Drug and alcohol addiction is like any other disease – it can be treated, but not always cured. For some, addiction may require a lifetime of work. It’s not easy, and there are no quick fixes. And truthfully, a qualified rehab center is most often a good choice for those who need comprehensive, long-term treatment and support.

But unfortunately, not all rehab facilities are created equal, and not all addicts are equipped with the right attitude and skills to make it right the first time around. So what went wrong?

There are a number of reasons why people don’t succeed with drug rehab the first time around. Here are some prime examples:

#1. The sufferer doesn’t understand the true nature of addiction.

Addiction isn’t just a habit. Addiction can permanently alter brain chemistry – something that at present, cannot simply be changed overnight.

Think about the few weeks or months you spent in rehab, and compare that duration to the amount of time you spent using; moreover, a 20-year addiction isn’t likely to be cured in 3 months.

It usually takes much longer to reverse the changes that have occurred in brain functioning. Even then, you will always have the same propensity to use as you always did – that is, many evidence-based studies have found that the brains of substance users have definite characteristics.

For example, think about those who are predisposed to cancer – removal of a tumor doesn’t make a person any less likely to get cancer again.

#2. The sufferer doesn’t understand that relapse is often part of the process, and not necessarily a sign of permanent failure.

Addiction, like many diseases is chronic, and relapse is common. Many people think that a relapse is an indication of failure. Thus, they just fall off the wagon. Rehab facilities who are serious about getting people into recovery mode will be up front about the possibility of relapse, and how to deal with that when it occurs.

Relapse can happen, but the intensity and duration of the relapse is controllable. How you perceive and handle a relapse can make all the difference in your recovery. Viewing it as a failure on your part serves no good purpose, and you are only setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

#3 The Rehab Center Didn’t Employ Evidence-based Treatment

It’s hard to believe, but there are still alcohol and drug rehab centers out there that do not use scientifically sound treatments.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, only one in 10 people needing addiction treatment receive it, and those who do often “do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care.”

In fact, some drug rehab centers use antiquated, overly-aggressive approaches that typically yield more damage than benefit. Others offer only short-term treatment administered by marginally qualified personnel.

Additionally, at least half of all addicts also suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. If these conditions are not identified and treated in conjunction with the addiction disorder, the chances of relapse are particularly high – for obvious reasons.

The best programs use board certified health professionals, psychiatrists, and/or master’s level therapists. The best environments are home-like and comfortable, yet offer 24/7 medical supervision and support from a highly qualified medical team.

Keep in mind that for some, even the right rehab might take more than one go-around. The process, for many, is often cumulative. Sometimes people are just not ready for the change, require additional work, and need to follow their own path – which may be rockier for some than others. Which leads me to the next problem…

#4 The sufferer has the wrong attitude, and is not ready or equipped to make the needed changes.

You have to realize that addiction recovery can be a big challenge, even for those who are highly motivated.

For those who are even mildly apathetic, it can be much more difficult. If it were easy, almost everyone would do on their own.

Treatment can work for those who are particularly stubborn, but the likelihood of long-lasting success decreases when issues remain unresolved. I firmly believe that addiction is not a choice, or a moral failing. However, addicts must be somewhat responsible for their own progress, and unwillingness to give 100% will undoubtedly decrease the odds of success.

Still others are dedicated, do the work needed, and obtain sobriety. But that success can sometimes lead to overconfidence, which is a very dangerous attitude that has kicked more than one addict in the pants, I can assure you. Which can contribute to problems with the following…

#5 The sufferer is lacking a healthy support system.

Overconfidence can sometimes result in a return to old friends and environments. This is normal – returning from drug rehab can be daunting, and those fresh out of the facility may feel lonely and isolated once they’ve been turned out.

But a return to the same old haunts can also result in exposure to triggers sooner than the person is ready to handle, and ultimately, relapse.

Some of these old friends (and even family) may not be very supportive. If they imbibe themselves, they may even become enablers, and subtly encourage the person in recovery to go back to using. As they say, misery loves company.

Rather than falling back into the same old routine, it is better to seek out an environment that is supportive. If you don’t have family or friends who can truly offer you unconditional, health support, you seriously need to consider a sober living facility/home for at least the first few months after discharge.


There are many things than can go wrong with the recovery process. Sometimes, the clinical aspects are not up to par – other times, the addict doesn’t quite have enough incentive to see it through. And sometimes – very often, actually – the addict just hasn’t give himself or herself enough time to conquer the disease.

The important thing is to not give up, even in the face of what you deem to be colossal failure. Never underestimate what you are up against – but then again, never underestimate your ability to change, either.

Like addiction, life is also a process of learning, trying, failing, and starting all over again. Success is not measured by ease of transformation, but by the courage to continue despite ongoing adversity.