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Experts cite must-haves for effective rehab

  • Story Highlights
  • Experts: Effective rehab facilities don't have a lot of amenities, aren't "fun"
  • Staff should have an American Society of Addiction Medicine-certified psychiatrist
  • 2-3 individual therapy sessions weekly, plus group, are important
  • Program should have a very specific post-release sobriety plan
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By Elizabeth Cohen
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Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Medical News correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

Nikki Sixx got off heroin in 1985 but continued to abuse other drugs. It took him 16 more years to get clean.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx says he used to love the thrill of freebasing cocaine.

"I love that moment, right before I put the glass pipe to my lips," Sixx writes in his upcoming book "Heroin Diaries."

"The craving, the salivating, the excitement all feel fresh and innocent." And then, later in the book, he describes the pain: "I was in my closet with my grandfather's gun pointed at the door, needles and dirty spoons on the floor... terrified because people had slid under my front door like vapor and were in the house and were coming to get me."

After more than 30 years of abusing drugs, Sixx realized he needed rehab. "I did a Google search," he says. "I was desperate to find a place."

Sixx got lucky. Google led him to a place that worked for him, and he's now been sober for six years. But not everyone is so lucky. There are some pretty bad rehab places around, according to addiction experts.

"You can have a high school diploma and a weekend course and you can hang out a shingle and call yourself an addiction counselor," says Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman of The National Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, also known as CASA. Interactive: Celebrities who've found sobriety »

So how does one separate the good from the bad? Experts and recovery addicts gave these five must-haves for any rehab program:

1. No amenities

The recovering addicts and experts were all adamant on this point. "Places that have lots of amenities automatically concern me, because this is not supposed to be a fun experience," says Dr. Ralph Lopez, an adolescent medicine specialist and associate professor at Cornell University Medical College in New York City. Lopez, who has ushered many people through the rehab process, says taking responsibility for your own mess -- making your own bed, clearing your own tray off the lunch table -- is a crucial part of recovery.

Sixx agrees. "They had me cleaning the toilets," he says.

It's also important to get over your pride, says Christopher Kennedy Lawford, an actor who abused drugs and alcohol for decades, beginning with an LSD trip at 13. "You need to get humble, to get on your knees," he says.

2. An experienced staff

Because people can call themselves addiction counselors with little training or experience, look for a psychiatrist on the staff who's certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, says Jon Morgenstern, a psychologist and vice-president of CASA. He says the others on the staff should be psychologists or social workers licensed in addiction medicine counseling, mental health counseling, or both.

Morgenstern also advises asking how long the clinical director has been there, since some centers have huge turnover. "If they've only been there six months or a year, that's not a good sign," he says.

3. Individual therapy

While group therapy is the cornerstone of addiction treatment programs, it's important to have individual sessions two or three times a week, Morgenstern says.

4. Gender-separate facilities

This isn't true for everyone, but experts say many addicts do better when they're not around the opposite sex, especially if they've been victims of sexual abuse. "If a woman was raped when she was drunk, she's not going to handle a co-ed setting well for most of her work," says Jeanette Friedman, a social worker in New York City who's helped many clients through the rehab process.

5. A good exit strategy

Because most programs are only 28 days -- and recovery usually takes much longer than that -- look for one that has a very specific plan for how to keep you sober after you get out, Friedman and others advise.

Sixx has one more piece of advice, and he says it's more important than any other: The addict has to be ready for rehab. He says he tried rehab in 1985, and while he got off heroin, he continued to abuse other drugs. It took him 16 years to try again and succeed. He says addicts need to be psychologically ready to "peel the onion" to figure out the underlying reasons why they turned to drugs. "It's a long process," he says. "You've got to deal with it head-on, and it [expletive] hurts."


Lawford agrees. He says he, too, needed to figure out why he sought the mental escape of drugs. "All addicts are running away from something. We just use different color sneakers," he says.

Sixx says despite all the ups and downs, this is a good time in his life. "I'm starting my life over again, and it's not so bad," he says. "Life is not a G-rated movie. Just because it's hard, it doesn't mean it's bad. It's beautiful." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Elizabeth Cohen is a correspondent with CNN Medical News. Senior producer Jennifer Pifer and associate producer Sabriya Rice contributed to this report.

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