “one and only” solution for every person dealing with addiction. However, we’re often a good fit for people who have tried other typical addiction recovery programs and found them lacking.

In fact, The Clearing was created from day one to be a completely different approach to traditional rehab:
  • We provide a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere without spa-type amenities and vacation-oriented distractions.
  • Our schedule doesn’t have “filler” time; everything is purposeful. Our program includes 120+ hours of individualized professional counseling for each person.
  • We have rigorous admission criteria; in fact, we only end up working with less than 20% of individuals who contact us to request admission.
  • Our program is cohort-based; everybody starts and ends at the same time, and we only welcome a maximum of 10 people for a given session.
  • The Clearing is a Non 12-Step facility: we're based on a holistic approach that promotes healing on all four levels of self (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual).

If you'd like to learn more about our approach to addiction treatment, we invite you to download our free eBook, Healing Underlying Core Issues. 

Download eBook:  Healing Underlying Core Issues

Caroline McGraw

This post was written by Caroline McGraw

In addition to her work as "the voice of The Clearing", Caroline Garnet McGraw writes about trading perfectionism for possibility at A Wish Come Clear. Visit and receive your free Perfectionist Recovery Toolkit today!

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