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Higher Ground


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Higher Ground is a 12-step based rehab located in New Zealand’s most urban area of the country: Auckland’s Te Atatu Peninsula, on a sweeping ocean-view property. It was founded in 1984 and only admits New Zealand residents who fall into certain categories. The first is residents of Waitemata, Auckland or Manukau counties. If Waikato residents want to attend Higher Ground, they need a Waikato-based alcohol/drug service such as CADS, Care NZ or Pai Ake Solutions for a referral. New Zealand residents with methamphetamine addiction can contact Higher Ground for an assessment. The rehab is also on contract with the Ministry of health to provide access to people who identify as meth addicts.

Accommodations and Food

Higher Ground’s facilities look like a hospital turned into a home. Clients room and board with either one to three other roommates. They have colorful sheets, white night stands, white walls and double closets with one bathroom per room. The carpeted lounges contain couches with beach artwork on the walls, greenery and a TV. The dining room has long green tables and bright green hard chairs. The Whanau Room, where therapy is held, is more classroom-like, with classic fluorescent lighting, standard elementary school chairs and the 12 steps hanging from the wall.

Meals are geared towards health and are all made and served by clients as a part of their daily chores. Portions are reportedly enormous and can include such dishes as fish pie. Caffeine and sugar products are not available. 

Treatment and Staff

All clients must go through an assessment before being admitted into the 18-week program at Higher Grounds. It’s a 90-minute discussion with the staff on the potential client’s alcohol and drug use, medical and psychiatric history, legal history and previous substance abuse treatment.

After this is a follow up appointment that only a third of the assessed people are called back for since some people are not physically fit enough to fully participate or have significant psychiatric issues that HG can’t help with since they follow a no meds treatment policy. All clients must be fully detoxed before starting the treatment program and regular drug testing is done during the 18 weeks.

Higher Ground can take up to 38 clients and the founding principles of their program are based on the 12 steps. Therapy is the heart of the rehab’s treatment, though. Clients participate in group therapy as well as individual therapy. The number of one-on-one sessions varies from client to client.

The goal of the therapy is to foster personal growth by changing the client’s lifestyle through a community of people working on themselves for the better. HG offers a highly structured environment. Roughly two-thirds of the clients take part in HG’s Maori (the Eastern Polynesian people’s culture in New Zealand) program; all clients are welcomed by a powhiri, a Maori welcoming ceremony. When treatment is complete, clients participate in a Maori ceremony where they commit to 90 meetings in 90 days and then return for another ceremony to celebrate “their success in early recovery.”

There are educational group therapy sessions and lectures on relapse prevention, transactional analysis, smoking cessation and anger management. There are also daily AA or NA meetings that clients are required to attend (though they are not required to get sponsors). The staff is highly credentialed with degreed counselors and registered nurses but there is no MD on staff (though there is a local practitioner that meets with clients when needed).

A typical day at Higher Ground means waking up at 6 am, going on a walk at 7 and eating breakfast at 7:30. From 8 to 8:30, clients do their daily chores and duties (which can include sweeping or cleaning dishes). A house meeting where clients receive the daily schedule and give one another feedback about the previous day’s behavior follows this. There’s a break from 10:30 to 11 am and then a Maori Cultural Group. Lunch is at noon and an educational group or a lecture on topics ranging from relapse prevention to anger management follows that. There’s another break from 2 to 2:30 pm followed by exercise followed by something called EMOG (every member of the group) where clients share their history of why they came to Higher Ground. From 5 to 6 pm, residents have free time to read or play table tennis, chess or cards and after that it’s dinner followed by an off-site AA or NA meeting at 7 pm. (On Tuesday evenings, a local home group comes in and leads a meeting.) At 9 pm, clients write daily inventories and that’s followed by bedtime at 10 and lights out at 10:30 pm.

There is a designated smoking area for time between sessions but the staff monitors smoking and no more than one cigarette is allowed per sitting. This is part of Higher Ground’s prevention of cross-addiction. Even during meals, the clients are watched for over or under-eating so there is only one serving per meal allowed.

Higher Ground is more restricted than other rehabs but their intentions are good. TV watching is restricted but clients are allowed to watch the nightly news and a DVD on Saturday nights that does not have any drug or highly sexual content. Cell phones and laptops are not allowed but there is a public phone that clients share under moderation and staff supervision. Visitation is on Sundays from 1:30 to 4:15 pm. The family program consists of an educational group on addiction and a group therapy session on Wednesdays at 7 pm. Weekends allow for more free time with shopping expeditions on Saturday afternoon in Auckland.


Exercise is built into the program and that includes volleyball, baseball, soccer, yoga, Zumba and Tai Chi. Sessions are limited to three 45-minute workouts a week. Gyms are separated by gender and both are outfitted with small trampolines, treadmills and weights.

In Summary

Higher Ground is a strict rehab on a tight schedule with the 12 steps at its core. It’s not luxurious or decadent on any level but it could be right for those who need an extremely strict regimen to kick addictions to the curb.

Higher Ground Location

118 Beach Road
Te Atatu Peninsula
Auckland City 0610
011 64 09 834 0017

Higher Ground Cost

Higher Ground Cost: 600 NZ Dollars [$466.6 per publishing date exchange rate] (if clients do not qualify for WINZ benefits, 30 days). Reach Higher Ground by phone at 011-64-09-834-0017.

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