Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by denial, withdrawal symptoms and relapse. Although addiction medicine professionals have made great strides in understanding this complex and life-threatening disease, it is still unclear why some individuals develop addiction and others do not. It is also unclear why some are able to get and stay sober, while others fail to reach life-lasting sobriety.

Why Does Rehab Sometimes Fail?

why does rehab failWhether or not rehab is successful may depend on your definition of rehab. There are several kinds of rehab programs and not all are created equal. Because addiction is a complex disease that often has physical, psychological, behavioral, emotional and spiritual components, not every rehab program is equipped to address each facet of treatment. On top of that, every person’s addiction history is unique. This may be why many programs, such as rapid detox, fail to produce a long-lasting sobriety.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, getting long-term, personalized, comprehensive help before addiction becomes life threatening is more likely to result in a successful treatment outcome. “Comprehensive” treatment as defined by the NIDA means addressing all facets of addiction through counseling, psychotherapy, life skills training, family therapy, physical fitness and post-rehab planning. It also means accepting that lifelong treatment, whether through individual therapy or participation in an addiction support group, is part of the commitment to staying sober.

Participation in outpatient therapy and group counseling may be effective means for maintaining sobriety, but getting there often requires a higher level of care. The kind of comprehensive treatment recommended by the NIDA is most often available at residential treatment centers. Unfortunately, residential treatment is not an option for every addicted person. Many do not accept private health insurance, and even after insurance, the cost of treatment is so high that staying for longer than 30 days is impossible. In addition, if the residential treatment center does not have the resources necessary to meet all the needs of the addicted individual, a complete recovery may not be possible.

Why Does Rehab Work for Addicts?

A highly qualified staff is one of the biggest reasons rehab works for addicts. During the early days and weeks of recovery, the struggling individual is both physically and emotionally fragile. Withdrawal can be particularly challenging, as physical and emotional symptoms combine with intense cravings. An effective drug rehab employs trained medical professionals who address the problems associated with detox. These can include diverse physical and mental problems that range from vomiting to hallucinations to seizures. If you’re considering enrolling in a rehabilitation program, it’s wise to choose one with a fully staffed detox center.

For certain types of addiction such as alcoholism, a detox center that employs trained medical professionals who can recognize and treat problematic withdrawal symptoms can actually prevent death. In other cases, such as an individual who abuses cocaine, early detox treatment primarily addresses issues such as severe depression, anxiety and insomnia. The severity of the addiction dictates the length and intensity of withdrawal. If an addicted individual has to spend two weeks withdrawing from heroin, for example, even the most effective drug rehab may not be able to provide the psychological care that’s necessary to achieve lasting sobriety if the term of inpatient care is limited to 30 days.

why does rehab work

Psychological Care

Withdrawal may be physically unpleasant but most addiction experts agree that the psychological withdrawal from using drugs is the biggest reason why rehab fails. Although every path to addiction is unique, the problems that often plague an addicted person are remarkably similar. Many addicted people feel lonely or think there is nowhere to turn. Some individuals who turned to alcohol or drugs early in life may have suffered abuse or neglect as children. Others may have started using heroin after casual painkiller abuse grew out of control. The paths may be different, but the resulting damage is the same. An accurate diagnosis and effective psychological treatment can address these challenging problems.

Drug rehab programs that can treat a co-existing mental health disorder such as depression alongside addiction are especially effective. In order to provide this kind of treatment, a rehab must employ a qualified physician licensed to provide psychiatric therapy. All resident clients, regardless of whether or not they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, should also plan to engage in therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

In CBT, a client can learn specific techniques that help manage cravings, temptations and stress — three factors that play huge roles in relapse. Because cravings typically peak roughly six months after sobriety, mastering these skills while under the care of a professional therapist is essential.

Spiritual Care

does rehab work for addicts

Physical and emotional strength are essential components of a satisfying and sober lifestyle, but they are not the only components. One reason why a person who quits using alone is more likely to relapse is the lack of spiritual motivation. Spiritual care, whether it’s achieved through a 12-Step program or a non-faith-based approach, gives the addicted individual a reason for living.

The 12 Steps, developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, ask the addicted individual to achieve certain spiritual goals. The first step is admitting powerlessness over using. Other steps include asking for forgiveness from people the individual has harmed, making amends for those harms, and helping others get and stay sober. 12 Step programs (including Narcotics Anonymous) have produced more success stories than any other recovery program in the world, and going to a meeting is still one of the most popular ways to maintain sobriety after residential rehab.

The 12 Steps are a popular way to maintain sobriety, but they are not the only way. Other programs, such as SMART, offer an alternative to the 12 Steps.


drug rehab programsOne of the biggest problems faced by newly sober individuals is what to do when boredom strikes. When using isn’t an option, having go-to activities that don’t involve alcohol or drugs is absolutely essential.

The best residential rehabs give their clients an opportunity to find new hobbies and have fun without using drugs or alcohol. In many cases, activities give the addicted individual an opportunity to reconnect with a once-loved hobby, such as golf, tennis or fishing. Having fun and sober activities is particularly important after rehab ends and there are more free hours to fill.

Family Involvement and Aftercare

Addicted individuals who have supportive family members are more likely to stay sober after rehab ends. Effective rehab centers create a comprehensive post-care plan that includes family member involvement as well as ongoing therapy and counseling. Family and rehab involvement helps a newly sober person feel more accountable for their actions. It also provides a sense of stability and continuity when “real life” resumes after residential recovery ends.

Learn More Today

To identify a rehabilitation program that meets your specific needs, view our list of top ranked rehab centers. Congratulations on taking an important first step toward living a sober, healthier lifestyle!