Packing Well: The Best Way to Prepare for the Big Change

Last Updated: June 3, 2020

It’s no secret that recovery involves change. That’s why people decide to go to rehab – anything is better than the deadly cycle of addiction. Rehab, however, can compel people to leave their comfort zone. As they get ready for it, they start to think about the inevitable changes it will bring. Sometimes, they worry about what the future holds. The anxiety can become more intense as the time to enter rehab approaches, and it can be overwhelming in some cases, especially if the person is going to rehab for alcohol addiction. It is an underlying cause of alcoholism in 20% of all cases.

Financial, Work, and Family Obligations

All financial, work- and family-related obligations need to be taken care of before entering rehab. Unfulfilled obligations are a distraction when undergoing treatment. What is more, returning to a chaotic situation after rehab is stressful and can make one more prone to relapse. Be sure to spend time with close relatives and friends before leaving, especially if the center is far from home – this could help reduce fear and anxiety. According to SAMHSA, family members often have a bigger desire to achieve a better-functioning family system, thus helping the patient to remain in treatment through periods of doubt and ambivalence about recovery. Parents going into rehab have a number of childcare options available. The best choice would be someone the child or children already know and feel safe with, like a significant other or grandparent, another older relative, or a close friend.

Preparing for Rehab: Emotional Aspects

To prepare themselves for rehab emotionally and mentally, many people have found going for walks, taking deep breaths, and spending time doing crafts or DIY very helpful. Waiting to go into rehab is a great way to learn more about addiction and recovery. This includes reading specialized literature about addiction, what the treatment involves, and the statistics and science behind it. There are many first-hand accounts from recovering addicts online. These can be very interesting and informative and help one prepare for rehab.

Items to Bring to Rehab

The essentials are:

  • Currently prescribed medications, prescription and insurance cards
  • Government ID (driver’s license or passport)
  • Important contact information for the primary care physician
  • At least a week of casual clothing suitable for local daytime and evening temperatures
  • Laundry supplies
  • A credit or reloadable debit card

Of course, a person needs more than the bare essentials in rehab, especially if they plan on spending more than a month there. It’s a good idea to find an old MP3 player or iPod (with a charger) – people beat the boredom or bouts of depression that can go with rehab by listening to their favorite music. Old iPods and MP3 players may not be very easy to find today, but there could be one laying around a friend’s house somewhere. Most treatment facilities don’t let patients bring a cell phone or any other device with an Internet connection because these devices can be used to take photos that violate other patients’ privacy, leave against medical advice, or get drugs into the rehab center.

Comfortable, Appropriate Clothes and Shoes

Patients are discouraged from bringing provocative clothes to rehab as these can be distracting and keep them and those around them from moving forward in therapy. A lot of facilities organize sports activities, including hiking trips and swimming. Revealing bikinis are not allowed and people who haven’t brought any alternatives will be left out of trips to the beach or waterpark, and that can be a downer. Hiking shoes, a beach towel, and sunscreen are recommended. People find they need comfortable clothes once they get settled in, like sweatpants and slippers. High heels are seen as inappropriate and are also usually not allowed.

Alcohol-Free Toiletries

Patients are advised to bring toiletries to avoid additional expenses in rehab. Understandably, none of these should be alcohol-based. In cases of alcohol detox, strong cravings have compelled people to drink spray gel or perfume.


Patients who smoke find their nicotine intake skyrockets in rehab. If a person usually smokes ten cigarettes a day or fewer, they may need up to one pack per day. A large part of the day will be taken up by individual and group therapy, recreational activities, and meetings, but there is still a lot of free time. Patients are often outside chain-smoking and socializing when there isn’t a lot going on at the center. Slippers are very convenient because one doesn’t feel like tying their shoes every time they go outside for a smoke or to chat.

Contact Info

Having a list of important phone numbers is recommended for obvious reasons. As mentioned, most centers don’t allow their patients to use their cell phones, so they can’t get any numbers out of them that they may need. One should write down a few important numbers before checking in, like close friends and family members, an attorney, or a physician’s. Stamps to mail letters and postcards are a good idea, as this is basically the only way to stay in touch with loved ones during rehab. Finally, one needs to take care of eyewear, where relevant – eyeglasses, contact lenses, lens solution, and other accessories as needed.

