How Rehab Made My Addiction Worse. What to Look For in a Good Rehab Facility.

Family Health

By Kyle Stephenson, A Millennial

When struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, people decide to go to either peer support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or some type of drug rehab program.

AA, which was founded in 1935, is probably one of the biggest support groups for alcoholics, with about 115,000 groups worldwide and over two million members. I was one of those members.

One might ask what the success rate of an addiction support group like AA is. Well, like most things surrounding addiction, there is not a simple answer to this question.

There isn’t an exact success rate available since many of the results are published by AA and vary based on several factors. Because AA is anonymous, some members of the group don’t participate in the studies since it could breach the anonymousness of the group,” according to the American Addiction Centers.

One doctor and addiction specialist said there is an 8-12% success rate for AA. And the definition of success is based on the percentage of participants who do not drink alcohol within their first year of sobriety.

And then I guess with rehab programs, it’s also hard to determine their success rate. First, the definition of success is not the same for all. In my opinion success means beating the addiction to drugs and not just trading one drug addiction for another addiction. For others, it may mean quitting a really bad drug, like heroine, and using prescription drugs or cigarettes instead. And then we have to account for relapses which may happen (usually multiple times).

So the most valuable information I can give you regarding this topic is my personal experiences with rehab and overcoming addiction. I feel it’s important to not sugarcoat this issue. And I do want people to know that in some cases, rehab may not be all that it’s cracked up to be - i.e. a place to beat addiction. Sometimes, it can make our addiction problems worse.

When I was about 17-years-old, my parents sent me to a famous and well-respected rehab center in  Southern California. I never did any “hard” drugs at that time. I used ecstasy and smoked weed.

But when I got there, I was surrounded by people who were recovering from heroin, meth, cocaine - a whole new world of drugs I had only heard horror stories about as a kid. And rather than hearing about how horrible these drugs were, I kept on hearing about how amazing the highs of using these drugs were. The people there had some of the best experiences of their lives on these drugs, like the best sex ever.

Being only 17, I just figured maybe the drugs weren’t so bad and these people I met in rehab just lost control. If I did it, I could do the drugs in moderation. And I wanted to feel as amazing as they did - especially since I just came into rehab, extremely depressed and lonely- honestly one of the weakest moments of my life. (I will discuss the reasons for my depression in another article).

Yes, there were therapeutic group sessions in this rehab program, but most days were just spent in the courtyard smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and reminiscing about past experiences with drugs. As a result, we ended up glorifying previous drug use.

Before going into this program, I would’ve never even considered the use of heroin, cocaine or meth. Those were just taboo. But after making all these new “friends,” I ended up thinking those drugs may not be too bad after all.

So shortly after I left rehab and made a lot of new “friends,” I was sober for about three months. Then in my group of rehab friends, someone relapsed and started doing heroin. Now ironically before I went to rehab, I would have NEVER done heroin or even considered it. But remembering the stories I was told, my curiosity got the better of me and I started shooting up heroin, and my whole group of friends relapsed together. Initially I just said, “I will only do it once a week.” Very quickly, that once a week turned into daily.

The glorification of drug use was just one of many problems with this particular rehab program.

People also snuck in a lot of drugs, particularly during family and friends visits. “Screenings” to see if people brought in drugs were pretty much pointless.

My experience at this rehab facility also subliminally taught me to switch from one addiction to another. In rehab, my new addictions included smoking more cigarettes, drinking lots of coffee and eating more sweets. Many times the pocket money they have us ask our parents for were for cookies and cigarettes in the “snack shops” there.

Before going to rehab, I would smoke three to four cigarettes a day max. Once I left rehab, I became a pack to two packs a day smoker and an avid caffeine addict. My diet consisted of unhealthy foods. And those were pretty much the “new activities” that were condoned and encouraged in that rehab.

There was no real emphasis on physical activities, healthy eating or ways to make yourself feel healthy or naturally happy.

Now to the reader, is it “getting over an addiction” when you just change your addiction to coffee and cigarettes? In my opinion, the answer is “no.”

So how did I overcome my addiction?

I finally got into a rehab program that was right for me.

