The following is an article written by Michael A. It is an incredible story of how the detox/rehab system that is considered to be the standard of care is failing. We put faith in these facilities to help our loved ones to get past drug and alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, the result is more often repeated failures and cycling through the system. The only success story here is the financial gain for the owners of these detox and rehab institutions. The problem is that they are often not providing evidence-based therapy to help keep their patients clean long-term. What we need to do is be more vigilant in vetting these programs. We must expect more than a 30 day cleansing that spits out a temporarily drug-free person. Addiction is a chronic illness that requires appropriate, ongoing care.
Six years and 28 rehabs later, I now carry 3 years of abstinence and am at a point to finally describe my journey (one that unfortunately is all too common for many young people). This is the story of how during my addiction, I fell victim to a vicious cycle of relapsing, rehab entries, and becoming a statistic for rehabs that didn’t work. Some know this cycle as “The Florida Shuffle.”
For a brief backstory, my addiction started as many commonly do – smoking weed at a young age and drinking at underage parties. I am a child of divorced parents, with a father that was absent for the majority of my life. My mom did her best and I don’t know what exactly led to me falling into drug addiction, but somewhere the variables lined up for it.
Fast forward to a 21-year-old me, crying with my mother, trying to get off of opioids and cocaine. We are searching for the best rehab online, and of course I’m looking at the first one that shows up on Google. I was sold on the pictures of people together with beachy, luxury backdrops, for 30 days of treatment (I refused to do longer, and most were only 30 anyway). My insurance covers it, and at the time I had no idea how much was being paid out, nor did I care. I knew I needed help and this looked promising. Being so lonely inside and isolated, I wanted to be around happy people in a beautiful resort. I wanted to feel happy and beautiful. I arrived, and first of all, the pictures were pretty accurate of the luxury, but not of the smiling faces.
I am befriended by a guy named “Gary” who gives me the ins and outs – basically a “welcome to rehab, here’s how to screw the system” speech. I find out that everyone is abusing their detox meds, and basically getting high for what seems like free. Many of the clients were also there only because of insurance and paid nothing out of pocket. If they did have to pay, the parents were covering costs. The first week was easy being loaded up on detox meds. I signed a lot of paper work and agreed to a treatment plan while high out of my mind. However, a lot of suffering and realizations arrive as soon as the over prescribed medications wear off. To cope with this shock, the doctors prescribe “comfort” meds and antidepressants that work like a temporary bandage. This relapse prevention technique was one that never worked for me, and only seemed to screw up my head more.
After detox we all get transferred to a structured housing area (which is agreed to during detox as the treatment plan), where residential and partial hospitalization treatment starts. This is generally how addiction treatment works. You start out in a comfortable setting with nurses present, and then start transitioning into more “realistic” living environments. Theoretically this transition phase should work. However, this housing was nothing like the 5-star detox, and nothing close to a realistic healthy environment. This was an old run-down motel in the middle of a gang ran neighborhood. It became clear to me that over 50% of the coed mix of clients were getting high, and it’s hard not to with drug dealers walking along the fences offering dope to people with ten days of sobriety. Feeling broken and insecure still, I wanted to join the in crowd. People “like” me here, especially since I am hopping the fence to get drugs for people every other day. All the girls around are hooking up with the guys, and me being so insecure, I find a lot of comfort in this. It’s all starting to make sense to me, rehab is actually pretty fun when you turn it into a party. I mean, imagine 50 people from all over the country who just want to get high put in a place where drugs are accessible and the center doesn’t care if you get high because they can bill the insurance more. It’s chaos. The schedule included a few hours of bs-ing through groups, and then night time yielded the real action. People get caught relapsing, but just get sent back to detox to get a free high for 5 days again. The therapists were not that great, and most were not in recovery themselves. There was no real knowledge being taught there. I didn’t learn how to stop relapsing; I didn’t learn how to love myself… I learned how to relapse without getting caught. This was the most cookie cutter rehab around – 12 step philosophy and groups all day. Without naming names, this rehab is now shut down, including many other money hungry rehabs in South Florida.
