mother received a call saying that her son wants to leave rehab earlier.

Why Addicts Try to Leave Rehab – and What to Do

When the phone rings and your loved one demands to leave rehab, don’t despair. Here are some tactics to help address their needs while keeping them in the safety of treatment.

For most people, the journey to rehab is a long one. People have to work through a range of emotions and defense mechanisms until they can accept that they have a problem and they need help. As a close friend or family member, you have likely witnessed this painstaking process, supported their positive decisions, and have welcomed their entry into rehab with a mixture of relief and hope.

So when your loved one or someone from the rehab centre calls and says they want to come home early, it’s hard to know exactly what to think – or how to respond. Understanding addiction, including the body’s physical and emotional responses to the removal of an addictive substance, can help you assess where these requests for early departure are really coming from, and how to address these issues constructively.

Moment of Truth? Breaking down the Initial Phone Call

Your heart is racing, your head is pounding, and thoughts are flying through your mind; your loved one has just called and told you in no uncertain terms that they need to leave rehab immediately. Common reasons that people struggling with addiction give for an early departure from rehab include:

  • “I just can’t do this”
  • “I’m not ready”
  • “The facility is not clean”
  • “The food here is terrible”
  • “The staff don’t know what they are doing”
  • “The people here are mean and mistreating me”
  • “Everyone here is using”
  • “I’m already past my addiction and ready to come home”
  • And many more…

In most cases, there are powerful emotions and responses to the removal of an addictive substance that are driving the reasoning to leave rehab. These can include:

  • Fear and withdrawal – most common in the first few days of rehab, the physical discomfort and realisation that the addictive substance is really gone can result in your loved one calling and begging, pleading, threatening, or making promises in order to come home immediately
  • Overconfidence – they have gotten through withdrawal, began to engage in treatment and have come to the conclusion that they are truly cured and there’s no reason to waste another minute in rehab – even though they’ve been there less than the generally minimally required 30 days
  • Need to Use the clarity of sobriety has laid bare all the issues and trauma an addict has been able to successfully avoid through an addiction, and it is driving an intense need to use again. This in turn leads them to their old devices – deception and manipulation – to leave treatment.

How to Handle a Demand to Leave Rehab Early

You’ve listened to your loved one’s pleas and demands, and now it’s your turn to respond. First take a deep breath, and try to remain calm and steady. Then you can tell them, “You have made it for this many days in rehab, you can wait another 24 hours while I find another treatment centre for you to go to so that you can finish your treatment there.” 

This statement is constructive for several reasons. The first is that it gives your loved one and those working at the treatment centre time to work through these desperate feelings. Many times, this strong urge to leave will pass, and your loved one will settle back into treatment on their own.

This also gives you time to call the appropriate contact person at the rehab facility to find out what is really going on and to act accordingly. Listen to their professional opinion from a neutral basis then weigh the situation – keeping in mind that the addiction disorder often drives people to be manipulative and dishonest, as well as the original reasons for seeking professional help. Investigating the situation yourself will help build your confidence in your decision-making regarding your loved one’s treatment.

When a Demand is Consistent

Most people in treatment will move past the urge to leave within about 24 hours. For those who do not, or refuse to wait that long to find a solution, it is likely that they are experiencing an overwhelming desire to use again. This is the time for you to use whatever leverage you may have to try and keep the person in treatment. If you’re providing financial support, a place to stay, job help, transportation, legal help or regular emotional support, remind them that this is contingent on their health and sobriety. Other ways to support someone through this challenging period include:

  • Checking out other options: if there really is a problem with the facility that your loved one is struggling with, there are other places where they may have a different experience. Researching other potential rehabs allows you to honour their requests, while also ensuring that they continue their recovery in a safe, professional environment.
  • Being loving but firm: your loved one is struggling with a serious, lifelong disease. Addiction rewires the brain, and it takes time and practise to build new coping mechanisms and healthy habits. Remembering this will help you empathise while also standing firm about their need for treatment and regular maintenance.
  • Reviewing the pros and cons: a healthy dose of perspective can be useful for those who are suddenly adamant about leaving treatment. What did they lose as a result of their addiction? What situations did they find themselves in? What do they stand to gain from finishing treatment and getting sober? Talking or writing these out can be helpful in determining next steps.
  • Talk feelings: there is a full, powerful range of emotions coursing through your loved one as they struggle with sobriety. They may feel a deep sadness about letting go of their addiction, and a simultaneous sense of shame for feeling that way. They may be angry at people who have exposed truths that they would rather avoid, or angry at themselves for being in this situation. They are likely frightened about confronting the realities that their addiction allowed them to ignore. Digging into how they feel can help bring clarity to how to proceed.

Leaving rehab early can not only threaten newfound sobriety, but also carries an increased risk of overdose. Doing what you can to keep them in treatment, including seeking help or advice from their focal counsellor, gives your loved one the best chance of staying the course.

Rehab and Renewal at The Dawn

The Dawn Rehab Thailand offers effective holistic addiction treatment programme

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand, utilises a specialised, holistic approach to rehab. We work closely with each client to develop a customised plan based on their personal needs to target, address, and overcome the addiction. Our unique Twin Pillars approach combines the most effective Western psychotherapeutic techniques with proven Eastern wellness practices to promote full mind-body healing.

The Dawn’s Signature Addiction Programme

At The Dawn, we offer a six-week Signature Addiction Programme for individuals struggling with substance addiction, behavioural addictions and co-occurring disorders. The fundamental objective of our programme is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by equipping each individual with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges – extinguishing the desire to use again.

Our programme is delivered by a compassionate, Western-trained team of counsellors and psychologists who work under the guidance of our Clinical Director, internationally-renowned addiction specialist David Smallwood. Each component has been designed to maximise outcomes for the client – from the timeframe to supporting services.

Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can provide a positive, life-altering treatment experience for your loved one.