Addiction Treatment 101: How to Make the Most of Your Experience

Jacqueline Filis
A white woman's feet, wearing orange and grey sneakers, walking up concrete stairs

This monthly series focuses on addiction treatment: making the choice to begin, finding a facility that meets your needs, and more.

So you’ve begun receiving treatment for a substance use disorder. Congratulations on investing in yourself and your health! Making the decision to receive treatment is an empowering one—but once that treatment begins, fear and self-doubt can sometimes creep in. How can you best set yourself up for success during addiction treatment? Whether you’re checking into a residential rehab, beginning an outpatient program, or starting a medication routine, I recommend keeping these simple tips in mind.

Show up. It’s not just about ticking off the attendance roster. You’ve got to be present, attentive, and ready to participate in your treatment. Even when you feel like you can’t. Even when you think you’ve gotten all you can. It’s okay to fake it until you make it. Because after all, it is true what they say: If the body is there, the mind will follow.

Be open. You matter. Even if you don’t always believe it, remember that what you share is just as important as what others share. And what you share will not only help you, but will also help others. You will truly get as much out of treatment as you put into it. Counseling is tricky. If your counselors and peers don’t know what you are truly thinking, feeling and experiencing at a raw level, then their ability to be a partner with you on your journey will be limited.

Develop a team. From day one, identify the people in your life who support you. This list may change over time and that’s okay. It can change, and it will change. Sign releases allowing your loved ones to access information about your care. It is important that while you are motivated you give your clinical team the ability to wrap supports around you at a time when you are struggling. It also allows your clinical team to share your successes and celebrate your progress.

Create a safety plan. Identify your red flags, triggers, and high-risk situations. Share them with your counselor and peers. Create a realistic plan with your support network on how you will address this when you encounter them. Setbacks will happen; what matters most is learning from them, making a change, and forging ahead.

Encourage your family and friends to participate. It will not only help them, but it will also help you. When we get healthy it shakes up the family dynamics that have been created. We need to learn to adjust and our families need to learn how to adjust. Long-term success is much more likely when your support network is involved.

Be a partner. Treatment is yours. Actively participate in the development of your treatment and care planning. If you aren’t ready for something, if you want to be pushed, if something isn’t achievable—talk about it and work with your counselor to create a plan that is designed just for you. Don’t hold back. Reach out. Ask for what you need. But, always remember to stay open-minded and take suggestions.

Let go of your own stigma. What your disease has told you about yourself isn’t true. Yes, all of your experiences in life shape you, but how you choose to look at that, and who you choose to be, is your choice. Words matter. Change how you define yourself – for example, despite where you are in your journey, you are a person in recovery; you are not an addict.

Dig deep. Putting down the drink or the drug is only the first step. Explore yourself, and address whatever is underlying your addiction: mental health, isolation, trauma. It may be scary, but it will be worth it.

Celebrate success. Big or small. Treatment and recovery is challenging but worth it. It is important to remember what motivates you and the hard work you are putting in. Celebrate every obstacle you overcome, every second that you move forward on your journey, and every milestone you achieve along the way.

Always remember, you can do it!

Jacqueline Filis is the Executive Director of the YMCA of Greater NY’s Counseling Service Branch. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Credentialed Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Counselor with extensive clinical experience in both mental health and addiction counseling.