When is the last time you stopped and asked yourself this? As is the case with most words, we've been hearing them our whole lives and may have never looked up what the definition of it is.
Well, rehabilitation is the action, process, or result of the verb "rehabilitate," which Merriam Webster defines as "To restore to a former capacity; reinstate." This definition makes sense when we look at what helps a person addicted to drugs, and what treatment should look like. At the end of the process, they would ideally be in the same condition they were before they began using drugs.
We're talking about restoring the person to the same condition they were before the drugs. And while this may not match up with the apparent goals of many drug and alcohol treatment programs today, this was once the goal of the rehabilitation industry.
What does rehabilitation look like?
If we were to apply this definition to something much more straightforward than a person, such as an object, we could see it without any emotion attached. If a person had an old car or house that they "rehabilitated" or restored, we'd hope that their goal was to get it back into at least as good of condition as the object originally was.
When it comes to a person, one of the keynotes of rehabilitation is that it restores their ability. Once they were able to function without drugs. They could hold a job, enjoy life, do a multitude of things, all of which evaporated as their downward spiral into addiction grew. But these abilities are not lost. And drug rehabilitation, which has as its core purpose the return of the ability to the individual, will always be a successful model.
Why do people seek rehabilitation?
I've worked with many people over the years who were struggling with addiction or were in the middle of the treatment process. You often hear when exploring goals with patients who may not yet have an idea of what their interests are outside of drugs, that they just want their old life back. Many patients will tell you that they wish they could go back in time and never go down the path of drugs, and many of them have forgotten who they are without the chemical personality that has developed.
A hope that they can rediscover who they are, as well as some enjoyment or passion for life, is a primary motivating factor in seeking rehabilitation. Why would anyone want to stop using drugs other than to better the quality of their life? So, the definition of rehabilitation is what a patient is seeking and expecting when they reach out for help. It also means that providing anything less is a disservice, mainly when it is possible to deliver true rehabilitation.
But what do we do when a person doesn't want rehabilitation? Not everyone wants their old life back, and some don't even want to be off drugs. This is where difficulties emerge in the field of rehabilitation, and with these come some unusual solutions.
Not all treatment provides rehabilitation
Substance abuse services exist, which are not rehabilitation. They are aimed at preventing the consequences of drug abuse rather than the addiction itself. Knowing that these services exist and that they have different goals than rehabilitation is essential because many drug and alcohol treatment services cater to people that do not seek true rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation is more than detox. It is more than getting a person off drugs, an action which only handles dependency, not addiction. Rehabilitation is more than maintaining dependence on a drug or taking something, which prevents you from getting high. It's more than just a place to stay for a while to dry out.
How to achieve rehabilitation
Drug and alcohol rehabilitation takes effort, and quite a bit of time. It requires addressing the physical, mental, and often spiritual damage that drugs inflict on a person. This includes intensive work, which is aimed at resolving the underlying issues which the person is using drugs to cope with or solve. It also involves relapse prevention, which gives the person a new set of tools they can use to handle life's problems rather than resorting to substances to escape. Rehabilitation exists to give people their lives back. Settling for anything less cheats people out of the miracles achieved every day in rehabs around the world.
The cycle of addiction
Addiction becomes such because the substances do something positive for the person, at first. They solve some problem which allows the individual to cope or "escape" an uncomfortable emotion, sensation, or existence. Was the problem impossible to solve without using drugs? Of course not. So, another way to look at this is that addiction can only exist where a lack of ability precedes it.
If a person could do everything correctly, their life would be amazing, and they would undoubtedly not need drugs to cope. This is why there must be an emphasis on ability.
Take the person who struggles with communication. They are not very good at it, and because of this, they are often misunderstood and don't have many friends. They are withdrawn, quiet, and this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. People avoid them; they become more introverted and self-conscious, and then are more awkward and withdrawn.
One night when they are walking home from another bad day at work, they stop into a bar and drink. They feel buzzed and begin talking to people and drinking more, ending up having a great night where they make several new friends. The drinking becomes more frequent because it is the only way the person feels social or able to communicate without all the self-consciousness and overthinking. They make this a routine, and soon addiction develops, and they wind up in worse shape than they were. Increasing the person’s ability to communicate will prevent her from relapsing and will give a better quality of life to the individual.
What can rehabilitation do?
Giving someone the ability to be better and make a better life for themselves may be the single most crucial factor in whether or not they recover or continue using drugs for the rest of their lives. Isn't it interesting that the entire idea behind getting people off drugs is so they can have a good life, yet if you focus on this instead of the drugs, they cease to need the drugs? This is what rehabilitation can do.