3 Reasons Traveling to Drug Rehab Works Best

3 min read · 7 sections


Backpack and hat at the train station with a traveler

I’m often asked, “Is it better for a person to go to drug or alcohol rehab close to home or far away from home?” In most cases, traveling to rehab is preferred over going to a place near where you live.

I know this may seem counterintuitive, and even logistically challenging.

But when making a decision about rehab, keep in mind that this is an important endeavor. It’s not to be made with emotion or haste. I know this sounds severe, but it’s a life-or-death decision.

Here are the 3 reasons to travel out of state for drug rehab.

1. Leaving Treatment Early Can Be Avoided

Most people going through treatment get an overwhelming desire to leave prematurely. This normally happens sometime in the first few weeks.

Many treatment professionals believe the number one reason to travel to treatment (when possible) is to prevent clients from leaving treatment before it is completed. This is called leaving treatment against medical advice or leaving AMA (for short).

Why would a client want to leave treatment against medical advice? Usually, it is because for the first time in many years, they are feeling emotions. When a negative thought or feeling enters their mind, they have to feel, process, and deal with their uncomfortable feelings instead of using a substance to numb them.

Reality sets in, and they are filled with fear, remorse, anger, or resentment. The proverbial “fight or flight” response kicks in, and the person in treatment tries to bolt.

Rehab is not jail, and anyone can walk out anytime they wish. One of the major advantages of having your loved one go to treatment far away from where they live is the amount of time it takes to leave treatment. It’s not easy to book a flight and get on a plane. The treatment center staff will work with the client and their loved ones to discourage the client from leaving rehab AMA.

On the other hand, when the person in treatment can call a friend and get picked up around the corner, it’s much easier to leave.

If You Leave AMA, Your Insurance May Not Cover Another Treatment Center

I’ve seen this happen many times. It’s very sad when someone leaves treatment AMA and their insurance will not pay for another treatment program. Keep in mind that insurance companies don’t want to fork out $50,000 to $100,000 or more to pay for substance abuse treatment if they don’t have to.

2. It’s Better to Be Far From Bad Influences and Emotional Triggers

I had a family member living in Southern California who needed treatment. I placed that family member (at the time 17 years old) into a treatment center in Utah. There were 3 reasons I picked the Utah facility.

First, I needed that family member far away from their bad influences and  emotional triggers. They had a slew of friends that they were getting in trouble with. In order to have a successful recovery I believed they needed to be where the friends could not stop by treatment.

Second, it was a one-year program, and I believed it was the best-suited program to treat my family member’s conditions.

Lastly, I didn’t want them leaving AMA. Since the facility was over 500 miles from where we lived, I felt fairly certain they would not leave early.

Another family member (at the time 19 years old) needed treatment. We sent that adult child to a treatment center in Arizona. They were also from California but were currently in college, in Oregon. We wanted to get them away from where they lived as they were battling depression as well as addiction, and were concerned the weather in Oregon may have been exacerbating the depression.

We needed to get the person seeking treatment away from a negative atmosphere so the medical staff at the treatment center could properly diagnose them. The doctors looked at whether it was the situation, the location, or a chemical imbalance causing depression. It turns out there was a chemical imbalance, and with medication the issue was resolved. I also believe the facility we chose was best suited for their addiction issues, as they were complex.

So I am not only writing this as a person who has been in the addiction field for over 25 years. I have also placed my own family members in treatment. When it was best suited, I sent them far away from where they lived.

When a person is at their bottom, they are getting calls, texts, emails, and the wrong people dropping by. The person cannot see any way out of the vicious cycle of addiction. However, getting away from their problems can help them break out of that cycle.

When it’s brought up by professionals that the person seeking treatment should go out of state for treatment, your first reaction may be to resist. You might feel like they are running away from their problems and responsibilities.

Although it may appear they are running away, there’s actually a beneficial psychological and therapeutic component in going out of state for drug or alcohol rehab. Getting a person away from their problems allows them to work on those problems in an orderly fashion. At your loved one’s treatment center, the clinical staff will work closely and intensely with your loved one. This allows them to face all of their life situations and responsibilities, at one at a time, in a safe environment.

3. Matching Each Client With the Best Treatment Center for Them

It’s critical to match the person seeking substance abuse and/or mental health treatment with a treatment center that is ideal for that person. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment center that is best for anyone, and the best one for your loved one may not be in your hometown.

Keep in mind that some treatment centers are better staffed to handle certain treatment protocols than others. You must factor in detox procedures, accreditation, insurance, clientele demographics, the average length of stay, specialties, etc.

There are a few states with a significant amount of accredited drug and alcohol treatment centers located within a 100-mile radius. Traveling to these pockets of treatment has its advantages as you can select the perfectly matched treatment center for your loved one.

Traveling With Legal Obligations

Many people want to get help, but they have pending legal cases they believe will prevent them from immediately going into treatment. In most cases courts, parole officers, and probation officers will bend over backward to allow a person to go to treatment. This is true even if the rehab is in another state.

I have had many people charged with felonies (dealing opioids, fatal DUIs, assault and battery) get permission to travel out of state to treatment. Many authorities are happy to help.

There are accredited treatment centers that have a specific staff member assigned to coordinate with the courts. Do not be afraid to ask your addiction advocate about getting the paperwork filled out to leave the state for treatment.

Traveling With Medical Conditions

Some people have medical conditions that prohibit them from traveling. This is a legitimate concern.

People with severe medical conditions that preclude them from traveling would be turned down by any reputable treatment center when they do their patient assessment call.

Insurance Consideration When Traveling to Rehab

Lastly, some insurance policies have a restriction that they will not provide benefits for substance abuse treatment centers out of state. In those cases, unless you plan on paying cash, the insurance company will not let you seek treatment there.

Insurance can pay for rehab. You pay for the insurance, so you might as well use it to get help for your drug or alcohol problem, even if it means staying in your state.

I always recommend getting your insurance policy benefits verified by a treatment placement specialist. Most will do it at no charge and be able to explain every potential cost to you.

It Doesn’t Matter Why a Person Goes to Treatment—Just That They Do

An untreated addiction can lead to severe consequences for the user, including illness, legal problems, broken relationships, and even death.

In 2017, about 70,000 people died in America from drug overdose. Another 19.7 million people age 12 and older are estimated to be suffering from addiction.

Any type of treatment is better than none at all. It can save a life.

Bruce Berman has personally helped several hundred people find treatment for alcohol, substance abuse, and dual diagnosis. He has maintained continuous recovery from various addictions since September 1989. 

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