Most alcohol and drug addiction treatment facilities have rules.
These rules tend to be similar: in addition to not sneaking in alcohol or drugs, residents are usually expected to go to all scheduled activities, to not use cell phones or computers, to stay on campus, to smoke only in designated areas, to not bring reading material unless it’s recovery-related or spiritually-based (and check out these recommendations for recovery-related books). Romantic relationships are discouraged, and sexual relations are not permitted.
Like any set of rules, it’s easy to look from the outside in and conclude that the rules are silly. If your loved one gets kicked out of rehab for breaking a rule, it’s especially easy to feel anger and blame; after all, why should a rule matter when your loved one’s life is at stake?
It’s understandable that residents might sometimes feel like they’re being too closely monitored; after all, they are all adults, so why shouldn’t they be able to pursue a relationship with another resident, read a People magazine, or go for an evening stroll off campus?
Why Rules Matter
1. Rules protect the community.
Clients of rehabilitation facilities form a community. Apart from individual therapy sessions, the group participates in almost all therapeutic and recreational activities together. To facilitate healing, it’s essential that the people in the group trust each other.
Part of building trust is honoring the community’s rules. When someone violates even a simple rule, like smoking in a non-smoking area, it creates tension. The community feels this tension, and it may distract residents from their goal of healing. When a more serious rule is broken, like a couple having sex in a bathroom or someone skipping a group therapy session, the tension escalates. Staff and clients alike are distracted from their work, and the group’s trust is broken.
2. Rules help residents focus on their recovery.
All of the rules at a treatment facility are intended to minimize distractions and triggers for the residents. Cell phones give residents access to those who played a role in their addiction: suppliers, fellow users, enabling family members and friends. They also give clients access to social media; since treatment is supposed to remain private and confidential for all clients, it’s important to keep social media out. Some magazines and books may have advertisements or references that trigger a client’s cravings. Romantic/sexual relationships take the focus off of treatment and put it on the “high” of romantic love.
Some argue that clients should be allowed access to most or all of what they will face in the outside world; after all, how can they learn to cope with triggers if not exposed to them? How can they learn to develop a healthy love relationship if fraternizing is prohibited?
To these arguments, we would simply say that a) the initial month of recovery is hard enough without the extra distractions and b) our facilities provide aftercare support that helps clients learn to navigate their lives at work, home, school, and the community.
3. Rules help residents learn to respect boundaries.
Many of those who struggle with substance use disorder also struggle with boundaries. To procure their substance of choice, they may have broken many boundaries: emotional boundaries (manipulating their loved one into feeling responsible for their addiction), mental boundaries (lying to a loved one about their habits), or physical boundaries (taking money from a loved one’s wallet without permission).
Essentially, whenever someone asks us to respect a boundary, no matter how arbitrary we think it is, we should honor it. When we respect a boundary, we show respect and love for the person who set it. We may not understand it, but we honor it out of our love for the other person. Learning to respect rules in addiction treatment prepares clients for the rules they will face at their workplace, in their homes, and in their neighborhood.
When Rules Are Broken
Facilities are faced with a difficult decision when a client breaks the rules. Depending on the seriousness of the misbehavior, facilities may respond with a warning or with expelling the client and ending his or her treatment.
In the end, the decision to expel a client is a decision to protect the rest of the residents. When a client cannot be trusted to respect the rules, resources must be funneled to oversee that client—resources that would be better used in helping the community. Ultimately, a client who breaks the rules is a client who is not ready to give up their substance use disorder and heal their lives. A client who isn’t committed to the path will only compromise the healing of others if allowed to stay on campus.
That said, when they ask a client to leave their facility, most rehabs, including Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, will provide alternative paths. They will do everything they can to help the client start over in another facility or connect with local AA or NA support groups.