There is no pill that treats addiction. No single protocol to tackle all cases. No way to know for sure if a treatment will work without first seeing how a patient responds to it. Addictions can be treated, and many people make excellent recoveries, staying sober despite prior hardships and struggles. But the treatment process is complicated and difficult to determine.
Professionals sit down and discuss treatment options with patients, working them through the steps to address the myriad of symptoms and conditions that make their addiction problems unique. Some people are addicted due to mental health issues, while others are addicted and developed mental health issues because of it. Some must deal with chronic pain outside of their addiction, while others struggle with an emotional pain, such as a childhood trauma, awaiting them in sobriety.
Poverty, lifestyle choices, neighborhoods, and friends all play roles in developing, stopping, and reversing addictions. People who dedicate their lives to studying this disease and treating others will see many stories that are plenty alike, but no two people who are identical.
All this to say that when it comes to choosing between rehab and sober living, the right answer depends on many factors. Residential treatment centers are very different from sober living homes, yet in many ways they’re quite similar. It’s the differences that are key, however, to deciding which is best for you.
What is Rehab?
Rehab usually refers to residential treatment, or residential rehabilitation. In a medical sense, rehab is the healing process for someone with a debilitating injury. Take a knee injury as an example. By training the muscles around the injury and strengthening the tendons to handle progressively greater loads, a person can effectively rehabilitate their knee, allowing for full flexion and full function, even to the point of returning to competitive sports.
Some injuries cannot be completely recovered from. But rehab can make a person go a long way, and always helps bring quality of life back to them, even if they remain technically disabled.
In addiction medicine, rehab centers similarly work with patients to help bring them back onto their own two feet and help them deal with the challenges they are going to face when returning to their lives completely sober. Addiction numbs people to all sorts of sensations – not just pain, but life itself. It makes it difficult to understand what’s going on, and at times – depending on the drug – entire hours or days disappear. Going from that kind of living to a completely clear and often painful reality is very difficult, and very harsh. People are likely going to be confronted with extreme emotions, mood swings, memories, mistakes, regrets, and shame.
Rehab attempts to help patients move through that period and find the strength – and the reason – to stay clean. They start by helping a patient through the withdrawal period, and the early recovery period, where cravings and mood swings are at their worst.
From there, therapy can help tackle many of the issues still left unresolved after the drugs fade away, and sobriety comes into full play. Different talk therapy methods work with different patients, and some respond better to group therapy or non-verbal therapy, such as music and art.
Sometimes, rehab centers help patients relocate to other facilities to help transition back into life. Otherwise, the shift in environment can be very sudden and difficult to adjust to.
What is Sober Living?
Sober living communities or sober living homes are also residential facilities, but they specialize in a different kind of treatment. Rather than provide a medical facility to treat addiction, sober living focuses on sober living. Certain rules – such as a no-tolerance policy on drug use and drug possession, as well as strict curfews – make these communities different from normal apartments or subdivisions.
But otherwise, sober living communities are normal communities for people who have struggled with addiction to come and live life free from temptation. These communities encourage social interaction, organizing group events to bring tenants together, and they help their tenants find work/school to keep them busy. Social responsibility is taught through divided chores and many sober living homes do not have a limit on how long a tenant can stay, if they continue paying their rent.
Some move from rehab facilities to sober living homes, showing that there can be room for both, depending on how you structure your recovery. Rehab facilities may be a better option for someone who has never gone through recovery before, while sober living homes are great for people who struggle with relapses and need a place to learn to live a normal life in sobriety.
Regardless of which you choose, you’ll eventually be out of the program and on your way back home, either to your own place or to family or friends. If you can, it might help to move to somewhere completely new, and take some time to try out a very different kind of life. Sobriety is supposed to open many possibilities and give you the option of exploring life without the constraints of addiction – but it’s also a vulnerable state. Returning to an old life can bring up many memories and make it difficult to stay clean.
If you can’t make radical changes, make small ones. But change is necessary, one way or the other. It’s just entirely up to you how you want to make those changes – and that’s the beauty of being sober and out of rehab. You’re free to do as you please, even if that means relapsing.
Pursue a hobby, travel the country, make new friends, get a brand-new job, go back to school, reinvent what it means to be you, or look back and reflect on it all and find some closure for everything you have gone through. Whatever you end up doing, it’s all on you now. It’s scary but liberating, but if your treatment was successful, then you’ll have all the tools at your disposal to know where you want to go next, and what you want to do next.
Just don’t forget that if you’re ever having one of those days, there are places and people you can turn to for help.