What Items Not to Bring to Rehab

A person who has decided to get treatment and achieve long-term sobriety would not think of bringing drugs or alcohol to the rehab facility. Not every patient’s resolve, however, is that strong. Upon intake, each patient’s belongings are searched thoroughly. In light of this, it is pointless to bring alcohol and drugs. Sharp items aren’t allowed, and neither are weapons. One is not allowed to bring knives, guns, scissors, nail files, and tweezers to a treatment center.

In addition, the following items are usually not allowed in rehab facilities:

  • Electronic cigarettes
  • Candles and incense
  • Foods and beverages

Most treatment centers typically ban outside food and drinks because there is a meal plan to follow, and sugar and caffeine consumption should be limited or completely eliminated. Rehabs provide their patients with nourishing meals, snacks, and alcohol-free (of course) beverages. Patients who have special dietary requirements (lactose intolerant, vegetarian, vegan) must inform the rehab center in advance.
As mentioned above, cosmetic products that contain alcohol are not allowed. These include certain mouthwashes, aerosol deodorants, nail polish remover, and perfume.
Clothes referencing alcohol and drug use or profanity are discouraged, as are all types of electronics. This is not only due to the risk of using them to access the Internet, which the staff aren’t willing to take. Gadgets are also seen as a distraction from the matter at hand – learning to live an independent and fulfilling life. One should not bring game consoles, tablets, televisions, iPhones, or laptops.
Large amounts of money and expensive items should not be taken either. Items like expensive jewelry, clothes, and shoes do not belong in rehab, or in any facility where one would risk losing them, for that matter.
Patients are not allowed to bring opened or unapproved medication. They are required to show a prescription for any medication they do bring. Multi-vitamins and other non-prescription medical products must be reported to the staff in advance. If one is unable to do so, possession of such products must be reported at intake at the latest.

How to Make Treatment Comfortable: The 3 Golden Rules

Be Open-Minded

Rehab patients share many of the same struggles, and often people form life-long friendships or partnerships in treatment facilities. Addiction can erode one’s self-esteem and the notion of making new friends may be unwelcome, especially for those in treatment. It is normal to be afraid of rejection, but it pays off to remember that everybody there is more or less in the same situation. Building relationships in rehab can provide additional support as one embraces sobriety. Being open-minded is key to getting the most out of recovery. It is difficult to go into treatment without any preconceived notions or expectations, but the more one can embrace the process, the more they will be able to benefit from it.

Speak Up

This point links to the issue of self-esteem. Recovering addicts often struggle with low self-esteem, which can make it hard to speak up in group therapy, which is a major component of the program. By speaking up in group sessions, one makes sure they are getting the most out of them. Time spent discussing issues that are important to an individual in rehab is time well spent.


Being patient (as both a noun and an adjective) in rehab is challenging, but crucial. Of course, it is easier said than done, but if one is able to practice being patient with themselves, other recovering addicts and the whole process of therapy, they will find there are many short- and long-term benefits to reap. A great way to teach oneself patience is by practicing meditation, which can have a very positive impact on rehabilitation. The key to this is being present and aware of each and every moment. People get impatient when they are not fully present in a situation. Every moment counts – after all, every experience is simply a series of moments.

Why do People “Fail” Rehab Programs?

“Failing” a rehab involves terminating participation prematurely, using drugs or alcohol during rehab (and getting caught), or any end result other than the desired one. Some people even go to rehab several times and experience relapse after relapse despite the efforts of therapists and medical staff. There are many reasons why this happens, but certain emotional and behavioral responses are often implicated, and these are discouraged in drug rehab.

No Easy Way to Successful Recovery

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” –Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State
Even those who have made a very firm commitment to get and stay sober long-term can feel deterred by the stress from putting work-related and other engagements on hold. Successful, long-term recovery takes hard work. It is important to realize that stress and worries can be dealt with by preparing well for treatment. After all, the most difficult part – deciding to get help – is over. All that is left is taking measures to make it possible to go back to a positive space where the skills learned in rehab can be applied.

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Published on: May 30th, 2018

Updated on: June 3rd, 2020


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