Ask Katie: Are inpatient treatment centers a scam?

for Anxy

I’ve read numerous things saying that inpatient treatment centers are a very expensive scam. But I also know people who have gone to rehab and are still sober. What do you think? Is there a way to distinguish between good rehabs and scammy rehabs?


Just Curious

This is a good question, and — as with many things in recovery — there’s not a simple, straightforward answer. But I’ll do my best! If you’re asking if inpatient treatment (also known as rehab) is always necessary for a person to get sober, the answer is no. Many, many people get into recovery with the help of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (or SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, etc.), without ever setting foot inside a traditional treatment center. It is absolutely possible. There are also people who get sober without a support group, though I do think that approach can make the endeavor unnecessarily difficult.

It’s also true that inpatient rehabs can be extremely helpful for some folks. It was for me. I had made attempts at quitting drinking on my own and when those didn’t work, I tried a few 12-step meetings. Again and again, before, after, and occasionally during the meetings, I drank. Sometimes, I would leave meetings and still drink. I needed to be somewhere I couldn’t do that — I needed to be forcibly removed from alcohol. But what that really means is that I had the luxury of being forcibly removed from alcohol. Because, by and large, rehab is expensive as shit. The one I went to certainly is, and it’s more reasonable than most. And while health insurance is much better about covering mental health and addiction treatment as a result of the Affordable Care Act, there are still some limitations on what certain plans will cover — for example, an inpatient facility with more than 16 beds isn’t eligible for Medicaid reimbursement. (There is proposed legislation to change this.)

If rehab is going to cost a bazillion dollars and insurance companies don’t cover all of it, one would at least hope that it’s because you’re getting quality, 24/7 care. As you note in your letter, this is sometimes but not always the case…(continued)

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Katie MacBride is a freelance journalist, essayist, and co-founder/associate editor of Anxy magazine. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Daily Beast, Vice, Playboy, and Buzzfeed, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @msmacb

3 thoughts on “Ask Katie: Are inpatient treatment centers a scam?

  1. What I heard about the overal results of inpatient treatment is that it is difficult to come back to the living situation and stay sober. The skills which have been learned in a safe environment are difficult to keep up in an unsafe environment. Also, one might assume that those who are confident that they can quit in their own home environment, do not go to inpatient treatment. So I’m thinking; if there would be any figures on this, they would by definition be non-comparable. Or?
    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a good question! It’s definitely true that it’s harder to stay sober after getting out of treatment. One suggestions my rehab made–and I think is a very wise one–was to live in a sober living house after leaving rehab. It’s kind of like Rehab Lite. You come and go as you please but you have to be sober and check in for evening house meetings, etc. I lived in one for six months after getting sober, and it allowed me to establish really good patterns around recovery in the “real world”/outside of inpatient treatment. The counselors at rehab also made me review IN DETAIL a meeting schedule and plan which meetings I would attend for the first couple of weeks after I left. So, I don’t have any figures on that at the moment but I think the quality of rehab someone attends matters a lot AFTER they leave rehab as well. Mine gave me really good suggestions about how to maintain some of the structure that I had learned over the past month. But definitely, if a person immediately goes back to an unsafe or risky environment, it’s going to be that much harder to maintain their recovery.

      Liked by 1 person

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