According to the American Addiction Centers, there are 14,500 specialized drug rehab centers in the United States. They are not all the same, and they may offer different services. So how do you find the one that is right for you and not end up going through what I had to go through?

Once again, the most information of value I can give is my personal experience.

Fortunately when I started shooting heroin, my mom was vigilant and I was caught soon enough. I was then able to get the proper treatment at a very good wilderness program.

Wilderness drug rehab, also called outdoor therapy, involves a lot of connecting with nature and spending time outdoors.

First thing they did at the wilderness program was take you far away from electronics, your friends or family and make it so there was no way any drugs were being brought to you. Second of all, there were counsellors around 24/7, so there was no ‘glorifying drug talk’ constantly throughout the day.

Rather than smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, they focused on a holistic diet and tons of physical activity.

Along with having good nutrition, I hiked many miles each day for five days a week. Not only does physical exercise help you cope with depression, which many addicts have, but it also boosts your self-esteem and confidence. It is extremely important for people going through rehab to feel a sense of purpose and feel more sure about themselves.

I constantly had therapeutic groups that effectively addressed my issues and helped me build coping skills that did not revolve around smoking a cigarette, drinking lots of caffeine or using another drug to feel better.

By the time I was done with wilderness therapy, I had kicked the heroin, ecstasy, cigarettes and other addictions. And I felt strong and ready to take on the world.

I’ve done the legwork (in both unsuccessful and successful rehab programs), and I think that without nutrition and exercise you can’t really have a good rehab program.

For one, most addicts have severe nutritional deficiencies. For those of us who have used drugs, our top priority is not eating kale and drinking fruit smoothies. And I have come to learn that drugs and alcohol rob the body of a bunch of nutrients.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that alcohol use is one of the major causes of nutritional deficiency in the United States.

“The most common deficiencies are of the B vitamins (B1, B6, and folic acid). A lack of these nutrients causes anemia and nervous system (neurologic) problems. For example, a disease called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome ("wet brain") occurs when heavy alcohol use causes a lack of vitamin B1.”

So again, a rehab facility where all you do is smoke cigarettes, eat sweets and drink coffee is far from rehabilitating. Addicts need to heal their bodies from all the damage that has already been done, not further damage them with junk food and nicotine. On top of this, smoking affects the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals.

The NIH also states: “Alcohol use also damages two major organs involved in metabolism and nutrition: the liver and the pancreas. The liver removes toxins from harmful substances. The pancreas regulates blood sugar and the absorption of fat. Damage to these two organs results in an imbalance of fluids, calories, protein, and electrolytes.”

Opiates like heroin and oxycodone affect the gastrointestinal system, which may contribute to nutritional deficiencies. Withdrawal symptoms from these drugs usually involve vomiting and diarrhea. This can lead to dehydration and loss of nutrients.

Furthermore, this source says “nutritional deficiencies can have a detrimental effect on some of the symptoms of withdrawal. Suboptimal eating habits and nutrition during treatment can result in lower levels of focus and information intake during treatment and therapy, which in turn can contribute to negative outcomes in the treatment process.”

And a drug like cocaine often causes a lack of appetite. And if you’re not eating, you’re not getting nutrients.

Again, these are reasons why nutrition is so important during rehab.

And it’s not just about the physical benefits of good nutrition, but also the mental benefits.

“When a person feels better, they are less likely to start using alcohol and drugs again. Because balanced nutrition helps improve mood and health, it is important to encourage a healthy diet in a person recovering from alcohol and other drug problems,” says the NIH.

Rehab is a long and winding road.

To be extra cautious and ensure complete recovery, my parents sent me to a rehab aftercare program when I completed the wilderness program. It was pretty much a therapeutic boarding school for a year.

But, unfortunately, it was back to hearing about how awesome drugs were. All the temptations returned. I was once again around people 24/7 who were glorifying bad habits. I ended up smoking a lot of cigarettes there. I feel as though I took a step back there, because I started smoking again.  

But eventually, I graduated and went to college. And my life was going really well my first two years in college. I was able to stop smoking but in order to focus, I used Vyvanse and took it almost every day in order to focus and study. So pretty much just, once again, switching one addiction for another, as I was taught by my previous rehab places. Clearly, my coping skills needed work.

