Anyone who has ever dealt with a family member, spouse or close friend in active addiction knows just how difficult it can be to get a person into drug rehab. Convincing a person that he or she needs help can be a long, painful process. You may have found yourself arguing, pleading, praying or lying awake for nights on end – worrying, waiting, and watching as they self destruct.
Getting a loved one into rehab sometimes takes a moment of surrender – and it can be a small window of time to transition them from home to an addiction treatment facility. But at that moment, many family members feel a sense of relief: a weight lifted off their shoulders – that perhaps the biggest challenge in the whole ordeal has been overcome.
But then, there’s the phone call: The call that your loved one reached his or her tipping point. The point that he or she no longer feels the need to be in treatment. And, after a successful admission into rehab, your loved one is now wanting to be discharged.
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Leaving Addiction Treatment Against Medical Advice
While getting a drug or alcohol-addicted loved one into treatment isn’t an easy task, getting him or her to stay there can be even more difficult.
According to a Mayo Clinic Proceedings study, discharges against medical advice (AMA) can increase for individuals with a current or history of substance or alcohol abuse. In fact, close to 17% of people who enter rehab for substance abuse or mental health issues will leave treatment prematurely.
Unfortunately, as the term “AMA” indicates – leaving treatment early can be dangerous for a person’s medical health and their recovery. This is because addiction treatment is a process and in order to gain the most from their treatment, they need to participate in the process through the very end. By leaving treatment before completing a program, a person takes an unreasonable gamble with his or her recovery – and sabotages their efforts to gain freedom from their addiction.
The Most Common Reasons Why People Want To Leave Rehab Early
Withdrawal Symptoms Are Overwhelming.
Drugs like benzos, opioids and alcohol can have severe withdrawal effects – and detoxing from any drug is by no means easy. Withdrawal symptoms aren’t just physical and they can have an impact on a person’s mental and emotional state. Research indicates that the first week of treatment can be the most unsettled time for a person. Withdrawal symptoms, including drug cravings, can fill the person with anxiety – causing them to rationalize that drugs weren’t actually that bad and they should give up trying to stop. Response: The good news is that withdrawal symptoms are medically and emotionally treated and managed by a professional team during treatment. Detox is made more comfortable through medications and therapies. In addition, being around peers who are going through the same symptoms can help a person realize that they are not alone.
“I Hate It Here.”
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) refers to the symptoms that can occur during a prolonged period of withdrawal from substances. These symptoms aren’t comfortable – and include mood swings, irritability, tiredness, anxiety and more. They often result in emotional outbursts – tears, anger, even violence.
Because PAWS can be difficult to work through, a person may look for justification to turn back to drugs in order to overcome it. Rather than accepting responsibility and working towards their recovery, individuals may look to place blame on others in order to get what they want (ie. “The food is terrible.” “There are rats here.” “We only get one bathroom break a day.” “The staff is lazy.”).
Response: In some circumstances, these concerns may have legitimate value – in which case, actions can be taken in order to accommodate them. It’s important for families and spouses to stay involved and listen to their loved one’s treatment – and also to follow up with the facility. Family therapy and commitment to the process can act as an aid – however, “rescuing” a loved one from rehab only enables the behaviors – and addiction – to continue.
“I’m Not Like These People.”
There’s a reason we tend to avoid the use of the label “addict” – First of all, it’s a label, and we believe those struggling with addiction are more than their addiction. Second, not everyone who is addicted to substance views his or herself as an “addict.”
Part of the nature of addiction is for those affected to believe that they are different, stronger and smarter than others who use or abuse drugs or alcohol. This belief allows addicted individuals to build an emotional wall in order to protect themselves from having to address their issues.
Response: Licensed therapists understand the importance of helping their clients find connection with others. In rehab, your loved one will be guided toward recognizing similarities with others – developing a sense of empathy as well as self-awareness.
“I Already Know All Of This – I Don’t Need Rehab.”
With any addiction recovery program, there will be certain themes that can be repeated. Repetition is important because as humans, that’s how we learn. Because of this repetition, individuals who complete only a few weeks of rehab may become overconfident. While confidence is key in recovery, overconfidence can be potentially damaging. Despite not having the full skill set that they need in order to maintain long-term sobriety, a person may become convinced that he or she is completely healed or “cured.” However, without all of the skills developed and fully in place, they won’t be ready to work through the triggers.
Response: Research indicates that the longer an addicted person remains in treatment, the better their chances of maintaining their recovery. If a loved one indicates that they already know everything about treatment – it can be a signal of progress, or it can be a signal that more treatment – at different levels – is necessary. For example, stepping down from inpatient to outpatient or a transitional living home environment.
Leaving drug rehab early or AMA is a form of self-sabotage – a behavior that is common for those in active addiction. If your loved one decides to leave treatment early, it will be a difficult time for you – however, it should not be the end of the family’s effort and support in getting a loved one well. With the support of family and a strong team of professionals, keeping a loved one active and engaged in their treatment and recovery process is possible.