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What Are Addiction Treatment Boot Camps?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 18, 2018

Overcoming drug addiction is a difficult process that many people struggle with. A growing movement is now offering people a harsher way to find sobriety. Drug rehab boot camp.

What Happens At A Drug Rehab Boot Camp?

Boot camp drug treatment centers are designed to be more physically strenuous for attendants. In fact, they are actually based on the boot camps that military recruits have to endure when they first join up. Boot camp rehab centers require strict adherence to rules, inspections, copious amounts of physical exercise, living in very sparse conditions, and eating very little food.

To many people, this kind of treatment may seem harsh. However, it is designed to shock a person who is suffering from addiction. There’s a good chance they’ve never experienced these types of conditions in their life. Being thrown into a tough environment challenges them mentally, physically, and emotionally.

It also creates a more humble state of mind. In a drug rehab boot camp, a person can’t talk back to the people running the camp nor can they break rules. Instead, they have to exist in a simple environment and learn how to take orders. In a sense, this aligns boot camp rehab with 12-step programs: both force you to let go of your ego, admit you have a problem and put your fate in the hands of a stronger force.

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Are They Expensive?

Many people turn to boot camp rehabs because of their incredibly low price. While more comfortable inpatient rehab centers can cost upwards of $700 per day, boot camps often cost a tenth of that price. In fact, some boot camps can cost as little as $25 per day to attend. This low price of attendance is partially offset by private and public funding endeavors.

For somebody who either lacks the cash or insurance to fund drug rehabilitation, boot camp rehabs are often their only alternative. Even if they feel they lack the emotional or physical abilities to handle such an experience, it may be the healthiest alternative to living a life of perpetual addiction.

Do Boot Camps Actually Work?

As you can imagine, boot camp drug rehabs are somewhat controversial. However, there are many people that believe that they are incredibly effective. A young writer named Vicki wrote an article in “XoJane” about her experiences in a drug rehab boot camp. She had been an addict for years and struggled to find a solution that worked for her.

After attending a drug rehab boot camp, she found that she had no desire to use any more. The experience of cleaning toilets, being yelled at, and following strict guidelines humbled her. It showed her that she could no longer live such a personally damaging lifestyle because she would likely end up either in prison or dead.

Another article, by the New York Daily News, went into great detail discussing the pros and cons of boot camps. They believed that boot camps could be effective for people who didn’t respond well to more comfortable or “posh” rehab centers. While they don’t deny the effectiveness of these more expensive and comfortable centers, they acknowledge that boot camps may be the only option that works for hard cases.

What Kind Of Criticisms Surrounds Boot Camps?

Critics of boot camp rehabs claim that they only reinforce the false notion that “tough love” is the best treatment for addiction treatment. They point out that severe treatment in boot camps can traumatize many people and can even drive them to either relapse or begin using drugs at an even higher level. They also criticize some of the harsher elements of the treatment, such as forced fitness routines, forced labor, denial of food, and sleep deprivation.

Other critics point out that people who are suffering from addiction are often in rough physical shape and that this kind of treatment will only make it worse. There are few amenities in a boot camp rehab and people must share sleeping quarters. This is true even if the person begins to experience symptoms of detoxification. While there are medical facilities on-site in boot camp rehabs, they are generally only used for emergency situations.

Making A Difficult Decision

Clearly, there are people who may benefit from living through a boot camp rehab treatment. However, there are those who will react negatively to the treatment and who may either relapse or suffer from emotional and physical problems caused by their treatment. If you are interested in boot camp rehabilitation and want to learn more, please contact us at

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