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What Are The Risks of Leaving Rehab Early?

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Most people who attend substance abuse treatment do so voluntarily. As long as you aren’t court-ordered to rehab, you can walk out and leave the program whenever you’d like. However, leaving rehab too early, or against medical advice (AMA), can result in poor treatment outcomes.

If you enter treatment, it is vital that you stay until you complete your treatment program. There are many risks of leaving an addiction treatment program early, including the increased risk for relapse and drug overdose. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment should last at least 90 days for it to be effective. Even if you feel like you are ready to get back to the real world, you aren’t ready until the clinical team clears you for discharge.

Why Do Some People Leave Rehab Early?

There are many reasons why some people decide to leave an addiction treatment program before they have been cleared to do so. Some of these reasons are:

  • Not wanting to be in treatment in the first place, but feeling coerced into going
  • Wanting to use drugs or alcohol to alleviate withdrawal symptoms or cravings
  • Feeling as though treatment is no longer needed to stay sober
  • Being unhappy with the rules or procedures used at the treatment center
  • Feeling let down by the treatment process or like sobriety isn’t possible

The Dangers of Leaving an Addiction Treatment Program Early

If you are thinking of terminating your treatment plan, it’s important to consider the potential risks. After all, leaving rehab means walking away from all of the progress you’ve made so far and returning to your old way of life. Before you make such a life-altering decision, consider the following:

You Could Suffer Severe Medical Complications if You Are Still Detoxing

Leaving treatment in the first week of your stay is extremely dangerous because you will be in withdrawal. Regardless of what substance you are detoxing from, your body is going through extreme changes at this point in time. Quitting addictive substances can produce mild to severe withdrawal symptoms–some of which can be life-threatening. During the earliest days of rehab, you should be monitored 24/7 for your health and safety.

If you make the decision to leave before completing detox, you could be stuck facing medical complications on your own. Just a few risks of cold turkey detox include seizures, hallucinations, dehydration, and suicidal thoughts.

Leaving Rehab Early Increases Your Risk of Relapse

If you check out of rehab before you are ready to do so, you may find you aren’t prepared to live a sober lifestyle. You may find yourself overwhelmed by triggers and the desire to get high. And, if you leave rehab while you are angry or upset, you may be tempted to use drugs or drink alcohol to cope.

Quitting treatment prematurely will significantly increase your risk of relapse because you are not equipped with the coping skills and resources you need to stay sober. In addition, relapsing can hurt your self-confidence and make you lose faith in yourself and your ability to stay sober. This can make it more difficult to ask for help again in the future.

If You Relapse, You Could Overdose Easily Due to a Reduced Tolerance

The longer you remain abstinent, the lower your tolerance becomes. This isn’t a problem if you are in a treatment program, have adequate support, and intend to stay sober. However, if you relapse after lowering your tolerance, you could be at an increased risk for overdose.

Many people who get sober and relapse don’t consider a reduced tolerance. As a result, they use the same amount or take the same dose of a substance that they did before going to treatment. While the pre-rehab body may have been able to handle a high dose, your body is different after detox. A low tolerance plus a high dose of drugs can easily lead to a life-threatening overdose.

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How Long Should You Stay in Rehab?

The most effective substance abuse treatment programs last at least 90 days and tend to the specific needs of each individual. The amount of time you should stay in treatment depends on several different factors, such as:

  • How long you’ve been addicted
  • Whether or not you’ve been to rehab before
  • Being diagnosed with co-occurring health conditions
  • How much progress you make during treatment
  • Your recovery goals

Your substance abuse counselor will continually monitor your progress and alter your treatment plan accordingly. As a result, you should stay in rehab until your counselor thinks you are ready to go.

What to do if You Are Thinking of Leaving Rehab Against Medical Advice (AMA)

It is totally normal to have passing thoughts about leaving treatment before your discharge date. Many people experience wanting to leave rehab many times before they complete their treatment program. If you begin having these thoughts, you should talk to your therapist about them as soon as possible. Your therapist can help you understand the reasons behind your yearning to leave and convince you to stay. You can also talk to a staff member or group of peers.

If you are sure you want to leave, give yourself 24 hours before checking yourself out. This will give you enough time to process your feelings, consult with trusted individuals, and devise a post-treatment plan.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, have several options for addiction treatment to choose from. Call now to begin your recovery journey.

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Medically Reviewed By

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC Clinical Director
Learn about Inessa Maloney

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC has been dedicated to the mental health and substance abuse field for a decade, providing her expertise to guarantee quality and accuracy.

  • Specializes in outpatient services with a focus on substance abuse
  • Expertise in reality-based therapy, CBT/DBT, and motivational interviewing
  • Holds a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling
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