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Rehab: What to Bring or Not Bring

As reported by Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), just over 20 million American adults struggled with addiction in 2016. Addiction is a treatable disease that is optimally managed through a specialized addiction treatment program.

There are a variety of treatment modalities and methods. Each facility will have their own standards and rules, but in general, there are certain things that a person should, and shouldn’t, bring with them to rehab. Some items may provide unnecessary distractions while a person should be focusing on healing while other items may be potentially hazardous.

Treatment facilities generally have very strict rules and policies as to what a person can bring into rehab and what they can’t. Typically, during admission, staff members will catalogue a person’s belongings to ensure that everything remains accounted for during the stay at rehab, and also to be sure that there are no prohibited items being brought in.

Packing List for Rehab

In general, when entering into a rehab program, a person will need to bring their everyday essentials, such as clothing and toiletries. Each treatment facility will have specific rules as to what kinds of extra things are allowed.

Rehab facilities generally have some form of a dress code that residents must adhere to while in residence, and individuals should check on this before packing clothing. Layering is also usually a good idea to account for weather variations and potential temperature changes.

It is important to remember that space is limited in a residential rehab facility and there will not be a lot of places to store things, so pack light. There is usually a laundry facility on site to wash clothes, so in general, a week’s worth of clothing is enough. Don’t bring things that need to be dry cleaned or washed in a special way.
Below is a general packing list of things to bring to rehab.

  • Seven days’ worth of clothes, including undergarments, socks, shirts, pants, shorts, etc. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt for cooler evenings, and plan for weather changes. Be sure to adhere to the facility’s dress code if packing things like tank tops and shorts (e.g., spaghetti straps may not be allowed and shorts may need to be a minimum length). Clothing should be comfortable enough to move around in freely and easily.
  • One or two more dressy outfits for periodic special occasions or visiting time
  • Shoes, including comfortable shoes and flip flops for the shower
  • Athletic clothing and shoes to use at the fitness center, during yoga, or for walks or fitness classes
  • Slippers and a bath robe for after the shower if desired
  • Pajamas that are appropriate as residents often share rooms
  • Swim trunks or a one-piece bathing suit
  • Toiletries and beauty or hygiene products, such as shampoo and conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, hairbrush, sunscreen, lotion, makeup, shaving cream, hair spray or styling products, feminine hygiene products, etc. Bring enough to last 30 days. These items may need to be checked to ensure they do not contain any alcohol (or that alcohol is not listed in the first three ingredients). Some facilities may not allow razors.
  • Laundry detergent and supplies for washing clothes

In addition to necessities, everyday clothing, and bathroom essentials, it is often recommended to bring the following as well:

  • Stationary, envelopes, and stamps to write letters to families and loved ones
  • An alarm clock, without a radio feature, to adhere to the set sleeping and waking times, though some facilities may provide these, so check before buying and/or packing one
  • A journal or notebook to write in
  • Pictures of family, friends, and loved ones
  • A list of all medications and any current prescription or over-the-counter medications (OTC) that are needed in their original packaging with the pharmacy labels intact; OTC and liquid medications need to be brand new and sealed
  • Identification, including a driver’s license or passport and a current insurance card
  • A complete list of names, phone numbers, and contact information for people who should be involved in treatment and recovery, such as family members, primary care providers, mental health professionals, peer support group members, a mentor or sponsor through a 12-Step programlike Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), etc.
  • Small bills and a small amount of money (less than $50-$100) to use in vending machines
  • Credit or debit card (or checkbook) to pay for medications and necessary items during treatment
  • Calling card for long-distance phone calls to loved ones if required

Some rehab centers may allow individuals to bring things like a non-internet capable camera to take pictures, paperback books that meet specific criteria, comfort items that may make the room feel more like home (such as a pillow, blanket, or bedding items), an MP3 player that is not internet capable, gum, or unopened vitamins. Some treatment facilities or programs may allow individuals to bring a cellphone or laptop, but they typically hold these and only allow use or access to them at specific times. Be sure to bring charging cords and carrying cases for these items if needed.

Rehab facilities may allow smoking, and there may be a limit on how many cartons of unopened cigarettes a person can bring in. Be sure to check the policies at the facility before bringing any of these items to rehab.

