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How to Choose the Right Rehab

Editor Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Created On
Updated On

how to choose the right rehabAnyone who has ever looked at addiction treatment options has likely been blown away by the amount of competition there is in the industry. If you’re trying to choose a rehab, it can seem perplexing to figure out where to even start. So it’s critical to come up with a checklist of questions to ask before picking an appropriate treatment center.

Basic Configurations

The first concern you’ll likely have is just how long the treatment process is. Be wary of anyone who claims the job can be done quickly. Recovery is a lifelong commitment, and the earliest days of the process are often the toughest. Most addiction treatment facilities offer outpatient options, and some have campuses that provide inpatient support. The choice you make may depend on a variety of factors, including what type of support you have in your home environment and what types of drug habits you’re trying to kick. It’s important to remember that for some substance users, especially those addicted to opioids, it may take years of treatment.

There are many types of counseling sessions provided at these facilities, and you may want to talk about how those sessions will fit into your routine. A number of patients can benefit from group therapy, but others may prefer to work in one-on-one sessions, especially if they have trouble opening up or feel shame about some of the things they might share. Some centers may be more favorable to the use of prescribed drugs like methadone or benzodiazepines while others may try to promote something closer to a drug-free environment. Your goal is to find an addiction treatment program that can match your priorities and address your concerns in a structured manner.

Medical Resources

The recovery process begins with detoxification, and that can be a particularly difficult stage in the process. Alcohol withdrawal is especially notorious for causing a variety of symptoms in those who have been drinking heavily for an extended period. Heroin and other opioids are also accompanied by problems that might require medical attention if withdrawal issues become challenging.

When thinking about how to choose a rehab, you want to be abundantly clear about what your potential medical concerns during the process may be. If you’re worried about a potentially dangerous withdrawal episode, you want to know that the facility you’ll be visiting will have:

  • A crash unit
  • Established relationships with nearby hospitals
  • Staff members familiar with extreme cases
  • Team members who are certified in skills like CPR
  • 24-hour monitoring capabilities
  • A supply of medications designed to treat your specific issues

If you’re not sure about the full extent of medical conditions related to addictive behaviors and drug use, you may also want to inquire about testing capabilities. Some problems may only be testable by indirect methods, such as using cognitive tests to measure potential brain problems. Conversely, other issues, such as liver function, can be fully evaluated by qualified professionals.

You should have a clear idea of what your current physical health is before beginning any addiction treatment regimen. If an organization is not equipped to do such work and does not have a relationship with a hospital or testing facility, then you may need to look at other options.

Specific Needs

Different at-risk groups often call for different kinds of support. Teens, for example, may need to work with counselors who understand adolescent life issues in addition to addiction concerns. Conversely, high functioning adults may need more direct sessions.

A facility should also be equipped to address special needs. If someone has to have wheelchair access, for example, it’s a good idea to take a look at what the location actually offers. Individuals may also have other medical requirements that need to be addressed during treatment. If the operation doesn’t have accommodations on-site, make a point to ask about which nearby medical organizations they work with when patients have such needs. Get in touch with those folks and evaluate their capabilities just as thoroughly as you would the rehab center itself.

The ability of a rehab center to work with mixtures of disorders may also be important. For example, individuals who are coping with the effects of eating disorders alongside drug misuse disorders face some unique challenges. Opioid users often need to work on rebuilding their body’s willingness and ability to digest food. Some alcohol users, particularly younger women, suffer from anorexic disorders. You want to know that you’ll be working with professionals who can address these and other concerns if you have them.

Some patients may also be interested in going to facilities that work exclusively with their genders or age groups. At-risk women often express concerns about being housed in inpatient locations with men, especially if they’ve had negative or dangerous experiences during their time using drugs. Families may also be uncomfortable with teens being in addiction treatment alongside adults. Individuals from certain groups, particularly the LGBT community, may also want to only go to facilities where they have a high level of faith that the focus will be on their recovery efforts rather than questioning other aspects of their lives. These are all concerns you don’t want to run into once you’ve begun the process.

