There’s never really a point where recovery from addiction becomes smooth sailing. First, it takes quite a bit of effort to convince a loved one they have a problem, then more effort to get them to agree to enter treatment, then more effort to actually get them into treatment. Once they’ve entered a treatment program, you may be ready to sigh with relief, but once you do, you get a call from your loved one saying they want to leave the program early. What’s going on and what should you do?
Their Reason vs the Real Reason
If your loved one wants to come home early, it’s unlikely they’ll tell you the real reason. They will most likely give you one of the other reasons on this list and they might even believe it’s the real reason. However, most of the time, the real reason is just that they want to use drugs or alcohol again. They may suddenly be facing the reality that getting sober means getting sober forever and they suddenly panic.
The thought of letting go of drugs and alcohol forever is just too much. There may also be other considerations underlying this fear. For example, they may be having to cope with their challenging emotions or face their mistakes for the first time without drugs or alcohol to take the edge off. Whatever the real reason, remember that the most likely outcome of leaving treatment early is that they will start drinking or using drugs again.
Withdrawal Is Difficult
Withdrawal is one of the most challenging parts of addiction recovery and unfortunately, there’s no way around it. If withdrawal is the reason your loved one wants to leave, you’ll get a call sometime during the first week or so, probably after two or three days. This is typically when the withdrawal symptoms start to peak. If your loved one wants to leave during detox, be aware that the only possible alternative is to start using again.
If they are going to continue with recovery, they are already in the best possible situation for avoiding discomfort and dangerous complications. The important thing is to have no illusions that when they ask to come home during detox, they are asking to resume drinking or using right away.
They Feel Like They Don’t Belong
A lot of people enter treatment, make it through detox, start going to group therapy sessions, and engaging in other activities and decide pretty soon that they aren’t like the other people here. They feel like the other people in the program are “addicts” while they, themselves, feel like there were special circumstances that lead to their drinking or drug use.
In psychology, this is called the “fundamental attribution error” and in AA it’s called “terminal uniqueness.” You feel less inclined to engage in treatment because you feel like you’re fundamentally different from the other people there. In a way, the early days of treatment are like looking in an unflattering mirror and takes a while to accept that it’s actually your own reflection that you see.
They Feel Like They’re Over Their Addiction
Another common reason people ask to leave early is that they feel like they’re over their addiction and they no longer need treatment. There are several reasons they may feel this way. First, once they get past detox, they may feel like they’ve made it over the major hurdle to recovery, so you might get a call after the first week or so saying they’ve got everything under control.
Also, as treatment progresses, they may have other small breakthroughs that fool them into thinking they’ve got an addiction beat. For example, having someone really listen in therapy, feeling connected to other people who have faced the same challenges, or even just getting a few nights of restful sleep for the first time in years might suddenly make you feel like you’re in the clear.
Other reasons for feeling this way may be more concerning. For example, someone with bipolar disorder may be having a manic or hypomanic episode and suddenly feel like everything is great, that whatever demons were urging them to drink or use drugs are suddenly gone, and there’s no longer any reason to stay in treatment. And, of course, there’s always the possibility they’re just lying so they can leave and resume drinking or using drugs.
In reality, recovery is a long road. Even a month in treatment is only a head start. Most people need some kind of transitional care and a good support structure to make their progress from treatment carry over into regular life. The idea that you could spend a couple of weeks in treatment and be fine from then on is just unrealistic.
They Aren’t Learning Anything New
Education is typically an important component of addiction treatment. Not only do you learn about the causes of addiction, but you also learn many strategies for coping with the emotional and social challenges of recovery. No doubt, some of the ideas and information you encounter in treatment will be familiar and indeed, some of it is just common sense. However, there is a huge difference between knowing something rationally and being able to apply it to your life.
In treatment, you do often have these formal classroom sessions, but you also practice new skills in a safe space. Practice is sometimes boring, but it’s necessary. And treatment is about more than just learning recovery skills. You get some space from your regular life stress and bad influences and you get some time in a healthy environment, an opportunity to make some healthy lifestyle changes that you can continue when you return home.
There’s Something Wrong With the Program or Facility
Finally, a very common excuse is that there’s something wrong with the program, the facility, or the staff. The place is dirty or unsafe, this place is just a scam, Nurse Ratched is abusing me, and so on. If you have done your research beforehand and followed expert advice, these kinds of problems are extremely unlikely.
However, if these complaints persist, it’s a good idea to look into it, since there are bad actors in the treatment world. Tell your loved one to hold on for 24 hours. Call your consultant or whoever made the referral and talk to them. Call the treatment center and ask about your loved one’s allegations. If it appears something is wrong, don’t just allow your loved one to come home. Instead, find an alternative program for them to go to.
It’s not uncommon for people to want to leave treatment early. It’s not even necessarily a bad sign. It may indicate they are facing the seriousness of their situation for the first time in their lives and they’re afraid. Approach the situation with compassion but also be aware that when someone asks to leave treatment early, they’re typically asking to start drinking or using again, which is especially dangerous following a period of sobriety.
At Hired Power, we help families deal with the challenges of their loved ones’ addiction. We offer services such as interventions, sober transportation, recovery care management, sober coaches, sober assistants, and other transitional services. To learn more, call us today at (800) 910-9299.