So during my third year of college when I got my third concussion (the other two were from sports related accidents) walking down the staircase at, and I was no longer able to do physical activities or continue school, I started to use alcohol and drugs. This lasted until I was about 24. I also gained almost 100 lbs. I went to bed every night not knowing whether I would wake up. I accepted that my addiction had gotten the best of me, and I was going to die this way.

Then the best and worst day of my life happened on December 5th, 2017.  

I got pulled over for a DUI, got arrested and spent a night in jail. It was horrible, but the best wake up call I could have ever had. This harsh wake up call was truly the beginning of a new era in my life. It was time to finally achieve something rather than poisoning my body. So I chose to go through a detox at home under the watchful eyes of my parents. I did not go to any rehab this time, because I was afraid I would be in another tempting position to just switch one addiction for another.  I did not want to trade alcohol for cigarettes or prescription drugs

I also opted to go to a health and fitness camp. Best decision I ever made!

I figured if I was going to “trade addictions,” it would be for an addiction to finding a sustainable way of getting and staying healthy.

And it changed my life. For the first time in my life, I am free of ALL drugs - no cigarettes, no alcohol, no marijuana - not to mention the other drugs  which we will talk about in another article. I have devoted my life to physical and mental fitness, writing and spreading my story to others on how to change their lives and overcome this hurdle of addiction and become happier in life.

Just remember this: At the end of the day, we do drugs to give ourselves some artificial happiness, but If we can live a life where we do things that actually make us happy, we will discover we have no need for drugs.

My point in telling you all of this is that if you need to go to rehab, you have to do your due diligence and find the best program for you or your children. It may also take you several attempts, but you have to be able to distinguish good rehabs from the others.

And I can’t emphasize enough that a program which focuses on nutrition and exercise is extremely helpful. If you are researching facilities for yourself or a loved one, find out about the facility by actually visiting the location before taking your child or loved one there. Look at the snack shops to see if they sell cigarettes, etc. Find out if they have personal trainers or some form of coordinated physical activity. If you think the great outdoors are too much for you, find a facility with a gym as well as a place that offers yoga and meditation classes.

With nutrition, you want to make sure a facility does at least the following:

  • Determine nutritional deficiencies. This will likely be done through a nutrient test. 
  • Meet with a nutritionist to discuss nutritional needs. 
  • Come up with a nutritional plan (coffee and donuts will likely not be on the menu! Not to mention, sugar can make depression worse. Some say sugar is also just as addictive as drugs!). 
  • Incorporate this plan into the treatment program. You want to find a facility that treats you like an individual. What someone else is eating may not be best for you or what you need during treatment. 

During your rehab search ask tons of questions. 

There is no one-size-fits-all-approach. 

Perhaps the most critical factor in treating a substance use disorder is finding the right treatment center,” says a director of a treatment addiction center in one report. “Does the treatment center have the services that match what the person needs?.” 

For instance, if a person suffers from both alcoholism and depression, both need to be addressed. Is the facility capable of doing this? Do they have therapists and counselors for dual diagnosis? 

Families searching for care for someone in need have plenty of options, but they will need to ask in-depth questions about the facility’s focus, treatment options, accreditation, and cost in order to make an informed choice,” says the American Addiction Centers. 

What about the cost of rehab? 

Rehab is expensive, but you don’t have to go to the most expensive facility in order to get good treatment.

Reportedly, there are three tiers of rehab facilities. There are high-end programs that typically cost $50,000 to $75,000 a month; a middle market in the $25,000 to $35,000 a month range; and most traditional inpatient programs, which range from a few thousand dollars to $20,000 monthly. 

Like I said, it isn’t cheap! But then again, spending money on drugs and alcohol isn’t cheap either. Sometimes, this will be covered by your health insurance. And at the end of the day, you can’t put a price on your health. You can also look into public assistance options for drug and alcohol rehab.

My opinion is that rehabs should perhaps not focus on trading drug addictions. Being physically active and following good nutrition go a long way to keep us happy and focused. We don’t need nicotine or a sugar rush to do this. 

Kyle Stephenson is a 25-year-old young adult who overcame addiction and obesity and has dedicated his life to helping others do the same.



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