Other groups that may want to talk about unique needs include:

  • Those with mental health problems
  • The elderly
  • Anyone with physical disabilities
  • Parents with children at home
  • Individuals who haven’t left work to enter rehab


Philosophies in the rehab industry are highly varied, and there’s a big gap that exists between secular and faith-based programs. Some individuals may prefer to enter into addiction treatment with an organization that aligns with their faith. Conversely, many may feel like they’ll be preached to in such circumstances.


Knowing that the counselors you’ll be speaking with have experience dealing with individuals who’ve been through what you’re feeling can be a relief. A number of organizations focus on hiring employees who’ve been through the recovery process. You’ll definitely want to learn how a rehab chooses who works with patients.

Another question worth asking is whether there will be people on-site who are licensed or certified. At facilities that take in folks with medical needs, there should be at least a licensed practical nurse available on all shifts. There’s also a huge difference between working with a licensed doctor versus a certified counselor.

Some states have very strict requirements regarding who can work as a drug and alcohol counselor. Others pretty much allow anyone with a large enough space to go into business. It’s not a bad idea to look up what your state’s requirements are and verify that the facility is in full compliance.


Affordability concerns are one of the biggest reasons that people don’t go into addiction treatment programs. In fact, more than 30 percent of people surveyed by the U.S. government stated they didn’t enter treatment because they did not have insurance or did not believe they could afford it. Even if it calls for putting together a payment plan or finding a financing option, you should see the process as an investment in your own health.

Talk with centers about how they can make the process more affordable for you. Many states in the wake of the opioid crisis are moving money into programs in order to divert people away from the criminal justice system. Some non-profits and faith-based organizations may also offer free or low-cost choices for folks in tough financial circumstances.

Stages and Structure

One of the main benefits of going into a recovery program is that it provides a framework for addressing your needs. Counseling philosophies will vary, and different drug misuse disorders are often accompanied by different recovery timelines. Regardless of the situation, the folks operating the program should be able to clearly state what the expected progression in your case will be.

The standard length of an inpatient program is between 28 and 30 days. Support for your recovery efforts should extend to an outpatient setting for months or even years beyond that period.

One of the biggest questions you need to address is how much structure will be provided once you’ve gone home from rehab. You need to ask about whether the addiction treatment center:

  • Offers a clinic in your area
  • Provides counselors who can visit
  • Has relationships with any clinic in your region

Recovery is a long process, and it’s more likely to succeed when there is ample support available. As much as friends, family members, and even employers may want to provide support, it’s always beneficial to have the guidance of professionals. Before you choose a rehab, you need to plan for what life will be like once you’re outside of the inpatient setting. If the organization you’re talking too seems a little hazy on these sorts of details, you may want to look elsewhere for help.

Don’t assume that a support group like AA or NA will be able to pick up all the slack. These groups are composed of recovering individuals, and they simply do not have the capabilities of a full rehab. They can play a role in supporting individuals as they progress into the later steps of the recovery process, but they are not substitutes for professional counseling.

Build a Checklist

Keeping track of such a long list of questions is going to be a minor challenge in its own right. By assembling a detailed checklist, you can see that you’ll touch all the bases along the way. Do not simply try to hold the list of potential questions in your head. Make a point of writing everything down. Take the time to print up a checklist for each addiction treatment facility you intend to call. If necessary, ask a family member or friend you trust to lend you a hand with making, printing, and using the checklist.

It may feel a little silly to have a checklist in hand when you’re standing in a center talking with staff members, but being serious about the process will make a good impression regardless. Your goal is to be diligent in handling how to choose a rehab. Stick to your checklist and don’t let the conversation end until you’ve hit every point on your list. Be clear about personal preferences. If you’d prefer to enter into or avoid a faith-based program, don’t hesitate to find one that aligns with your worldview.

Try to appreciate that entering into recovery is only the beginning of the process. A lot of work will follow, and you may even want to build a new checklist of things you’ll need to do every day, week, or month once you’ve completed the core program. By planning ahead, you can see that you’ll do a better job of finding a recovery center and following its program as you begin your journey toward a healthier life.

If you or a loved one are looking for treatment, don’t hesitate to call us, or check out our  Top 10 Best Drug and Alcohol Rehabs page. We update this page frequently to provide the most relevant and up to date information available.

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