Why Is Addiction Treatment So Expensive?

Addiction treatment is often more expensive than prospective patients might expect. Rehabilitation often requires 30-day stays in residential facilities with extensive professional staff. A 30-day stay in a medical center for other conditions can cost several times more, so the term expensive is relative, but for the average working person, the cost of rehab can be high relative to their income. Several factors contribute to the high cost, including those listed below, but addicts have potential options to bring the costs down.

The Nature of Addiction

Many addicts know addiction is a disease, but they do not realize what that implies and the extent of treatment needed. As a neurobiological disease, addiction changes neural pathways, alters transmissions, and shrinks and desensitizes receptors. The Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews journal noted in 2004 that the dysfunction occurs on molecular, cellular and circuitry levels. Substance abuse is a behavior, but real neurobiological changes motivate that behavior, and genetic and environmental factors reinforce it.

To treat addiction, rehab centers require a comprehensive set of therapies and strategies that treat the person as a whole. This includes the disease itself, but it also includes co-occurring disorders, cognitive habits, emotional health, unresolved trauma and countless other contributing issues. Physical dependence can also produce severe withdrawal symptoms when a person quits, and patients often need supervised detoxification to minimize the discomfort. Certain addictions, such as to benzodiazepine sedatives (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin, Valium), require gradual dosage reductions during detox to avoid long-lasting withdrawal symptoms and potentially lethal seizures. Addiction is also chronic (i.e., cannot be cured) and relapsing (i.e., symptoms can return), which is why so many attempts to quit without professional help end in failure.

To accommodate the many needs a patient might have, rehab centers typically require a large professional staff including medical doctors to assist with detox and issues like chronic pain. The nature of addiction necessitates a serious treatment approach, and the staff, facility, medications and equipment are costs that add to the overall expense.

Rehab Centers and Mental Health

A study cited by The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2005 said 72 percent of drug addicts suffer from at least one co-occurring mental health disorder. The same study suggests addiction and mental health disorders share similar genetic abnormalities and overlapping vulnerabilities. In terms of the comprehensive nature of treatment, mental health adds yet another significant layer. Rehab must often integrate treatment to address the addiction and disorder at the same time. If either condition remains untreated, the relapse risk increases significantly. Several types of mental health disorders exist including the following:

  • Anxiety disorders like panic attacks and post-traumatic stress (PTSD)
  • Mood disorders like depression, dysthymia, mania and bipolar
  • Personality disorders like antisocial, narcissistic and borderline
  • Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating
  • Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia

The mental health disorder might motivate substance abuse as a way to self-medicate, and the addiction might unmask or intensify a disorder. When they co-exist, the two conditions symbiotically make each other worse. Addicts must deal with any mental health issues, and rehab centers must have the personnel to help patients do so.

Addiction Rehab Treatment

Addiction involves so many elements that people struggle to get sober on their own, but treatment can make the difference between relapse and recovery. Rehab centers customize a recovery plan for each patient that involves a specific set of therapies. The treatment set differs for each person, but examples of commonly used therapies include the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – An addiction and mental health treatment that targets negative, pessimistic and irrational thought patterns and beliefs
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – A variation of CBT, often used on the emotionally frail, that balances self-acceptance and the need for change
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI) – A collaborative therapy that utilizes leading questions to show patients the difference between where they are and where they want to be
  • Contingency Management (CM) – A system that rewards patients for achieving short-term positive goals

With each patient being different, rehab centers have an arsenal of therapies, strategies and treatments ready to meet whatever challenge might arise. For example, if a patient became addicted to painkillers while treating chronic pain, most rehab centers can employ non-narcotic pain relief therapies and assist with ongoing pain management.

Financial Assistance for Addiction Treatment

The government’s 2012 Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) report said 1.82 million people entered a rehab program in 2010, and more than twice as many patients used health insurance as the primary source of payment than self-pay. Addiction treatment might seem expensive, but options exist to reduce cost including the following:

  • The majority of health insurance plans now provide some level of coverage for addiction and mental health care.
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made addiction treatment one of the 10 essential benefits for all policies on the healthcare exchanges.
  • The ACA forbids marketplace plans from denying benefits for preexisting conditions like addiction and mental health disorders.
  • A revision to the Mental Health Parity Act requires most policies with addiction benefits to have the same level of benefits as provided for physical health issues.
  • Many facilities provide financing options, payment plans or reduced-cost based on the patient’s ability to pay.
  • Part-time outpatient treatment is often a more inexpensive option for less severe addictions.

In comparison to treatment, the cost of drugs or alcohol is also expensive, and the potential consequences—e.g., job loss, car crash, overdose, legal problems—can be far more costly. In the majority of cases, addiction treatment is the more cost-effective option in the end.

Free Addiction Help

Our admissions coordinators can help sort out your treatment, facility and payment options, and we can even check health insurance policies for specific rehab benefits. We are available 24 hours a day, so please call our toll-free helpline now.