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Hungry Sharks: The Sobering Truth About the $39 Billion Addiction Rehab Industry

The rehab industry is a colossal, $39 billion enterprise, and much like the treacherous depths of the sea, it's fraught with dangers.

As a California woman in recovery who leads a grassroots recovery organization and facilitates a recovery support group online with over 6,000 members, I’ve heard countless horror stories about the rehab industry.

One couple, in recovery themselves, spent over $70,000 on their son's treatment, but much of it proved worthless.

Another individual I know personally endured the revolving door of more than 9 rehabs, often forced to attend groups he didn't find helpful, and engaging in trivial activities, like puzzling, finger-painting, and ping-pong.

Other members have shared their horror stories with me of health insurance providers refusing to cover addiction care near their homes, and instead, they were sent to shoddy treatment facilities hundreds of miles away.

Where I live in Colusa County, a peer who attends our weekly support group for Justice-Involved individuals told me he relapsed just three days after leaving a 30-day rehab that runs ads that claim 'evidence-based treatment' and follow-up support, that our county's local mental health provider sent him to. Am I surprised that he relapsed? Not one bit. There was no solid follow-up program or support in place for him when he got out.

One Story That Still Pulls At My Heartstrings:

I will never forget the night a young woman in her 30s, who we will call Lane, called me crying over her dog. Her local behavioral health provider had given her an ultimatum: enter long-term rehab or lose her temporary housing, which they were paying for.

They expected Lane to surrender her beloved pet to a local animal shelter, and she couldn't bear to do that. She left Medi-Cal's funded behavioral health system and has been unhoused for over two years. At the time, she called me, our organization did not have the resources to help her find alternative treatment options. We do today.

Bad Rehabs Are A Disgrace:

Bad rehabs, hire salesmen. These con men prey on individuals and families at their most vulnerable. These facilities cut corners, overcharge patients, and provide substandard care, and the worst part is mental health agencies keep sending people there, in spite of the data that shows rehabs don't work for the majority of people who do a 30-day stint. Relapse rates are often as high as 60% to 80% within the first year of leaving rehab.

These sales sharks exploit those with insurance and employ high-pressure sales tactics to entice individuals into their treatment programs.

Not All Rehabs Are Bad:

If you're contemplating rehab, it's essential to conduct meticulous research. Choose a facility grounded in good reviews, reasonably priced, and one that offers follow-up support in person or by Zoom. Be vigilant about the warning signs of predatory rehab centers.

Tips for Choosing a Rehab Facility:

  1. Inquire about the facility's treatment philosophy and ensure they employ a holistic and whole-person approach that focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit, as opposed to a heavy reliance on psychotherapy.

  2. Beware of any facility boasting a 100% success rate and ask about their actual success rates.

  3. Clarify the total cost of treatment, including any out-of-pocket expenses.

  4. Seek out reviews and testimonials from former patients to gauge their experiences.

When in doubt about a rehab facility, it's always wise to err on the side of caution and explore other options. While there are many reputable rehab facilities, regrettably, there are also numerous subpar ones. Don't jeopardize your health and well-being by choosing an unsuitable facility.

About the writer:

Susan Wagenaar, explores social issues, relationships, culture, addiction, and the incredible resilience of the indomitable human spirit.

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