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Why Patients Drop Out of Treatment

People seldom go into drug or alcohol treatment unless there is some imminent threat to the status quo of their daily lives: Maybe the spouse is giving up on them, an employer has required substance abuse treatment, or the person is backed into a legal corner, to name a few reasons. Anybody who goes into treatment deserves credit for admitting the need for help. If you know why some people drop out early, you can be forearmed with knowledge that will keep you from doing the same.

Once someone enters treatment, whether it’s outpatient or residential, he has to understand that the treatment will last over a period of many weeks and even months. One of the most common questions that people ask is, “If I do well, can I get out of treatment early?”

Even if treatment is undertaken with reluctance, it’s not a punishment. Most rehab centers will not accept someone as a patient unless he says that he wants to go. Even if he is faced with legal consequences, he is still making a choice for treatment, because the fact is that many people choose jail.

So the answer to that question is that there is no “early release” for treatment. Treatment programs comprise a series of therapy topics that the patient must complete before he is ready to move to a new level of care. They include things like understanding the full effects of the drug of choice, recognizing the role of family in the recovery process, understanding triggers, putting together a support network and an aftercare plan, and much more.  If the person has been admitted to a 90-day residential treatment center, then it will take 90 days to get through all the material that the counselor wants to cover with him.

Most Common Reasons People Give Up

  • Most people drop out because they believe that once the drugs are out of their system they will be fine. The truth is that they need to work on understanding those triggers that make them use plus the neurobiological effects of drug use or they will be right back where they started.
  • Many people fear they will lose their jobs if they go into treatment. The fact is they are more likely to lose their jobs if they discontinue treatment. The boss will be less likely to tolerate the next relapse, and the person’s benefits and insurance, protected while he is on the job, will evaporate.
  • Women with children drop out more often than their male counterparts or women without children. They feel the pull to go home and take care of their family, but the reality is they are putting their family at risk to suffer during their next relapse, and they are also modeling poor behavior to their youngsters.
  • Those addicted to stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine have a higher level of difficulty. Facilities that provide alternative therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, or other regimens often help such patients maintain focus on recovery.
  • A majority of patients suffer from a co-occurring diagnosis such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or some other mental health issue. It’s important to find a treatment center that will work on both diagnoses in order to make the person feel well again.

The profile of the person most likely to stay in treatment is the employed, educated, affluent male over the age of 40. Whether or not you fit that profile, you can withstand risk factors that may paint you as a potential drop-out. The first week to 10 days of treatment are very difficult. The patient has to get to know his counselor, the staff, and the other patients. A rehabilitation center that can help you work on your entire self, on a plan for renewal, will provide the best chance of success.  Once you leave the treatment center, it’s important to attend 12-step meetings and work your aftercare plan. Staying in treatment for the full course is the only way to reach that all-important stage of aftercare.

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