Myth: You Have to Want to Get Sober for Treatment to Work

worried family member

A complete and utter to commitment to treatment is what most families believe their loved one needs to have before they will pool together resources and place them in a treatment program. “He needs to show me that he is 100% committed to getting sober before I will even consider putting him in treatment. If he is not 100% committed it will never work.” I have worked with thousands of families over the last five years with the ultimate goal always being to save their loved one’s life. The above phrase is one I have heard all too often, to the point where I have had parents our spouses tell me that their loved ones need to beg them for help. At the beginning of my career part of me believed it. However, over the last five years, I have learned one thing that is always true. The one thing that is guaranteed to cause treatment to fail and your loved one not to get sober is if they receive no treatment at all.

I am twenty-seven years old and went through treatment when I was twenty-one. Standing at 6ft 6in tall I weight well over 200 pounds; however, when I entered treatment I weighed less than 130 pounds. At the time I was recovering from a dangerous heart infection caused directly by my intravenous drug use. No one wanted me to live with them; I was unemployable and unworthy of trust. My body had been ravaged by heroin and cocaine; I was on the brink of death and I had no desire to get sober. My father and mother placed me in a treatment program on a day that I was so intoxicated and so delusional as a result of various medical conditions that I truly had no idea where I was going. Let me make one thing very clear, I had no desire to get sober. I was absolutely in love with heroin and had completely accepted that I would die (most likely very soon) if I didn’t quit using.

The first day in treatment I wanted to leave and had no desire to stay or get sober. Upon realizing that it was cold outside, no one would come to get me and I was broke I opted to stay in treatment where it was warm until I could find a way to get some money together and leave to start using. I was not committed to sobriety, I was not committed to treatment, all that would come later. The only thing I knew was that it was cold outside and I didn’t want to be homeless. That was my sole motivation in the beginning. Fortunately for me, I was in treatment and not in jail, by that I mean I had people whose job and passion it was to help me recover rather than to just feed me and keep me alive. Every day I was surrounded by professionals that cared enough about me to wait for me to change and to push me when I needed it and slowly but surely my attitude and disposition changed. I began to participate and actively fight for my life and my sobriety.

Thank God my family didn’t wait for me to want to be sober. Thank God they didn’t wait for me to ask for help. If they had I wouldn’t have completed treatment and gotten sober, I wouldn’t have gone back to college and gotten my degree, I wouldn’t have become a counselor and I would have never married the love of my life and started a family.

worried friend

Treatment does not exist for those that are 100% committed to sobriety. Treatment exists for men and women that were like I was that had not yet made up their mind. Simply put if you are 100% committed to running every day you will run every day and if you are 100% committed to being sober then you would be sober. Treatment programs exist for the sole purpose of helping those that haven’t entirely made up their mind yet or aren’t entirely sure what they want. Now please understand that if your loved one is wanting, asking or even begging for help that is great they should get help and deserve help as much as the next guy. All I am saying is that either way an addict needs help. The most important thing is that they start. They may go to treatment at first to save a job or a marriage. Hell, they may go to avoid jail. The reasons why they start are never as important as the fact that they do start. Desire and willingness can be cultivated and created but not if there is never an opportunity to do so. Most of us wouldn’t trust a seriously addicted individual to go grocery shopping for them. So if that is the case please don’t trust them or wait for them to decide when the right time is or when they want it.

Death is the rock bottom for far too many addicts today. This is why it is so important to do whatever is necessary to get your loved one help. There is always a chance that it won’t work but they are guaranteed to fail if they never have an opportunity to try. I am happily alive today because my family didn’t care about what I wanted all they cared about was what I needed.

Links from accredited institutions supporting the idea that willing and desire for sobriety upfront does not play a major role in an individual’s success:



Certified Addiction Counselor and staff member at Narconon Colorado