Standard treatment model taught me this:
- You are a victim to a disease
- If you’re not done you’re not done
- AA for 90 days is a magic pill
- Freudian Style Therapy – Something must’ve happened to cause addiction
- Medication Assisted Treatment is the best way to overcome addiction
Honestly I was afraid to face myself and work on what I needed to internally. Without the proper confrontation and help I still felt unready to grow up and get back into the world. As miserable as this treatment was, I found a place where I had no responsibilities and could keep living my manipulative, intoxicated fantasy life. I was kind of content with this.
Finally discharged, I’m sent to a halfway house (sober living). At this point I was broken, not helped from treatment, and actually worse. I learned all about hard drugs in there, and how to use them. This brought me from being a pill addict, to craving heroin and crack. This left me wondering: “Does rehab really work?”
This sober living environment is not a treatment program. It is group housing with rules of staying sober, making curfew, going to AA meetings, and some other structure outlines. My family is convinced at this point that I needed it, and it was very true, but what I needed was more treatment. 30 days of a therapist barely getting to know me, in a coed, over packed facility was simply not enough. I met more friends at the halfway house who shared the misery I felt, and the desire to keep getting high. Everyone in charge just wants to say 30 days and AA is what you need. I was trying, but wasn’t really understanding this AA thing. I wasn’t very strong at this point. Maybe a better treatment would’ve helped, or maybe I just wasn’t ready. These thoughts simply weren’t true. With the right addiction treatment and relapse prevention plan, almost anyone, no matter how ready, can and will learn to stay in recovery from addiction. People just need the proper push and motivation.
This initial experience with treatment left a mark on me. It gave me insight into a whole new world that I had never experienced. Now I know, if I relapse, I can pull out my insurance card, head back to detox, and take a 30-day vacation from the world. My career felt to be gone, my family just wanted me to heal, and all my so-called friends were off living their lives. What better place to go than back to rehab whenever I feel broken? At least I’ll have friends there. It’s common to see people struggling with addiction shipped to a treatment mecca like South Florida to get help, and this cycle happens over and over. When you’re all alone in a new area, treatment felt like the easiest place to be accepted. I quickly learned how powerful having insurance was. With all these now known to be corrupt addiction treatment centers, I was just a well of money, and would be taken anywhere without hesitation.
So my journey continued. Rehab after rehab, relapse after relapse, sober living after sober living, more rehab, suboxone doctors, back to rehab, and on and on. I could leave rehab with some money saved up, use hard drugs on the streets for a few days, and then go right back to detox to get a free (insurance covered) high for another week. I also found sober living homes that allowed me to live there with a girl, and get high, as long as I attended their IOP program. Whenever my life would get miserable, I go back to a luxurious rehab that my insurance covers, and life seems ok again for 30 days. This whole time I do want to change, but I was not getting the right message. And my addiction changed from snorting drugs to shooting them. Unfortunately, that’s what I learned down there, how to inject drugs and scheme better.
I wasn’t sure if I was done. How could I be, I was suffering from years of drug abuse altering my brain chemistry. These “comfort” and “stabilizing” meds didn’t help. They made things worse. I started to truly believe I was doomed to go on living as a hopeless “addict.” Which brings up another point. In all these centers, when you share in groups, you address yourself as “Michael, addict” or “Michael, alcoholic.” This creates a victim mind state. I am constantly identifying myself as a disease or affliction. I started to really feel the hopelessness and burden of this lifestyle. I wanted a good life, but these centers weren’t working for me and I believed it was just me that didn’t work. All of these centers would quote the big book and blame me for not being ready. This lifestyle wasn’t working for me and I wanted to change. I had every intention after a year of this to try to actually heal. The struggle was in full effect, and the thrill left. Maybe I was what these treatment centers told me I was. A hopeless addict that wouldn’t get it until I was “ready.” Which doesn’t even make sense. If someone goes to treatment, some part of them is ready. These centers, from my experience, were lazy in helping people bring out the part of them that wanted change.
