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What Happens in Substance Use Treatment?

My husband and I joke—but in that partially-truthful way—that we’ll watch Breaking Bad with our boys before they become teenagers in hopes of warding off any interest in drugs. 

Jesse Pinkman’s character arc alone is enough to do the job. 

But what about sobriety? Do movies, books and TV shows offer an honest portrayal of addiction, substance abuse treatment and recovery? Who can we trust when it comes to our expectations of drug rehab programs? 

That’s what we’re here to help you with today. 

We’ll talk about what the media gets right about addiction treatment and where they miss the mark in three key areas: the timeline, goals and success rate of rehab. 

Ready on the set? Action! 

Substance Use Treatment Isn’t a Montage on Your Way to Sobriety

On TV and in movies, we see portrayals of drug rehab programs that begin with a person in agony and end with the swell of a moving song. In just five minutes, we watch the character struggle through withdrawal symptoms, consider giving up and then recommit themselves to sobriety with the help of friends and family who rally around them. 

These artistic renderings of addiction treatment have their place. If you’re like me, you cry. Maybe you feel that lump in your throat witnessing a story of heartbreak and triumph. How could you not?

Still, five minutes dedicated to substance use treatment in a story that spans nearly two hours? That’s just not realistic, is it? And we all know that, of course. But it can begin to feel like maybe rehab will be a blip on your journey, while that’s not exactly true. 

So let’s forget the movies and talk about what your time in substance use treatment might actually look like. 

Most rehab programs follow a similar path in the early days

  • Initial Check-In
  • Detox
  • Pink Cloud Days
  • Resiliency

You’ll power through this process in under a month. To better understand what each of these phases looks like, let’s look at them in greater detail:

Check-in: When you arrive, you’ll likely meet with staff for a tour of the facility, including any meeting rooms and where you’ll sleep if you’re staying overnight. You’ll also talk with a counselor or therapist for an initial assessment. 

And if this makes you feel anxious, take a deep breath. Everyone you talk to, even on that first day, should be kind and welcoming. After all, they are here to help! 

Detox: The withdrawal period might just be the roughest part of your journey, but it’s crucial for reaching your goal of sobriety. Detox can last between three days or up to two weeks, depending on the substance used and the length of abuse. 

The intensity can vary as well. For some people, withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable, while it can be medically dangerous for others. That’s why it’s important to detox under the supervision of a professional. 

Pink Cloud Days: When you’re officially out of the detox period, you’ll feel as though nothing can touch you. You’ll no longer need drugs or alcohol to go about your day, and you’ll enjoy a reintroduction of sorts to all the best parts of life. Embrace this feeling! 

You may also begin to think you don’t need substance abuse treatment anymore. After all, addiction is the furthest thing from your mind. This is the feeling you want to reject. Because the next phase where you learn tools to deal with everyday life is coming, and you definitely want to experience it with the help of others. 

Resiliency: Just a few weeks into your rehab journey, you’ll have successfully withdrawn from your substance of choice, enjoyed some time up in the pink clouds and eventually find yourself floating back down to earth again. 

This part is where the rubber meets the road. You’ll learn more about yourself and how to cope with the stressors and realities of life in a real and productive way. 

And you’ll continue on in this way as you exit rehab and enter the real world again. In the movies, this is where everything would be set right again. The guy would run and hug the girl. The career would take off. The children would laugh. 

And often, that’s what happens in real life too. Completing a substance use treatment is worth celebration—and often serves as a catalyst for great things to come. 

But it’s also the start of the next phase: maintaining abstinence. 

This is when you really start to practice the strategies you’re learning. And you can begin to fine-tune them for your own lifestyle and personality needs. 

As verywellmind.com explains, you’ll benefit from a focus on developing the following skills: 

  • Replacing addiction habits with healthy habits
  • Growing in relationship with others
  • Designing your life so that drugs and alcohol are harder to come by
  • Anger management and social-emotional learning
  • Cultivating a practice of regular exercise and thoughtful nutrition 

You’ll also likely benefit from staying connected with a therapist or counselor in the months and years following your initial sobriety. 

After five years—five years, not minutes—you’ll find yourself in advanced recovery. And you may also find yourself looking beyond your inner thoughts and needs to others, asking, “How can I help? What can I offer? Where am I needed?” And that’s better than a montage. 

Substance Use Treatment isn’t a Meet Market

Fictional tales lead us to believe that drug rehab programs are a great spot to connect romantically with someone who gets what you’ve been through and wants what you want out of the future. 

For some of you, this might be a lovely and comforting thought. For others, it may add an unnecessary level of pressure and anxiety to an already nerve-wracking experience. 

After all, movies and shows differ greatly in the outcomes of rehab relationships. Sometimes they lead to better and more purposeful sobriety. Other times, they end in total destruction. 

But here’s why the outcomes of these fictional stories don’t really matter: Real addiction therapy isn’t a place to meet someone else. It’s a place to meet yourself. To get to know your own hurts, needs and desires, and to learn meet those needs in a healthy way. 

If you think back on the timeline toward sobriety that we talked about earlier, you can get a feel for some of the initial goals you’ll work toward in substance use treatment. Things like: 

  • Walking through the front door
  • Successful withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • The ability to handle a stressful moment without using
  • Interacting with the world at large in a healthy and productive way

Sounds great, right? It may also be helpful to list some of your personal goals—things that are unique to you. Spend some time thinking about this. Ask yourself, “What would I like to do with my sobriety?” 

Maybe you hope to enjoy favorite pastimes again, to follow through on a long-held business idea or simply to spend more time with your children while actually present. 

Jot these goals down now as a way to solidify your decision to move forward with a drug rehab program. And as a reminder, treatment is meant to offer you time to look inward, not outward. If you make friends along the way—if a beautiful relationship blossoms—consider it a bonus on your journey. 

Substance Use Treatment isn’t a Cliché

In the media, drug rehab programs often serve as a sort of punchline to an unsaid joke or to set the stage for how poorly behaved a character is and will continue to be. 

It can almost feel like substance use treatment is a cliché of sorts—a marker in time for when a person feels low enough to reach out for help. It’s no wonder people often feel shame in reaching out and a lack of hope at the time when they need it most. 

If we take our cue from movies and shows alone, we may begin to view addiction therapy as simply another item on the addiction checklist—important to try but unlikely to bring about any real success—instead of recognizing it as the catalyst for change that it truly can be. After all, substance use treatment may be the very thing you need in order to go after the goals you listed above.

Because of course addiction therapy is helpful. When you’re in a cycle of drinking or abusing drugs, it may feel impossible to break free on your own. But a professional counselor and the support of medically-trained staff can walk with you through the toughest parts of your journey until you find yourself on the other side. 

The Right Step Hill Country can be that support system for you or your loved one. Give us a call today at 844-686-6818. 

By Stephanie Thomas – Contributing Writer with Promises Behavioral Health

8 thoughts on “What Happens in Substance Use Treatment?”

  1. Next time I read a blog, Hopefully it does not disappoint me as much as this one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I truly thought youd have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something that you can fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

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