Costs of Addiction Treatment – How Do You Recover From Drug Addiction or Alcoholism if You Can’t Afford It?


Costs of Addiction Treatment can be too much for many – this post shares no-cost alternatives.

Costs of Addiction Treatment can put many rehab programs beyond the reach of people desperate to recover from drug addiction or alcoholism. 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 might be overwhelmed by what it means to be in recovery. They may not be able to afford the time away from work or they may fear repercussions when others find out they’re in treatment.

Time and again I hear these concerns, and it breaks my heart. Coming to terms with the idea of needing and wanting treatment is hard enough, but when a person is grappling with any one of these issues, they often dig in harder to do it alone – struggling in isolation, shrouded in secrecy and shame – the “things” that make it so difficult to recover from this disease.

In this post, I’m going to try to break down into doable steps how to find and succeed in addiction treatment and recovery – including taking advantage of programs that do not cost anything – as follows:

    • Understand the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or to alcohol).
    • Understand that we are healing a brain disease, and as with other disease treatments, there is no “one-size fits all.”
    • Appreciate that it does take time, but there is much joy to be had in the moments of every day along the way.
    • Understand that Addiction is a Family Disease.

To get the full benefit of what I’m writing here, please click through all of the links I provide as each one will add more to the discussion while keeping this overall presentation of information feel doable.

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

  • For some, it may be helpful to consider using one of the prescribed medications that help with curbing addiction cravings.

Let’s Talk About Cravings

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Drug and/or Alcohol Dependence and Recovery

NCADD’s Consumer Guide to Medication-Assisted Recovery

  • 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.


Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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9 Responses to Costs of Addiction Treatment – How Do You Recover From Drug Addiction or Alcoholism if You Can’t Afford It?

  1. This is great Lisa. Many people won’t realise that there are other options when considering beating addiction. And as you point out, recovery is more than just rehab, it is a long term life change and commitment.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Wonderful post with so much information. It is so important to help the family member “regardless of whether the addict/alcohol seeks treatment.” Sometimes family members cannot separate themselves from the addict/alcoholic, so good reminder. Thanks so much for mentioning my links. There are many treatment possibilities. My hope is that everyone seeking recovery can find the help that they are looking for.

    • Hi Cathy – you’re welcome. I thought your two blog posts were excellent and help demonstrate how many non-12 step options there are. As you wrote – there are many treatment possibilities. Thanks so much for your comment, and Happy New Year!

  3. This is a wonderful resource for people looking for the recovery that will fit their individual needs. Science now shows through new tools like PET and MRI brain scans the addiction-related organic changes that take place in the reward system and the prefrontal cortex. This occurs across all addictions, from drugs and alcohol to the newly discovered food addiction. This new pioneering research is also helping us to appreciate a holistic and integrative approach to addiction. I was first senior research fellow in the NIH Office of Complementary Medicine. Using food addiction as template, THE HUNGER FIX addiction plan integrates personal empowerment, spirituality, along with whole food nutrition and restorative physical activity.

    I’ll be sharing this post with patients and readers as they try to tailor their recoveries as well.

    • Thanks so much, Dr. Peeke – I’m thrilled you find this helpful and will be sharing it with your patients and readers. As you’ve written, the new tools and pioneering research are making an incredible difference in how we view and treat addiction.

  4. Otis Collins says:

    Hello , my name is Otis Collins ,First off let me begin by saying that all of you make rehab out to be easier than it really is to get. I,v been looking for a long time now and have left many messages and called many phone numbers, All for nothing at all. I really do want help I,v been drinking since I was 13 years old and It’s all I’ve ever really known.I even packed my bags and turned myself in to a local rehab center , They sent me away . WOW what a let down. The Alcohol has now entered my bones and has caused ‘Avascular Necrosis’ in both of my hips I had to have the right hip replaced on Feb.13-2013 and now they have to do the other side but I’m doing my best to hang in there as long as possible.I do have children ages, 6,11,13,17 and yes it just so happens that I am on of those guys who fought hard for custody of all of them and it just seems to me that no one even see’s that accomplishment. My 11 year old son Battles with severe Bipolar and so do I. My 13 year old son suffers from ADD,ODD and Depression. And I think they ‘all’ suffer emotionally from my addiction to Alcohol. At this point in my life I know what I need and have been wanting it for a long time but just cant seem to get the help i need. I have even Bought Kevin truedou’s book’s to help me find a way to get funding so that I may go to a good place to get some REAL help. There isnt any REAL help in the state of Indiana. I have been reading about the ‘Watershed Treatment Programs in Florida and I must say that it seems like a good place to go to get impatient help. I didn’t become an alcoholic in one day and God know’s It wont be over in one day. that is why i need to go and stay somewhere like that so that i can have a fighting chance like all of those people who have lots of money. All we live on is SSI benefits and food stamps. Hows that gonna get me into a nice place like that ? I know I need to end this and I will having said this, This is my “Cry” for help and I can only hope that someone reads this and has a way of helping me and my kids with my ongoing addiction. Thank You very much for reading my post and I look forward to hearing from any of you . Sin: Broken down and tired…….Otis L. Collins Sept-9-13

  5. Otis Collins says:

    Otis Collins

    Thank You…

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