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What’s Rehab Like? It’s Like High School (Seriously)

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What rehab is like. Blue text on white background

I’ll never forget first time someone told me they’d been to a drug rehab.

It was like talking to a leper.

I was still using, and I would continue to use for another couple years. I’d never even heard of Cocaine Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous before.

I had no idea what happened in rehab. I didn’t want to know. I just knew that people who went had something wrong with them.

I wanted to run away from this guy. I couldn’t figure out how messed up he must be to have gone to rehab. When he told me that, I felt so awkward. I just wanted to get away from the guy.

He couldn’t control himself. I still thought I could.

I was delusional (obviously).

When I finally made it to my first inpatient rehab a few years later, after detoxing off OxyContin in a detox facility, I found out that rehab isn’t anything like what I thought.

It was better than I thought.

And it was worse than I thought.

Basically, it was like high school.

Rehab Is Like High School

Rehab is absolutely like high school. I know that a lot of people who have never been to rehab are scared of going.

I was scared too.

I quickly learned that it wasn’t any scarier than going to high school was after finishing middle school.

Sure, at first you’re terrified (if you have any sense anyway).

Most rehabs have a cafeteria, complete with lunch ladies (and lunch gentlemen). Just like in high school, if you don’t know anyone, you feel awkward and don’t know where to sit.

And just like in high school, there’s usually someone cool who will invite you to sit with them.

Because everyone is coming off serious drugs, emotions are high (and so are the hormones). Sounds just like high school right?

Cliques form. People meet the loves of their lives (I know people who have gotten married 60 days after leaving rehab together). You make friends for life.

You thought I was joking, right? It’s exactly like high school—you even have classes that you have to take. You have to be in class on time every day.

You have teachers. You have homework. Most rehabs have a gym.

And these aren’t fancy rehabs I’m talking about—this is average.

The fancy ones have pools and horses and all kinds of crazy stuff that makes them even more awesome than what I’ve just described.

That’s why rehab was so much better than I thought it would be. I thought that it was going to be filled with nutcases, that I was going to be bored to tears, that I’d be locked away with no freedom.

There’s actually so much to do in there that it’s hard to get bored. There are AA meetings you can go to. Some of them have church services. There’s usually free time to exercise or play board games.

I thought it was going to be a boring hell, and it wasn’t.

But just like in high school, there’s a lot of bad stuff happening too. There are the bad kids who don’t take anything seriously. There’s gossip and drama. Sometimes there are fights. Sometimes the counselors suck.

Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you just break down. A lot of people get on psych meds while in rehab and have to deal with the side effects.

A lot of people go into rehab after their lives have gotten bad on the outside. They’ve lost jobs (or might lose them). They’ve got legal charges pending.

Maybe they’ve lost their kids. Maybe their spouse is threatening divorce. Maybe they just recently attempted suicide.

When you add on top of all that the phsyical and mental stress of detoxing and the flood of hormones and neurotransmitters, people can break down or flip out at a moment’s notice.

Just like high school.

That being said, just like high school, most of the time there’s a normality to things.

You make a friend (often your roommate if you’re in a rehab where you have a roommate). You guys stick together. Maybe you become part of a group.

You do your homework and smoke on your breaks and generally think about what you’re going to do when you get out. And that’s pretty much it.

Honestly, it’s more like a vacation than anything else. That can be dangerous for a lot of people—you can get comfortable in rehab.

You can forget how bad it was out there, forget the horrible circumstances that got you there in the first place.

That’s one of the reasons so many people relapse after they leave. They get complacent.

They don’t throw themselves into some sort of program to stay sober permanently because after the first few days they realize (just like you realize after the first few days of high school) that this place isn’t so bad after all, and that as long as you get into the groove and keep your head down you can get through it pretty easily.

If you’re going to go to rehab, you have to fight against that complacency. You have to be serious.

Rehab Is for People Who Are Serious

I’m not going to tell you the name of the rehab I went to, but I can tell you that it was a place for people who were serious about getting better.

Here’s why:

  • You could have your car there (and drive it from time to time)
  • There was an ATM in the lobby that you could use
  • There was no fence in the outdoor area (you could just walk to your car)
  • None of the doors were locked
  • You could leave to go to Target or Walmart for a couple hours (as long as you went with someone else who was in rehab with you)
  • You could have your phone

Anyone who wasn’t serious about getting sober could basically walk out of there at any time for any reason.

It also wasn’t exactly hard to get alcohol or dope and bring it into the rehab.

I never really understood that. If you wanted to get high, you could just leave.

That’s what some rehabs are like: they’re not restrictive at all.

If you’re truly serious about getting sober, going to a rehab like this might be great because it has the effect of weeding out the people who don’t really want to be there.

I wouldn’t recommend it though. It was hard to stay sober in there knowing that people were bringing in drugs (which they were).

There was a lot of temptation. I’m lucky I got through it without relapsing.

Other rehabs are significantly more restrictive. They recognize that many alcoholics and addicts just can’t stop using.

They lock the doors. They don’t let you have your phone. You can’t have your car there. There’s definitely no ATM available.

For many people, this can be great. It has a tendency to dampen some of the negatives that I listed in the previous section.

It’s harder for drama to start when there’s no phones for people to text each other on.

If you can’t leave the facility, you don’t have people bringing drugs in (mostly).

For many people, this is the right choice. I think it’s probably the right choice for most. If you could have stopped getting high or drinking on your own, you would have, right?

Of course you would. No one wants to go to rehab if they can avoid it, no matter how nice it is.

Going to a place that is going to remove temptation makes getting sober a lot easier.

Rehab Is for People Who Can’t Stop

Rehab is just a place where you go if you can’t stop drinking or getting high.

That’s it.

While there’s plenty of stuff going on around you when you’re there, you have to focus on why you came to rehab in the first place.

Read more about why addicts can’t stop here.

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Adam Fout

I'm an addiction / recovery / mental health blogger and a speculative fiction / nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I've been featured on numerous recovery podcasts. I have personal experience with addiction and mental health. I have Substance Use Disorder (SUB), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Bipolar II, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), and Binge Eating Disorder (BED), among others. I have been in numerous drug rehabs, detoxes, and mental institutions, so I understand from personal experience how the mental health system works. I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others. I LOVE when readers reach out to me! Always feel free to send me an email at awfout at gmail dot com. I can't wait to hear from you!