Americans continue to be fascinated
with alcohol and other drugs. Some of us are dedicated to stopping
drug abuse in this country, while others push for legalization.
Drugs and alcoholism are often glamorized in our movies, dramatized
in our plays, explored in our books, and discussed at length on
Abuse, treatment and rehab are also portrayed widely in our media,
whether Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on the old "Hill Street Blues"
television program or more recent wide-distribution films like "Clean
and Sober" or "Leaving Las Vegas."
Given the level of coverage, treatment professionals still encounter
a surprising number of myths about what treatment is really like.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions often prevent people who could
benefit from treatment from considering it.
Myth No. 1: I'd have to be unemployed, homeless,
or on skid row need rehab.
Because of heightened awareness of drug and alcohol abuse, people
now seek treatment much earlier than they used to. In the early
days, "hitting bottom" often meant losing everything: home, family,
possessions or job. Today, this does not have to be the case.
Myth No. 2: If I go to treatment, I'll lose
Actually, many people enter rehab these days as a condition of
keeping their jobs. Today's employers know that while they can't
tolerate drug and alcohol abuse among employees, holding a job
for someone in treatment generally makes good economic sense.
If they fire the employee, they lose the investment they've already
made and incur the expense of training someone new. Waiting a
few weeks for someone to complete treatment is often considered
a better decision.
Myth No. 3: Treatment centers are like "One
Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," or "The Snake Pit."
This is one of the most common myths about treatment and rehab,
and one of the most inaccurate. Serenity Lane and most other centers
are completely voluntary and patients are free to leave at any
time. Surroundings are warm and caring, and though people are
usually anxious about entering treatment, they often don't want
Myth No. 4: Alcoholics and drug addicts are
coddled in treatment.
Just about anyone who has successfully completed treatment will
report that the experience is a balance of compassionate care
and a strong dose of reality. It's important to remember that
addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a life-threatening illness
that thrives on denial. That means that counselors must break
down this structure, usually built and fortified over years, to
change the person's life. It's sometimes said in treatment that
"I'm more interested in saving your life than sparing your feelings."
Alcoholic/addicts often demonstrate thinking errors, self-centeredness,
immaturity and a lack of social skills. Each of these must be
addressed as compassionately as possible and as directly as necessary.
Myth No. 5: Treatment centers force religion
on their patients.
While the debate on the spiritual aspect of recovery continues,
the treatment community has widely accepted the recovery model
developed by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. Based on the admission
that the addict or alcoholic is in rehab because he or she has
clearly not been able to manage life successfully, this model
encourages reliance on a "higher power" something outside themselves
that is greater than they are. While some people in recovery join
a religion or increase participation in one, AA strongly emphasizes
that it is not allied with any denomination; each treatment center
chooses its own approach to this question and most try to accommodate
a wide variety of beliefs. Generally, though, treatment professionals
use the spiritual model because, in many cases deemed "untreatable,"
it has been shown to work.
Myth No. 6: If I go into treatment, I won't
see my spouse or children for weeks.
Statistics have shown that people addicted to alcohol or other
drugs find much more success in quitting - and staying stopped
- when their family members participate fully in treatment and
recovery. That is why treatment centers now strongly encourage
the families of residents to gain a better understanding of the
role they play in the disease and to commit to their own programs
of change and healing. Like it or not, alcoholism and drug addiction
are "family diseases," so the whole family needs to have its own
Myth No. 7: Rehab centers make you go "cold
turkey" from Day 1.
Of course, the point of treatment is to stop the abuse of alcohol
and other drugs. But today, physicians specializing in addiction
medicine can use a wide variety of techniques and medications
to help combat the more difficult physical and emotional problems
of withdrawal and early recovery. While each case is taken individually,
doctors may prescribe drugs to help with the craving for opiates,
alcohol and cocaine. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety products
may also be medically indicated and necessary. Today's treatment
centers, however, generally take a "holistic" approach addressing
the mental, physical and spiritual needs of the person in treatment.
In addition, a healthy diet and moderate exercise program are
Myth No. 8: Once treatment is completed,
the battle against addiction is pretty much over.
Everyone involved - the addict, his or her family, insurance
companies, elected officials, corrections officials, even treatment
professionals - would love treatment to be a "quick fix," permanently
ending the problem of alcohol and drug addiction for the person
and his or her family. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It
is generally accepted that addiction to alcohol or other drugs
is an incurable disease that can be arrested only if the addict
finds and maintains a lifetime commitment to recovery. The time
in treatment offers a solid foundation for this effort to begin.
Myth No. 9: Treatment is only available or
effective on an inpatient basis.
When people think of treatment, they generally think of inpatient
treatment - what we would call "residential." As a result of greater
awareness, earlier detection and efforts to control costs, outpatient
treatment has become a more important treatment option. 10 to
15 years ago, 80 to 90 percent of all drug and alcohol treatment
was done on a residential basis. Today, the ratio of residential
to outpatient treatment is roughly 50-50. Outpatients continue
on a regular work schedule and have time for family and other
Myth No. 10: I can't afford to go to a rehab
While concerted efforts are made to control costs, treatment,
like all other forms of intensive medical care, can be costly
- even at non-profit facilities like Serenity Lane. To keep costs
in perspective, it is important to recognize that a single DUI
can cost $6,000 - $7,000 in legal fees, court fees and fines (and
alcoholics often rack up two or three DUIs). It is also common
for addict/alcoholics to spend hundreds of dollars a month on
their habits. American businesses alone lose more than $100 billion
each year to drugs and alcohol. Today, we know that 70 percent
of addicted people are employed; many are under some kind of health
insurance plan that covers treatment for alcohol and/or other
drug dependencies. The Oregon Health Plan also covers some kinds
Faced with years of drug and alcohol abuse, it is difficult for
addicts and the people who care about them to know where to turn.
Understanding the realities of treatment in the face of these kinds
of myths is critical to determining how best to address the problem.
The previous article, written by Jerry Gjesvold,
was first published in the Register Guard newspaper, Eugene, Oregon
as part of "Straight Stuff" a monthly newspaper column about substance
abuse and related topics. © Serenity Lane, Inc. 1997