This is not the case if you find a treatment center that addresses addiction in the appropriate ways, and truly teaches someone to heal, and this is what I soon came to discover. There is recovery after repeated relapses.
I knew I needed something more, so I left Florida. I had to get away from this lifestyle of rehab hopping, and I knew somewhere, there had to be something different. Maybe somewhere, I could find a different approach to the common treatment method. From trying to meet real success stories and talking to people who have had sustained sobriety, I heard about a place in Southern California. It was a new approach to the treatment model. What I learned was that there has been so much research these past years into addiction, and a common factor in healing is connection. I was recommended to try out a new center that followed these guidelines:
- Team dynamic (peer centered approach)
- Team building exercises in the mornings, then workout, eat, sleep, process and live with your team.
- Science of the brain through addiction
- Not normal groups on addiction, really in depth studying of what happens to the brain during drug/ alcohol use, and how to rewire through CBT, DBT, and exercise.
- Strong motivational interviewing – A form of therapy
- Exercise 5 days a week
- Not only do you heal your body, you rewire your prefrontal cortex and create homeostatic balance in the brain.
- Yoga and mindfulness to build self-awareness and a connection between mind and body
- Peer centered groups every night for checking in.
- Longer than 90 days
- No phones or social media for first couple months to truly focus on oneself
- Single Sex
- No temptation to engage in relationships, just camaraderie.
- An entirely new healthy lifestyle.
- Trips to do mud runs, 5k’s, triathlons, camping and other events every month to realize how much greater life can be.
- Language of empowerment
- We did not address ourselves in as addicts. The whole program was based around becoming an optimized human being who overcame addiction.
One thing that also stood out about this treatment center was the fact that not everyone got in. You had to show a willingness and go through an interview process with the team there. No matter the insurance or money I had to offer, if they didn’t think I was there for the right reasons I would’ve been denied. This in itself opened up my mind to committing whole heartedly to this place. Almost as if I was challenged.
This recipe of real therapy and physical healing was what I needed. I entered this new program believing I still couldn’t heal. I didn’t feel “ready.” But the amount of love and happiness in a place like this was contagious. It was impossible for me not to heal, literally. My brain got rewired, I became an empowered, thriving human being. I found this at a place in California called Tree House Recovery. I would highly recommend exploring this place to get a good idea of what I’m referring to as real, evidence based treatment. This is the one I found that worked best for me. Ultimately, I would suggest doing the appropriate research for each individual circumstance.
This was and is my journey. I’ve seen many other young people follow the same journey I began, but what I really hope to see is more follow this second half of the journey to real healing. To find out recovery from addiction is possible.
I really thought I would never succeed, and with the way most treatments are these days, I was not going to make it. I am one of the fortunate ones who found a new approach to treatment, that focuses on healing rather than recidivism.
If you know someone struggling with addiction, whether it’s their first time looking for treatment or the 28th time (like me), look through all the options. DO NOT let them pick the easy, more aesthetically appealing route. Do not rush into the first one that will take someone. Spend the time necessary to make this the only/last treatment needed. Ask the centers you’re looking at for their success rates. The rehab that worked for me has over an 80% success rate. Rehabs do work, if you go to the right one.
To truly heal one must have a part of them ready to commit. Let’s remember, we are not choosing vacation rentals, we are saving a life. To truly save a life, you must follow the recipe that works. One that focuses on empowering someone to heal, and helping them find the foundation of success that has always been there. This is one of the toughest things to deal with and overcome, and the proper help is needed. No one can do this alone, or they will risk potential relapse. They need connection, physical healing, and real therapy from people who have proven techniques that work. A majority of these fraudulent treatment centers and sober living homes have been shut down, however a lot of them still exist. Be wary when choosing addiction treatment and extensively read reviews.