Beware of The Promises
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Beware of The Promises


Beware of the Promises

This post was originally published on March 31, 2014.

On a recent flight to Seattle, I noticed an in-flight magazine ad for a hospital boasting their “medical treatment of addiction.” The specificity and exclusionary use of the term “medical” is what caught my attention, as it struck me that they were implying that their program utilized the “scientific” method of treating addiction (which is not a method I am familiar with). Upon further examination, I saw that this hospital also claimed to have the quote-unquote #1 Success Rate for Treating Alcoholism and highlighted the fact that their very speedy program was not 12-step-based (apparently a big plus) and promised a “new life” in just 10 days. And I remember thinking, “Man, wouldn’t it be great if it were just that easy?” (According to the Yelp reviews the place has gotten, apparently not.)

In a blog this week on PsychCentral, Dr. David Sack, the CEO of Elements Behavioral Health (a network of addiction treatment centers), lists five reasons why someone should and should not refuse addiction treatment. Sack’s angle is that not all treatment centers are created equal and that you should do your research before checking in—or having a loved one check in—to one of these facilities.

Funny enough, number two on his list of things to be wary of is a “program that makes promises it can’t keep” and the ad for the “medical” treatment hospital immediately came to mind. This isn’t to say that someone couldn’t find some kind of a new life in 10 days but something tells me that a treatment for addiction that immediate and effective would have spread faster than the discovery of a new super food. In fact, the myth alone would have people in 12-step groups buzzing with a wham-bam-10-days-ma’am excitement.

Sack adds that based on information from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment programs should last somewhere between 30 and 90 days, maybe even longer depending on the severity of the case. This rolls nicely into Sack’s third warning: be suspect of any program doesn’t take an individual’s needs into account—calling the hospital and their across-the-board 10-day guarantee into question again.

And finally, but perhaps most disturbingly, is Sack’s number one caution: to beware of treatment programs that aren’t backed by research. Which seems obvious enough except how is someone looking for treatment supposed to know? On the “#1 success rate for treating alcoholism” hospital’s website, it specifically says that that they practice “evidence-based techniques.” The kind of evidence—where or how that evidence was gathered—is unclear. But does that matter? If a company is able to claim that they have proof that their methods work, who can prove that they don’t? And let’s face it, most of the people checking into rehab can barely see straight, let alone do some fact checking while their liver seizes.

Sack’s list certainly isn’t the end-all be-all of rehab research criteria and he’s obviously biased in what he recommends, since—hello!—he runs a bunch of them. But his post nevertheless has good tips. If nothing else, it reminds us that no matter which way you slice it, addiction treatment is a business and while many facilities are wholly invested in administering the most effective care, others prioritize commerce over quality. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so alarming if people’s lives weren’t at stake.

Check out AfterParty’s list of the five top treatment centers here.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.