How Do You Recover From Addiction When You Can’t Afford Treatment?


Guest Post by Lisa Frederiksen

Time and again I’m asked this question. And when I ask if they’ve considered AA or NA, some tell me they’re not comfortable “with the whole God thing.” Others tell me they’ve tried it, but it didn’t work for them, and still others have no clue of what I’m talking about.

What can a person do if they can’t afford a residential treatment program? Or perhaps they are put off by some of the concepts of a 12-step program, or they may be overwhelmed by the whole concept of recovery and what that means.

How is it possible to move beyond the misinformation, stigma and shame that keeps so many stuck trying to wrest control of a drinking or drug abuse problem on their own?

Understand the Disease of Addiction

  • Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. These two resources offer excellent explanations: The Addiction Project and Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction
  • Addiction is a developmental disease. It often starts in adolescence and it ALWAYS starts with substance abuse. Substance abuse is what chemically and structurally changes the brain. These brain changes are what make one person more vulnerable to their risk factors (explaining why some people who drink or drug as much or more don’t become addicts/alcoholics). The five key risk factors are: genetics, social environment, childhood trauma, early use and mental illness. Several of these also change the brain’s circuitry, including: mental illness, childhood trauma and genetics, as examples. It is important to treat the risk factors (such as getting help for a mental illness or coming to terms with childhood trauma) as part of healing the brain and treating addiction. In the case of mental illness, a FREE recovery resource is provided by NAMI – the National Alliance for Mental Illness. They provide help for the person with mental illness, as well as the family member.

Understand We Are Healing a Brain Disease, and That As With Other Disease Treatments, There is No “One-Size-Fits-All”

  • Addiction is not substance abuse and it’s important to understand this distinction. All drugs and alcohol change the way the brain works. These changes are what cause a person to engage in drinking or drug use behaviors.

Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

At Risk Drinking Identified With a Single Question

Why BAC Keeps Rising After a Person Stops Drinking

Prescription Drugs: What’s the Big Deal

  • Addiction treatment requires doing whatever it takes to heal the brain, the first step for which is abstinence from all use of one’s substance.

Two options, of course, are NA and AA. But for those who are not comfortable with the 12 steps, it may help to reframe the first three steps of AA or NA using the science of the brain disease.

The first three steps:
1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

Reframing these steps from a science perspective:
1 – Came to understand the disease of addition as a chronic, often relapsing brain disease, and to accept that I have the disease.
2 – Given the power of addiction cravings and the chemical and structural changes that have occurred in my brain because of my disease and/or my risk factors, I accept that my way of “handling” it by trying to control how much I use or drink cannot work.
3 – Accepting that “my way” did not and cannot work, I know I must abstain from my substance entirely, and I am open to trying any of the various treatment components available. If one fails, I will try another.

  • Additionally there are many FREE non-12 step programs, such as SMART Recovery and Women for Sobriety. Cathy Taughinbaugh with Treatment Talk has written two excellent posts summarizing some of these non 12-step recovery options:

Are You Interested In non 12-Step Addiction Treatment?

5 Non 12-Step Recovery Options, Part 2

  • You may also find free or low-cost treatment programs for both substance abuse and mental illness through SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) free facility locator.

Appreciate that it Does Take Time, but There is Much Joy to be had in the Moments of Every Day Along the Way.

  • Those who have the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives – the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. They live the same kinds of lives as people who have had or are managing the diseases of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as examples.
  • All the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people living in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Recovery. It’s real, it happens to real people, and it happens all the time. Meet Those In Recovery Willing to Share Their Stories – Faces of Recovery.

Understand that Addiction is a Family Disease

  • If it’s more than the addict / alcoholic in search of help, understanding the impact of the family and how healing that impact can help an addict/alcoholic succeed in recovery is important to understand. Additionally, helping the family member is important in and of itself, regardless of whether the addict/alcohol seeks treatment.

Behind Every Alcoholic or Drug Addict is a Family Member or Two or Three

The Dance of the Family Disease of Alcoholism

Family Disease/Recovery – NCADD


Bottom Line

There is no one-size-fits all when it comes to treating and recovering from addiction so try not to let the costs of addiction treatment stop you from getting the help you need. The most important thing to do is to take that first step, which you are likely doing if you are reading this post.


If you have any questions or would like further information, please feel free to email me at or call me at 650-362-3026.


Posted on January 3, 2013, in Personal Growth. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Those who cannot afford treatment programs and the support that comes with it have a special challenge. I know someone who could afford the very best and still balks – thinking he can do it himself – he has it figured out. Alone. So Sad. And then I have unfortunately known a few people who have relapsed in the past month. It is so tragic – for the whole family unit. Trust given and lost is huge – for the addict with him/herself and for the support system. Treatment, developing a plan and meeting small milestones in recovery are truly important – and just because you MEET the milestones does not negate their worth. Lisa – once again your writing is comprehensive and compassionate. I want to print this out and hand it out at meetings and to everyone I work with. Thank you

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