Items to Leave at Home

Rehab is a time for creating new and healthy habits, detoxing from toxic substances, and learning how to manage cravings, stressors, and withdrawal symptoms. In addition, it’s a time for learning how to become more self-sufficient and equipped to lead a fulfilling and well-balanced life in recovery. As such, rehab facilities have firm rules on what items are allowed and what are prohibited to bring into a treatment center. Some items are deemed dangerous, as they may contain alcohol or other substances that may be considered mind-altering and therefore may have a potential for abuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that relapse is a common component of drug addiction recovery with rates as high as 40-60 percent. This means that during rehab, it is essential to remove all potential temptations.

Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts often accompany drug withdrawal, and NIDA warns that these suicidal ideations may continue for a time after detox. For this reason, it is important for certain items that may have the potential to be used for self-harm to be closely monitored or prohibited altogether. Shoes may need to have their shoelaces removed; razors may or may not be allowed, or they may need to be of a certain type; and keys are often not to be brought in to rehab. Other personal items may provide access to the outside world and bring unneeded distractions when a person needs to focus during rehab.

Each rehab facility will have their own list of prohibited items, so be sure to check before admission. Here is a general list of things to leave at home when entering rehab.

  • Outside food or beverages: Typically, rehab programs will adhere to a strict nutritional plan with scheduled and balanced meals. Caffeine and sugar intake are closely monitored, and sugary snacks and sodas are often not allowed. Food and drinks are typically provided during a stay in a residential rehab facility.
  • Drugs and alcohol: While this seems to be a given, it is still included on the list of restricted items and includes prohibited prescriptions, narcotics, unapproved OTC medications, and opened or unsealed medications.
  • Aerosol products: These products may be abused by “huffing” and are therefore prohibited. Instead, hair styling and toiletries should be pump-based.
  • Alcohol-containing toiletries or beauty products: Check the labels on all of these products as it may come as a surprise that they contain alcohol. Things like mouthwash, perfume, and other products may contain alcohol and are therefore not allowed at rehab. Some facilities will allow items that may contain trace amounts of alcohol, as long as alcohol is not listed as one of the first three ingredients on the label.
  • Nail polish, synthetic nail products, and nail polish remover: These products may all be potentially abused and are therefore not allowed.
  • Cleaning supplies: Not only are these not necessary at rehab, but they are also prohibited due to their potential for abuse. Rehab staff will provide any needed cleaning services or supplies.
  • Pornography: This can be distracting and not helpful during treatment.
  • Inappropriate clothing: This includes clothing that doesn’t adhere to the dress code, that is too revealing, or that promotes violence, includes references to drugs or alcohol, or is in some way offensive.
  • Candles and incense: These items have the potential to become hazardous.
  • Electronics: Each facility will have different rules as to what kinds of electronics can and can’t be brought into rehab, so check what is allowed and what isn’t. In general, access to the internet and the outside world is either not allowed at all or only allowed under direct supervision at specific times. As a result, laptops, smartphones, smart watches, or other electronic devices that have internet access may be prohibited or allowed and kept by treatment staff for monitored use.
  • Electronic cigarettes: These devices are typically not allowed at rehab.
  • Video games, sporting equipment, playing cards, musical instruments, games, radios, DVDs, and books: These items may provide unneeded distractions and are therefore often not allowed to be brought from home. They may be provided on site by treatment staff during certain times, however. For example, paperback books on self-help, spiritual growth, and recovery may be provided, and movie nights or game nights may be hosted on specific evenings by treatment staff.
  • Weapons: Anything that may be construed as a weapon (e.g., scissors, razors, knives, guns, sharp objects, etc.) is not allowed at rehab.
  • Valuables: Things of high value, such as jewelry and the like, should be left at home. Everyday jewelry, such as a wedding ring, is acceptable.

Check the packing list and the list of prohibited items before being admitted into rehab. If for some reason an item is brought from home that is not allowed, treatment staff will usually give it to a family member to take home. If this isn’t an option, items may be stored until a loved one can come and retrieve them. Some facilities may provide storage for these items until the person has completed the program.

When in doubt, ask. Admission counselors and treatment staff are on hand to answer any questions families and prospective clients have about entering rehab. Less is generally more in the case of packing for rehab. Think about packing light, leaving valuables at home, bringing only the essentials, and preparing to enter into a safe environment that is free from outside distractions.

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