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Why Alcohol and Drug Rehab Doesn't Work For So Many

Christine O'Kelly
Aug 17, 2007
Tens of thousands of addicts have been through drug and alcohol treatment programs; so why is it that so many can't achieve permanent sobriety? Short term programs are extremely valuable for detoxifying the body and introducing addicts to the principles of the 12-Step program. But real recovery is a long journey that requires a commitment to a new way of thinking and acting. A longer continuum of care is often the only thing standing in the way of an addict's ability to live a life of permanent sobriety.

The Cycle of Addiction and Relapse

After a relapse, the addict who was once hopeful about recovery often feels a severe sense of shame and guilt. They feel like a failure after having learned 'how' to remain sober but lacking the ability to do so. The 'how' of recovery isn't the problem; it's the follow-through that is difficult. When an addict returns to his or her old environment without having practiced the actions of living a sober life, relapse is nearly almost certain to follow.

Each time the addict checks into another short term recovery center and relapses, the sense of failure deepens and the sense of hope of ever recovering fades. The addict may feel like he or she is not worthy of a healthy life. This is simply not the case. Permanent sobriety is something that anyone can achieve and extended treatment programs of various lengths and types exist to help every type of addict.

How Extended Care Programs Work

Once an addict gains a basic understanding of the 12-Step program in short term treatment, extended care programs offer a safe place to live out the principles of each of the 12 steps. Though the principles themselves can be learned cognitively, in order for the principles to become effective, they must be applied. Application of the 12-steps requires serious discovery into the very depths of the personality, an unlearning of old destructive habits, and the practice of healthy ones.

Extended care programs go beyond the elimination of drugs or alcohol from the addict's life. Simply removing the substance from the body and lifestyle leaves a void that must be filled. Extended care programs work to fill this emptiness with thoughts and habits that help the recovering addict gain a sense of fulfillment with his or her place in the world. In addition to working through the 12 steps, many extended care programs teach residents other important life skills:

Physical fitness

Because drugs and alcohol can devastate the body and deplete its strength and nutrients, it's important that recovering addicts regain their physical strength. Addicts have come to depend on drugs and alcohol to provide a false sense of energy and strength. Adopting a regular physical fitness routine helps recovering addicts to create strength from within rather than seeking it from external sources.

Setting Goals

Goal setting is an essential part of any successful future. There is great fulfillment in setting short term and long term goals and creating roadmaps to achievement. Most addicts feel a sense that their life is out of control which is the reason that they turn to drugs and alcohol to begin with. Goal setting provides recovering addicts with a way to take control of their own lives in a way that leads to positive outcomes.

Financial Sanity

Many drug addicts and alcoholics live in a state of financial chaos. They either haven't learned financial skills, or have not learned to find the joy in budgeting, investing, and managing money. Financial sanity is one way that recovering addicts can learn to gain control over their lives in a positive, healthy way.


When a person lives like a leader, they are less likely to succumb to victimization by drugs and alcohol. Leadership skills are an essential lesson in any successful, well-balanced life and even more important for the recovering addict.


Those who are victimized, including addicts who are victimized by drugs and alcohol, have a tendency to blame everyone and everything else for their problems. Extended care programs teach recovering addicts how to think like winners and leaders by taking accountability for their actions. Unless we take accountability for the actions that have led us to our current situation, we can never change our future.

A life of sobriety is attainable for each and every person who chooses to take the necessary action to achieve it. Those who have relapsed after short term treatment programs don't need to give up, nor must they feel like they have failed. Most everyone needs more than just a few weeks in a treatment program. Recovery is a lifestyle change and extended care programs provide a foundation to create that change.
About the Author
Christine OKelly is an author for The Mark Houston Recovery Center, an Austin Texas drug and alcohol recovery center that offers a 90-day program for males designed around the principals of the traditional 12 steps to recovery. The team is passionate about its mission to help men free themselves from alcohol and drug addiction and recreate and reclaim their lives.
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