Why Treatment For Addiction Doesn’t Work For Some Addicts

By Patrick O’Neil

For a high percentage of addicts their journey of recovery—quitting drugs and getting and staying sober—is a long and sometimes difficult process. For many of them their addiction has thoroughly disrupted their lives, causing serious consequences, possibly impaired their health, and alienated family, friends, and loved ones. Yet even in the face of all that they still may be struggling with committing to sobriety. In their minds using is still a viable option for dealing with all their problems. But addiction is not the solution. According to the Huffington Post, “Avoiding your fears and your problems through the use of drugs and alcohol are not the answers. Eventually, you will have no choice but to confront your fears and stresses. Save yourself the time and heartache and confront your problems now rather than later.

Seeking help and entering treatment for addiction is that “now rather than later.” But taking the first step and asking for help can be daunting. The idea of entering treatment can be confusing and fearful because the addict doesn’t know what recovery really means. Some addicts come to treatment expecting someone else to fix them. They want to be free from all the drama and suffering their addiction has caused, but do not want to put in the necessary hard work. Just like taking a drug they want treatment to be that immediate relief from their fears, problems, and stress. But treatment for addiction doesn’t work that way. It’s up to the addict to actively engage in their own recovery—and that takes time, effort, and commitment. 

Here are some of the reasons why treatment for addiction doesn’t work for some addicts.  

Lack of Participation: The old saying, “you get what you put in,” is especially true when it comes to treatment. Individual and group therapy only works if the addict is actively participating. Talking about their issues is key to addressing why they continue to use drugs despite the consequences. Trauma, abuse, dysfunctional families, depression, anxiety, and problematic childhoods can be contributing factors as to why the addict uses drugs. But if they don’t talk about their issues then it is very hard for therapy to help. According to Medical News Today, “In order for [therapy] to work, the person must be actively engaged and work during the session as well as between sessions. [Therapy] can create a new way of looking at difficult problems, and help people move towards a solution.” If the addict doesn’t participate in their recovery then treatment is not going to work.   

Not Willing To Commit Enough Time For Treatment: Staying in treatment until the addict is ready to transition back into a daily routine is paramount to staying sober. “There was a belief that 30 days was the right number,” says addiction psychiatrist Dr. David Sack, “But there was absolutely no data to say 30 days was the right number.” A recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that, “35% of people who were in treatment for 90 days or fewer reported drug use the following year compared with 17% of people who were in treatment for 90 days or longer.” Addressing the deep-seated issues that cause the addict to use takes time and if they are not willing to commit enough time then treatment will not work. 

No Support System: The majority of addicts do not have healthy and supportive relationships. They seek out the company of other addicts and avoid those that would help them to get sober. According to The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, “home and community are two major components that support a life of sobriety for individuals in addiction recovery. Home being a “stable and safe place to live” and community “having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.” One of the greatest struggles addicts in treatment face is continuing to be involved with other actively using addicts and returning to unsafe environments. Leaving all their old associates can be a lonely undertaking and suddenly having to make new sober friends and rebuild relationships with family and loved ones can be stressful. But without a support system the addict has only themselves for support, which hasn’t been very successful in the past, and treatment will not work. 

Self-Sabotage:Addicts are expert self-saboteurs,” writes Dr. Sack. “’I’m not like these people.’ ‘I can do this myself.’ These ego-centric thoughts typically mask deep-rooted insecurities, anxieties and fears. When ego gets in the way of recovery, the addict becomes competitive with others, working harder to be right than to stay sober. As a result, their recovery is superficial and their personal growth stunted.” Self-sabotage is doing anything that you can in order to obstruct your own progress. When addicts engage in self-sabotage treatment doesn’t work. 

Wanting Treatment To Fail So The Addict Has An Excuse To Use: When the addict is fearful of what sobriety actually entails—not using, changing their entire lifestyle, being a responsible productive member of society—they seek to find blame in all the ways that treatment has failed them. The counselor isn’t professional enough. The other clients are degenerates. The treatment facility isn’t catering to their needs. Their therapist doesn’t care about them. What the treatment center is asking of them is just too unreasonable. Then they have an excuse as to why they can return to using—treatment just didn’t work (if the addict won’t let it).  

Fear Of Getting Honest: Lying about themselves and their using has served a purpose in the addict’s life. By lying they can hide their addiction and destructive behaviors. If they stopped lying then they’d have to admit they’ve been using drugs and their lives are unmanageable. “[Lying] is the major problem with individuals who are active in their addiction,” writes addiction specialist Michael J. Rounds. “Often the addict will lie, starting with lies to himself, and then he will start lying to others. However, when the addict starts to tell one lie to cover his tracks, then he often finds himself telling another lie to cover all the lies he was told.” Getting honest means the addict telling the truth, and sharing their emotions, reactions, thoughts and feelings… even if there are consequences. If the addict can’t get honest then treatment will not work. 

Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects on the brain and behavior and to regain control of their lives,” writes the National Institute On Drug Abuse. However the success of that treatment depends on the addict’s motivation to change. For some addicts, “the decision to change is difficult,” asserts the American Addiction Centers, “while the ‘how to’ part is quite simple. These individuals may benefit from some guidance that helps them to accurately weigh the costs and benefits of their addiction.” Treatment for addiction is the “guidance” that works if the addict lets it. 


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