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Costs of Addiction Treatment: How Do You Recover From Drug Addiction or Alcoholism if You Can’t Afford It?

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This article was written by Lisa Frederiksen. It was republished on with permission.

Costs of addiction treatment can put many rehab programs beyond the reach of people desperate to recover from drug addiction or alcoholism. What can a person do if they can’t afford a residential treatment program? Or perhaps they are put off by some of the concepts of a 12-step program, or they might be overwhelmed by what it means to be in recovery. They may not be able to afford the time away from work or they may fear repercussions when others find out they’re in treatment.

Time and again I hear these concerns, and it breaks my heart. Coming to terms with the idea of needing and wanting treatment is hard enough, but when a person is grappling with any one of these issues, they often dig in harder to do it alone – struggling in isolation, shrouded in secrecy and shame – the “things” that make it so difficult to recover from this disease.

In this post, I’m going to try to break down into doable steps how to find and succeed in addiction treatment and recovery – including taking advantage of programs that do not cost anything – as follows:

  • Understand the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or to alcohol).
  • Understand that we are healing a brain disease, and as with other disease treatments, there is no “one-size fits all.”
  • Appreciate that it does take time, but there is much joy to be had in the moments of every day along the way.
  • Understand that Addiction is a Family Disease.

To get the full benefit of what I’m writing here, please click through all of the links I provide as each one will add more to the discussion while keeping this overall presentation of information feel doable.

Understand the Disease of Addiction

Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. These two resources offer excellent explanations: The Addiction Project and Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.

Addiction is a developmental disease. It often starts in adolescence and it ALWAYS starts with substance abuse. Substance abuse is what chemically and structurally changes the brain. These brain changes are what make one person more vulnerable to their risk factors (explaining why some people who drink or drug as much or more don’t become addicts/alcoholics). The five key risk factors are: genetics, social environment, childhood trauma, early use and mental illness. Several of these also change the brain’s circuitry, including: mental illness, childhood trauma and genetics, as examples. It is important to treat the risk factors (such as getting help for a mental illness or coming to terms with childhood trauma) as part of healing the brain and treating addiction. In the case of mental illness, a FREE recovery resource is provided by NAMI – the National Alliance for Mental Illness. They provide help for the person with mental illness, as well as the family member.

Understand We Are Healing a Brain Disease; There is No “One-Size-Fits-All” Treatment

Addiction is not substance abuse and it’s important to understand this distinction. All drugs and alcohol change the way the brain works. These changes are what cause a person to engage in drinking or drug use behaviors.

Addiction treatment requires doing whatever it takes to heal the brain, the first step for which is abstinence from all use of one’s substance.

Two options, of course, are NA and AA. But for those who are not comfortable with the 12 steps, it may help to reframe the first three steps of AA or NA using the science of the brain disease.

The first three steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

Reframing these steps from a science perspective:

  1. Came to understand the disease of addition as a chronic, often relapsing brain disease, and to accept that I have the disease.
  2. Given the power of addiction cravings and the chemical and structural changes that have occurred in my brain because of my disease and/or my risk factors, I accept that my way of “handling” it by trying to control how much I use or drink cannot work.
  3. Accepting that “my way” did not and cannot work, I know I must abstain from my substance entirely, and I am open to trying any of the various treatment components available. If one fails, I will try another.

Additionally, there are many FREE non-12 step programs, such as SMART Recovery and Women for Sobriety.

For some, it may be helpful to consider using one of the prescribed medications that help with curbing addiction cravings.

You may also find free or low-cost treatment programs for both substance abuse and mental illness through SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) free facility locator.

Appreciate that it Does Take Time, but There is Much Joy to be had in the Moments of Every Day Along the Way

Addiction recovery is the ongoing work a person does to maintain a healthy brain – very similar to what people do to maintain their health after the initial acute care for other kinds of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease, to name a few.

Those who have the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives – the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. They live the same kinds of lives as people who have had or are managing the diseases of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as examples.

All the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people living in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Recovery. It’s real, it happens to real people, and it happens all the time.

Understand that Addiction is a Family Disease

If it’s more than the addict / alcoholic in search of help, understanding the impact of the family and how healing that impact can help an addict/alcoholic succeed in recovery is important to understand. Additionally, helping the family member is important in and of itself, regardless of whether the addict/alcohol seeks treatment.

Bottom Line

There is no one-size-fits all when it comes to treating and recovering from addiction so try not to let the costs of addiction treatment stop you from getting the help you need. The most important thing to do is to take that first step, which you are likely doing if you are reading this post.

Lisa Frederiksen is the author of nine books and a national keynote speaker with 25 years experience. She has been consulting, researching, writing and speaking on substance abuse; addiction as a brain disease; education, prevention, intervention and treatment; dual diagnosis; underage drinking; and help for the family centered around 21st century brain and addiction-related research since 2003. She founded in 2008 as part of Lisa Frederiksen Associates, LLC, and writes the blog of the same name.