How to Choose a Drug or Alcohol Rehab

Most people are driven by a sense of urgency when they have a loved one with a substance abuse problem. In many cases, the person may have agreed to go to a rehab, and the people close to them are in a hurry to find a facility before they change their mind. It is best to do research before this time arrives, but if you should find yourself in this situation, it is just as important, perhaps more so, to do it now. Research any facility before making a final decision or signing an agreement.

Is there really a problem?
One question to ask yourself first is, “Is a drug or alcohol treatment facility actually needed?” Many people would have you believe that one cannot stop using drugs or drinking without attending a program, but this is not true in all cases. Some people would say that any use at all is a problem. This is not true, either.

Substance use becomes a problem requiring a treatment program when the person cannot control their use, and it damages other aspects of their life and the lives of others. Sometimes, however, the user cannot see that they have a problem, and then the other people in their life must, in a caring, calm, and gentle manner, help them to see that they need help. There are other options to treatment than an extended program costing thousands of dollars. The “Which Treatment Should I Pursue?” page on HBO’s Addiction web site will help you understand the different types of solutions to a substance abuse problem.

With thousands of drug rehabs to choose from, many people turn to a referral site or service in order to choose a rehab. This is fraught with potential pitfalls, as many of these sites are operated by people with a vested financial interest in sending you to a particular rehab, and less interest in finding a rehab suited to each person’s particular needs. Commissions are paid for successful referrals from a percentage of your program fees. Find out more about referral sites on our Rehab Referral Sites page.

Selecting Candidates
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal government agency, lists 13 Principles of Effective Drug Addiction Treatment which, if kept in mind while you search, will help you evaluate your choices.

There are other ways to find a good rehab program or facility before turning to the internet. Ask people you can trust for suggestions:

  • Ask your family doctor, if you have one, for his or her recommendations. Ask how familiar they are with their recommendation.
  • Visit your health plan’s website or contact their customer service department and ask for the name of a participating provider. Most insurance companies require that participating providers undergo a rigorous screening process before being added to their list, so they will have already ruled out some of the sub-par and ineffective programs for you.
  • Ask friends or family, if you’re comfortable talking to them about the subject.
  • Ask your county mental health services. They can often recommend sliding scale programs.

We recommend that you select a few choices, and then thoroughly research the ones you’ve chosen. Once you’ve made a decision, make sure to get everything that’s important to you in writing. If their standard contract doesn’t cover these things, write your own contract for them to sign before you sign theirs and turn over your money and loved one to them. Another important point we’d like to make is that you need to read and understand the contract thoroughly before you sign it. Make sure you have a copy of the contract before you hand over your money. Don’t be rushed into anything, no matter how desperate you feel.

We’d like to emphasize the importance of doing your research every step of the way. Realize that the drug rehab industry is big money, with potentially high profits, and some answers you receive from sales people may not be the truth. Ideally, by researching everything along your path to finding a drug rehab, you will uncover the half-truths and falsehoods, and find the rehab that your or your loved one can be comfortable with – not just when you sign the contract, but during and after the program as well. Below, we offer you some tips to narrow down your selection.

Tips to Narrow Down Your Selection

Do research on the internet.
We can assume, if you’re on this site, that is what you are doing now. However, don’t stop at the first page of results. A drug rehab that is on the first page of search results may be putting more effort into marketing and search engine optimization than they put into staying up-to-date with the current science of addiction.

Research the facility and program by name.
Include other words in your search that would not be used by the facility in reference to themselves. Some words to include could be: dangerous, complaint, dissatisfied, unhappy, unsafe, scam, ripoff, dirty… Come up with some words of your own, also.

Don’t make your decision based on advertising claims.
12 step, non-12 step, Christian, non-religious, natural, drug free, alternative, biophysical rehabs – these terms are all used in rehab advertising and mean little unless they are defined by the facility. Some rehabs advertise amazing success rates – ask for documentation of the success rate – how studies are performed and by who, if the organizations doing the studies have any relationship with the rehab facility. Then go online and check out the organization or researchers who did the studies and verify that what you’ve been told about the relationship is true.

Ask for evidence.
Many, in fact most, rehabs will claim there is evidence to support the basis of their treatment, and many people will take their word for it. It is up to you to ask them to provide their evidence so you can evaluate it for yourself. If they claim to have evidence, but are not willing to provide it to you, cross them off you list of potential rehabs. If they do provide evidence, but you don’t know how to evaluate it (and many people don’t), the website Ask for Evidence, run by Sense About Science, has a primer on how to work out what is reliable evidence. You can even ask them for more help to interpret the evidence you’ve received.

What about the staff?
Does the facility’s website have any information about the staff and their qualifications? Does it have photos and bios of key staff members? A site that displays the names, photos, and biographical information about key staff members is more likely to be well-respected in the field, proud of what they do, and less apt to be trying to hide anything, than one that doesn’t. A lack of information about the staff may indicate a high turnover rate. However, don’t stop here. Go ahead and research the staff names. If a facility will not give the names of their key staff members, it should be a red flag to you.

If the facility advertises psychological services, such as Dual Diagnosis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or other similar sounding names, make sure they have properly educated and licensed staff to provide those services. Many programs will use these types of “buzz words” in their advertising because they sound good, and will attract potential clients from search engine results, but often they do not have the qualified staff required to offer these services.

What does the program consist of?
Some program websites focus on the feel-good aspects of their facility, such as glamorous living quarters, amenities such as a pool, tennis courts, lounging areas, and food service. While the surroundings can certainly make one’s stay more comfortable, and good quality food and nutrition is certainly important, more important for recovery is what the program entails, and how that helps the client to adapt to living without substance abuse, and turn their life around. You must be honest with yourself; just because something sounds good, and you would like it to be true, does not mean it makes for a good program. Beware of radical and alternative program methods; sometimes the best are the tried and true. That’s why they’re commonly used – because they work.

Beware of “alphabet soup” after the names of staff and the facility itself.
There are many types of credentials used by various addiction specialists. Some of these amount to nothing more than paying a fee and taking a simple online test. The list of these types of credentials is long; the list of respected credentials is much shorter. Keep in mind, though, that credentials are not enough to choose a program; you should be looking at the whole picture.

Look up the credentials on the internet, find the site of the organization that supplies it, and check the list of requirements to see if you think it is a good type of certification. Certifications that are desirable will include initial educational requirements, continuing education, and time spent on actual experience in the field, among other things.

Find out How to Check Credentials.

Caveat emptor!
Now for our final tip: Remember the old adage – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Not true, that is!

On our next page, Researching a Rehab Facility, we will offer suggestions for some more research you can do once you have narrowed your list down to several or a few.