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Do I need rehab first?


Do I really need rehab first? Can I just go to AA, NA or CA?

I went to three different rehab programs before I got sober. I went to group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma resolution, anger management, and family therapy. I saw psychiatrists, psychologists, acupuncturists, addiction counselors, life coaches, and social workers.  I acted out my feelings in psychodrama. I made collages in art. I learned to salsa.

And still, I got high; again and again.

I learned that this isn’t that uncommon in addicts and alcoholics. My three trips to rehab seemed modest in comparison with a lot of the people I was “in” with. On my second day at my third rehab center, I met a guy who at 19 years old was in his thirteenth treatment center. Many addicts get locked into an expensive cycle of detox, rehabs, and outpatient treatment that’s largely ineffective.

For me, what changed is that I changed what I did when I got out of rehab. I went to a halfway house. I got a sponsor. I worked the steps. I went to outpatient treatment.

So the short answer is no, you do not really need to go to rehab first. I’ve met plenty of addicts and alcoholics in the rooms who never had to shell out $30,000 for an inpatient treatment center. They went to meetings, worked the steps, and they stayed sober.

However, that doesn’t mean that treatment is a waste of time. For me, it was absolutely essential. The last time I was in treatment, I was coming off of Suboxone, a long-acting opiate. For the first 18 days, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I wanted to die. If I had not been in treatment, I would’ve definitely gone back to using, just to relieve the discomfort and that process would’ve been a lot worse without the detox meds. Also, convincing me to get sober in the first place would’ve been next to impossible without the promise of medication to ease some of the withdrawal symptoms I knew were coming.

I also met a lot of other addicts in treatment. There were the ones in treatment with me, and the ones I met at outside meetings the treatment center brought us too. When I got out of treatment, I already knew people who had more sober time than me and I was familiar with meetings in the area. It made the transition a lot easier.

Rehab bought me sober time, which was a valuable gift in the beginning. I was in a safe, regulated environment where it would’ve been really difficult for me to get my hands on drugs or alcohol. For this, I will be eternally grateful, because those first 90 days were some of the hardest. The cravings were still there, and the emotional ups and downs may have caused me to relapse in a less secure environment. Using wasn’t an option in rehab, though, so I had to start practicing dealing with life without drugs.

That is the truth gift of going to rehab before trying to work any program. You learn to stay sober and cope with all your problems.

Rehab also reminded me of the gravity of using. Being there kept me constantly aware that I was damaged enough to need treatment. Whenever I would hear that voice in my head telling me I could probably drink normally, the stark reality of my situation would hit me. Would someone who could drink normally end up in three different treatment centers? I don’t think so.

If you or someone you know needs treatment for Alcohol or Drug Addiction please call us at 800-951-6135 or visit us online at

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