What to Do If You’re on a Rehab Wait List

3 min read · 5 sections

Substance use disorder (SUD), defined by the uncontrollable use of drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences, affects many different people and their families. In 2020, more than 40 million people aged 12 and older had a SUD.1 Of those, only about 10% received treatment.1

Research suggests that seeking treatment as soon as an individual is ready increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.2 However, facilities don’t always have room right away. Sometimes individuals must go on a waiting list, which studies indicate can be a barrier to treatment.3

Reasons Rehab May Require Waiting Lists

Wait times are generally viewed in the context of a single period—either before assessment or after assessment but before entering treatment.4 There are several reasons that a facility might have a waiting list for rehab, including:4-9

  • Staff case overload. Large caseloads and excessive workloads make it difficult for the treatment facility staff to serve patients effectively.
  • Capacity limits at treatment centers. Studies indicate that private for-profit facilities may be twice as likely to provide on-demand treatment. However, these facilities are less likely to accept Medicaid or other state-funded health insurance plans, according to the 2020 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services.
  • Length of treatment. Research found that facilities with longer treatment stays generally have a longer waiting period.
  • Employee shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic drove worker shortages up, and many facilities have yet to rebound.
  • Insurance approval and coverage. Some plans impose prior authorization or notification requirements, meaning the insurance provider must know in advance of an individual’s admittance to a treatment facility before they will authorize coverage. For some, there might be delays in finding out how much insurance can cover or coming up with sufficient copays. In 2020, 74.4% of drug and alcohol treatment facilities accepted private health insurance plans, 42% accepted Medicare, 70.7% accepted Medicaid, and 49.5% accepted a state-funded health insurance plan (other than Medicaid). For individuals without insurance, 90.4% accepted cash or self-payment, 57.1% offered an income-based sliding fee scale, and 43.7% of facilities provided free treatment for individuals who could not pay.

Risks of Waiting for Rehab

Some individuals, who must wait for treatment, continue using, while others may view their sobriety during the waiting period as proof that they don’t need rehab.3 Whether the wait is based on personal or facility reasons, there are risks associated with prolonging entry into treatment, including:4-5

  • Deciding not to enter treatment. In one study, 45% of individuals who needed treatment and were placed on a wait list ultimately did not seek treatment because “the wait was too long.” Another study indicated that the likelihood of an individual to go to rehab after having an assessment but having to wait is less than 50%.
  • Continuing to use drugs or alcohol, which can increase the risk of health complications. Some individuals continue to misuse substances while they wait to be admitted into a treatment facility, which puts them at an increased risk of overdose and infectious diseases such as hepatitis.
  • Partaking in criminal behavior. One study found that individuals seeking treatment for heroin misuse participated in drug- and property-related crimes, as well as prostitution, while waiting to receive treatment.
  • Dropping out after admission. Research indicates that longer wait times have been linked to higher dropout rates after admission.

How Long Is the Rehab Process?

Rehab facilities offer several different options for treatment types and length of treatment, too.2 There isn’t a magic formula that determines the length of rehab for any one individual. Instead, effective treatment considers the type of drug and the unique needs of the individual and may draw on a variety of components, including:2

  • Detoxification. Detox allows you to rid your body of substances, including experiencing withdrawal symptoms, while being monitored by medical and mental healthcare staff 24/7. Medically managed detoxification ensures your safety and keeps you as comfortable as possible.
  • Inpatient treatment. Inpatient rehab involves staying at a facility while receiving intensive individual and group counseling, psychiatric care, and education to help you understand and resolve issues that lead to substance misuse as well as develop alternative coping strategies.
  • Outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment offers services, therapies, and treatment that looks similar (even identical) to inpatient care but allows you the ability to participate in your normal routine. Treatment occurs during regularly scheduled, clinic-based appointments and is provided in group and individual sessions.

While treatment programs are individualized, the generally the length of treatment options include 30-day rehab programs, 60-day treatment programs, and 90-day programs as well as extended options for sober living after the residential treatment ends.

What to Do While You’re on a Wait List

If you are put on a wait list for rehab, it can feel frustrating. It’s important to remember why you initiated treatment in the first place and start to prepare for rehab until you’re admitted. While you wait, there are options to keep yourself or a loved one safe, motivated, and moving towards treatment, including:9

  • Investigating other options. Perhaps your first treatment facility choice isn’t available. Look into other programs. Search treatment centers outside your immediate location and explore all the options—inpatient and outpatient programs.
  • Getting recommendations: Try reaching out to a couple of different rehabilitation centers. Many times, rehab centers will have a referral list or sister facility that they can suggest. If you are a member of a support community, you can ask your facilitator or other participants if they can make treatment recommendations, too.
  • Preparing for rehab: This may be a good time to get things aligned for rehab. You may need to consider child care, make work arrangements, and complete the intake paperwork, which can be time-consuming. Use this time to get everything in order before rehab.
  • Joining a community support group: A vast majority of community support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are funded through contributions from participant donations. This can be a great first step to begin while waiting for rehab.
  • Create a safety plan: Depending on the substance used and the amount you are using, it might be dangerous to discontinue without proper medical detoxification. Consult with your doctor before stopping your substance of choice cold turkey. Your safety plan might include looking into safe needle exchanges, not using substances without someone knowing, or not mixing substances.

Exploring Other Options

You’re ready to get into treatment and you’re motivated to start now. While you might be on a wait list, consider other options to use this time to your advantage. American Addiction Centers (AAC) have multiple rehab facilities across the country. You can call AAC today if you’re ready to get started on recovery. The helpful support staff at AAC can help you determine which treatment option might be best for you depending on your individual needs.

There are several reasons to choose an AAC facility for your addiction treatment. Availability and same-day intake at AAC depend on the facility and when you choose to seek treatment. The best way to find out is to call AAC and begin the admissions process. At AAC, we believe in our clients’ success; therefore, we offer a 90-day promise. If you successfully complete 90 consecutive days of drug rehabilitation treatment, we welcome you back for an additional 30 days at no cost to you, if you relapse.

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