It is not uncommon for your loved one to want to leave at some point during the treatment process. Generally speaking, there are usually 3 “danger points” or stages to look for in any treatment modality.
But, if the question is “what if they want to leave treatment” you or the addict need to ask this simple question “do you want to change your life for the better or not?”
3 Danger Points of Leaving Treatment
The Withdrawal Stage(0-7 days):
Withdrawal, also known as “detox”, can be a very uncomfortable process. Physical pain, fatigue or anxiety are some of the many symptoms that can be associated with withdrawing off of certain drugs. Opiates, such as Heroin, Methadone, Vicadin, or Oxycontin, usually have the most physically uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These include major aches and pains, anxiety, an inability to sleep for days, vomiting and flu-like symptoms. Alcohol and Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonipin, etc) can be the most dangerous and usually require a medically supervised detox. Cocaine, marijuana, LSD, or methamphetamine can be the safest withdrawal and commonly do not have any uncomfortable physical withdrawal symptoms associated. During this stage, it is not uncommon for a withdrawing addict or alcoholic to beg, promise, or threaten anything just to get back to their drink or drug. If your loved one expresses a desire to leave for any reason during this process, understand that this is usually just a desire to get back to the drugs themselves. The one thing that will definitely take away the major symptoms of almost any withdrawal are the actual drugs that your loved one is withdrawing from…and he knows it. Remain firm and don’t give in to his pleadings. While in detox, he is in a much safer place than the local dope house or corner bar and he needs to stay through this process. This is the first step towards true recovery.
The Wall Stage (7-21 days)
Although your loved one has been safely detoxed at this point, he still isn’t “fixed”. He hasn’t gotten into enough recovery to have developed effective coping skills to handle uncomfortable feelings and life situations. In addition, he no longer has drugs or alcohol to fall back on during these uncomfortable times. So he usually becomes “restless, irritable and discontented” unless he can once again use those old familiar coping skills of before…drugs and alcohol. However, leaving a treatment program at this stage would seem ridiculous, so most addicts or alcoholics will try and justify a departure at this point. Getting extremely critical of the treatment center, the other clients, or the staff members themselves, you may hear your loved one make several disconcerting statements. “The place isn’t clean enough. The food is terrible. The other clients are flirtatious towards me. No one here is my age. My roommate snores. The staff is mean to me. This program is a joke.” Basically, what he is trying to do is come up with something that you will agree with so that you will feel ok when he leaves; or, if he can paint an “ugly enough picture” of the treatment facility or program then you’ll pull him out of it yourself. Understand that this is part of an addict’s diminished ability to face or deal with uncomfortable feelings or situations. His first instinct is usually to run away, he just wants you to agree with him when he does.
The Honeymoon Stage (21-90 days)
During this stage of recovery, an addict can feel so good about himself that he sincerely believes that he is done with treatment and doesn’t need anything further. Although he may not even be finished with the program he is in and even his counselors are recommending a further stay, he may insist on leaving. “I’m not as bad as these other people. I need to get back home to start working and be the good husband and father that I can be. I realize now how bad my drinking was and I’ll never go back there again. I feel awesome.” Be very wary of this. He may sound extremely sincere, and he probably truly believes that he will never use or drink again. But understand that most longer-term programs are designed the way they are for a reason, and if he is leaving before completing, regardless of the reason, then he is going before he is truly well. It is not uncommon for many alcoholics or addicts to want to leave as they begin to face the uncomfortable underlying causes and conditions. Remain firm. He agreed to finish the program and it is there he should stay. An independent study once suggested that 98% of all clients who left treatment early relapsed within the first 30 days of coming home. It is considerably easier to get your loved one to stay in treatment and finish the program than it is to get him to go back after leaving the program early, coming home and then relapsing. Some never return at all. A saying in recovery is that “you’ll never know if your loved one went to treatment for too long, but you’ll definitely know if he didn’t go long enough.”
More information on what to do after an intervention.
Remain loving…but firm
Basically no matter which of the beginning stages of recovery your loved one is in, he may at times demonstrate a desire to leave the treatment program or quit the recovery process entirely. This is perfectly normal. Understand that when something feels emotionally uncomfortable for him while going through treatment, then it is probably something that he needs the most work on. It is sometimes said that the most difficult parts of treatment and recovery are the parts that benefit someone the most. Try your best to remain strong and draw a line in the sand. If he completes treatment then there is a definite possibility that he will recover and perhaps remain sober for the rest of his life. If, however, he leaves treatment then there is a good chance that this is just the beginnings of the process of a relapse. If he can’t handle being in a safe, non-threatening treatment environment, then what are the chances that he can handle life outside of a treatment center with all its stressful variables and still remain sober? Probably pretty slim. Again, remain firm and stay the course. It is always more important to fully complete a treatment program than to just simply arrive at their doorstep.