Leaving Rehab Early: Options And Effects On Recovery

Leaving rehab early, while an option, can pose serious risks to a person’s recovery. Learn more about options for leaving rehab early, and potential risks.

Addiction rehab programs can, for many, be overwhelming, especially in the beginning. For some, this can leave a person with doubt about whether to continue their treatment.

When and if someone does leave rehab early, it can be helpful to know what options may be available for those who leave, as well as the potential risks of doing so.

Reasons Someone May Choose To Leave Rehab Early

People who enter rehab for drug abuse may choose, or be forced, to leave rehab early for a number of reasons.

For some, it is a personal choice. For others, it might occur at the behest of the rehab facility.

Choosing to leave a rehab program early may signify a number of things. Someone may deny they have a problem, or hold the belief that they no longer need treatment.

Beginning a rehab program, especially for the first time, can be overwhelming. Here are some common reasons why a person may decide to leave prematurely:

Personal Emergency

Personal emergencies, such as the death of a loved one or the threat of losing a job, can sometimes prompt a person to leave rehab early.

Drug Withdrawal

Someone might also decide to leave rehab in response to distress caused by withdrawal.

This may be most likely to occur in cases where a person’s symptoms aren’t being adequately treated or otherwise addressed by a treatment provider.

Withdrawal symptoms that might prompt someone to leave include:

  • irritability
  • depression
  • strong cravings
  • physical pain

Many rehab programs do offer treatment to help ease withdrawal. But some withdrawal symptoms—particularly those seen with protracted withdrawal—can be long-lasting.

Belief That They’re Ready To Leave Treatment

It’s also common for a person to detox and, once sober, tell themselves they’re capable of staying away from alcohol or drugs on their own.

Common phrases used by those who leave rehab early include:

  • “I already know what I need to do.”
  • “I’m not like these other people [patients].”
  • “They’re not going to help me here.”
  • “I can do this on my own.”

Other Reasons Someone Might Leave Rehab Early

Not all premature departures from a treatment center are by choice. For some, this may be necessary due to a loss of insurance coverage or inability to pay for continued treatment.

In some cases, a rehab center may kick a person out of a rehab facility. This is sometimes referred to as an “administrative discharge” or disciplinary discharge.

Potential reasons for premature discharge might include:

  • using drugs (including alcohol) on the premises
  • stealing from others
  • possessing contraband items
  • threatening the safety of other patients or staff
  • inappropriate contact with other patients
  • harassing other staff or patients

What Happens When You Leave Rehab Early?

Unfortunately, dropout rates for people within substance abuse programs tend to be fairly high—up to 30 percent within one month, or 50 percent within three.

What happens after this can vary.

Typically, this will depend on factors such as why a person left, if it was voluntary, their motivation for recovery, and the resources they have available to them on the outside.

Options For Leaving Rehab Early

Ending treatment early doesn’t mean that relapse is inevitable.

Although a return to drug use can be a significant risk, there are other options that, if they are at a person’s disposal, may help a person stay on track toward addiction recovery.

For instance:

Outpatient Treatment

If a person is medically stable upon leaving rehab, they may be able to find continued treatment through a less-intensive program, such as an outpatient program.

Outpatient treatment programs for substance abuse can offer structure, support, and may be able to help refer individuals to a different residential program that’s better suited to meet their needs.

Community-Based Support

If finding a lower level of care is not an option, people who leave rehab early may still be able to identify free or low-cost support options within their communities.

For instance, by finding a community support group, low-cost counseling, or searching for flexible, cost-friendly treatment options through a local or state health department.

Finding Another Rehab Facility

If someone is leaving rehab early due to grievances with their treatment program, it might be worthwhile looking into other treatment options.

Rehab programs in the U.S. widely vary in their preferred approaches, the types of treatment they offer, programming, and their ability to adequately care for patients with complex needs.

Completing The Rehab Program

For many, the best choice for those with substance use disorder is to stay in treatment and try to stick it out.

Accepting treatment for a drug or alcohol problem can be difficult. It can be painful, physically, and emotionally. It can be one of the greatest challenges you ever face in your life.

But it can also be one of the best, and most rewarding, decisions you make for yourself. Most can’t overcome addiction on their own—but a professional treatment program can help.

What Are The Risks Of Leaving Drug Rehab Early?

Dropping out of a rehab program prematurely can, unfortunately, come with several serious risks.

Severe Withdrawal

One of the dangers of leaving rehab early, particularly within the first week, is the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms—particularly for those addicted to alcohol or benzodiazepines.

Severe withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • seizures
  • hallucinations
  • psychosis
  • heart problems
  • hyperthermia

Without medical support, these symptoms can be potentially life-threatening.


The primary risk of leaving rehab early, particularly against medical advice, is a person returning to drugs or alcohol, also known as relapse.

Lapsing back into substance use, even just once, can set a dangerous precedent. For some, it can essentially restart a vicious cycle and make it that much harder to seek help again.

Overdose Risk

A significant danger of relapse after leaving rehab early is overdose. This risk is especially high for people who have completed detoxification—and thus, have a reduced drug tolerance.

Other risk factors for overdose include:

  • mixing drugs
  • mixing opioids with stimulants (e.g. crack)
  • mixing opioids with benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax)
  • having health issues (e.g. weak immune system, poor nutrition)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much of a drug after a short period of abstinence for a person to overdose, regardless of how much they’d taken prior to detox.

Legal Troubles

Leaving rehab early could result in troubles with the law for people who were either mandated treatment or are required to attend rehab as a condition of parole.

Additionally, someone who relapses could risk legal trouble if they, for instance:

  • drink and drive
  • buy or sell illicit drugs
  • are found with illicit drugs in their possession
  • commit other criminal acts while intoxicated

Research shows that evidence-based treatment approaches, like medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, can decrease criminal activity and help people rebuild their lives.

Dropping out of treatment too soon, however, can disrupt this. And may risk erasing the progress a person has already made in treatment, should they return to former drugs of abuse.

Going Back To Rehab

At Spring Hill Recovery Center, we understand that the road to addiction recovery isn’t always smooth. Sometimes it can take multiple tries to overcome hurdles.

Our treatment professionals know that with professional help, overcoming addiction for good is possible. Let us help you get there.

Find Substance Abuse Treatment At Spring Hill Recovery Center Today

If you’re ready to return to treatment, Spring Hill Recovery Center may be able to help. Call us today to learn more about our treatment programs and approach to addiction recovery.

  1. Mass.gov — Opioid Overdose Risk Factors https://www.mass.gov/service-details/opioid-overdose-risk-factors
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine — Dropout rates of in-person psychosocial substance use disorder treatments: a systematic review and meta-analysis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31454123/
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine — Substance abuse treatment drop-out from client and clinician perspectives https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678276/

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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