8 strategies to optimize your time in treatment, and make long-term recovery more likely.
Going into treatment for substance use is not easy. It can be scary and intimidating, there are a lot of unknowns, and many things about it are not under your control. In the end, it’s a leap of faith, and we don’t tend to enjoy leaps of faith.
But the worst of it may be that niggling doubt: Is this even going to work?
Follow this advice, and chances are good that it will.
1. Taking the plunge
I normally recommend residential treatment to those who are struggling with addiction, as opposed to a less intensive form of treatment such as outpatient. Why? For these four reasons:
- You get a critical break from your home situation, which may be exacerbating your drug or alcohol challenges in ways you don’t even realize. Rehab takes you out of that situation and places you in an environment where you can focus on getting better.
- You’ll receive comprehensive medical care that you don’t get in an outpatient setting. This can help identify conditions that often accompany chronic drug or alcohol use, such as liver disease or high blood pressure.
- You’ll be examined and treated for mental health conditions that may be present. These may include depression, trauma, anxiety disorder, other mood disorders, and so on. Sorting this out will likely make your addiction recovery a lot easier and more long lasting.
- You’ll get the time and focus you need to develop coping mechanisms and healthy living strategies that can last a lifetime.
2. Surrender, but remain engaged
This means going into treatment willing to give up control, yet nevertheless staying engaged day-to-day in your recovery. In addiction treatment, we sometimes see people who come into rehab and fight us on everything. They don’t want to have a blood screening. They don’t want to sign a release so we can share information with their family. They don’t want to get psychiatric testing.
I understand the impulse entirely. It can be a very disorienting thing to go to rehab, and the natural response for some people is to try and control their environment. However, this is not going to help you get better.
As for the engagement part, it’s so important to take an active part in your recovery. That means speaking up in group sessions when you’re called on. Staying attentive during guest presentations. Listening. Learning. Sharing. Contributing.
Again, this is not always easy. Some days you’ll want to crawl into your shell and hide, and that’s fine, that’s normal. Just be determined to re-engage the next day.
3. Be Truthful
Being truthful about your situation and why you’re in treatment is vital for a successful rehab. If you’re not truthful about your drug or alcohol use, and about the factors and context around that use, no therapist, medical doctor, or psychologist on Earth will be able to help guide you. (That includes our staff at Lakeview Health.) Spinning tales and engaging in deception will only hold you back in the end.
I suggest this: When it’s time to start treatment at any level of care—whether that’s rehab, outpatient, PHP, or anything else—bite the bullet and be resolved to let it all out, no matter how humbling or embarrassing it feels. Once you get going on the honesty track, it gets easier, you’ll feel better and more relaxed, and you will get better results.
4. Be respectful of your peers—and learn from them
Very few people want to be in rehab (at least at first), no one feels all that good about it (at least at first!), and your self-esteem will likely be in the dumps. So it’s easy to take all that out on your peers—and vice versa. All I can say about that is, try to stay positive and patient with yourself and with them. Treat others as you deserve and expect to be treated, and things will go much better for everyone.
Also, your peers can be an amazing resource of knowledge and experience. And empathy! Because of what they know and what they’ve been through, they can play a key role in your recovery—if you let them. Take advantage of that by keeping them on your side. Try to be kind.
5. Make Use of the Resources Available
Alongside the medical care, group and individual therapy, and peer support you’ll receive, treatment centers like Lakeview Health offer so many other things that can speed and strengthen your recovery efforts. Things like mindfulness and meditation classes. Nutrition counseling. Music and art therapy.
Oftentimes, residential settings also include exercise programs and gym equipment, and most will urge their patients to use them frequently. If you think that just sounds like Club Med frivolousness, think again. Recent research found that when people in recovery did vigorous exercise (fast walking, swimming, cycling, running) for 30 to 45 minutes three times a week, their brain chemistry recovered more quickly from the effects of chronic drug and alcohol use.
I see it this way: How many times in life do you get the opportunity to spend this much time on yourself with the sole purpose of getting healthy in mind and body? That is not something to feel guilty about when you’re in rehab. Rather, it’s something to take full advantage of and to celebrate.
6. Engage with your family.
Many residential treatment centers offer family visits (remote and onsite), family therapy, and family weekends. Lakeview Health certainly does. I urge you to take advantage of these as they can be extremely useful for patients and families.
You’re hesitant? I get it, these sessions can be intense. When you’re in rehab, you often feel a lot of guilt about what you’ve put your family through. And they have probably put you through some things as well.
My advice: Put all that aside and make these family sessions work for you. Addiction truly is a family disease, and it isn’t fair to shut your loved ones out of the therapy. You will benefit from it as well.
- Gaining knowledge: Just as you will, your family will learn a lot about addiction. This will help them deal with it better, and make them better able to support your recovery once you leave rehab.
- Coming to terms: Under the supervision of therapists, sessions at rehab are the perfect time for everyone to explain, apologize, seek clarity, forgive, get things off your chest, and so on. In this controlled environment, there’s less chance of things turning into a free-for-all, and a greater likelihood of constructive conversation. That can bring long-term results.
- Creating a gameplan: Once the addiction-related context, key issues, and family dynamics are out on the table during a family therapy session, everyone is better equipped to make things work going forward.
7. Take the time, do it right, learn everything you can
People come into rehab at different stages of addiction, they respond differently, they heal at different rates, and so on, but the general rule is the longer the stay in rehab, the longer the recovery you can expect to have. In short: longer is better.
My recommendation is for you to do everything in your power to stay as long as you need to. Most of the time, that will be longer than you thought it was going to be.
Bottom line regarding your length of stay:
- Your brain and body need time to recover.
- You need to identify and get a handle on any underlying physical or mental conditions you may have (both are common among people with SUD).
- You need to talk about and receive feedback on all the issues around your addiction.
- You need to acquire dependable coping skills that will see you through to long-term recovery.
All of that takes time. Be patient. And be honest with yourself about when it’s truly time to leave.
8. Be open to aftercare planning from Day One
Going to addiction treatment is a fantastic step, and I applaud everyone who does it. It’s a positive move, it works if you work it, and it can set you up for a happy, healthy, productive life as you finally put your active addiction in the rearview mirror.
But the harder, more important work happens after you leave treatment.
That’s why aftercare planning is so important. An aftercare plan is what you take with you when you leave rehab. The best aftercare plans are like detailed blueprints that show you how to navigate your life once you’re back with your family, friends, job, daily routine, and responsibilities.
With a detailed aftercare plan, you’ll know which doctor you need to see where and when, where your therapist appointment is on Wednesdays, where the local Nar-Anon meetings are, how to do a better job of budgeting your money each month, all of it. A Life in Recovery blueprint.
The key to a successful aftercare plan is to work closely with your aftercare coordinator or outplacement counselor to fill in all those details. Your focused, honest input is vital.
Once again, going to rehab can be scary and disorienting. But if you go in with an honest, positive, respectful, can-do mindset, it’s amazing what you will accomplish while you’re there—and for years afterward.