The Danger of Drug Rehab Scams and How to Find a Legitimate Addiction Treatment Program

Drug rehab scams prey on people who are in difficult situations. While it can be difficult to determine what is a scam and what isn’t, there are tell-tale signs that a business isn’t providing quality care. Finding a legitimate addiction treatment program can make all the difference in your life.

On the day Kit decided to get sober, he woke up in a flophouse he’d been crashing at off and on for a few months. It was filthy, and he was surrounded by people he didn’t know. In a moment of clarity, he reached out to his family, who set to work finding him a drug rehab program.

What they found was a nightmare. Kevin was waking up back in a flophouse surrounded by people he didn’t know, doing drugs and filling out false paperwork so that the scam artists running the “program” could get government money. He was no better than before.

Unfortunately, he isn’t alone. Scammers take advantage of people’s sadness, desperation, and worst of all, hope. They run legitimate-sounding ads online, but don’t come close to delivering treatment. In fact, people who go through them can potentially end up worse.

Luckily, legitimate, compassionate, and licensed treatment centers do exist, and are ready to welcome those in need of help and guide them toward true and lasting recovery. Drug rehab scams are pernicious and cruel, but a legitimate addiction treatment program can help people turn their lives around. The key to finding them is understanding how fake addiction facilities operate and knowing how to spot the difference between a scam and a legitimate rehab program.

How Drug Rehab Scams Prey on The Vulnerable


If you’re actively searching for help with a drug problem, chances are good the first place you’ll turn will be the internet. However, online research can easily lead you astray if you’re not an industry expert or well-versed in addiction treatment.

Because many drug rehab programs are regulated by an overlapping patchwork of state, local, and regional guidelines, it is fairly easy to claim a “Certification” even without one. It’s hard to police, and what might be a legit certification in one district doesn’t come close to meeting more stringent standards. Because of this, Google suspended drug rehab ads for a year, costing them tens of millions of dollars of revenue. After hiring the assistance of a vetting firm, they have recently begun allowing them back online. But while they are working to be extremely diligent, it is possible (even plausible) that some illegitimate drug rehab scams will get through.

Online scams aren’t the only way that people take advantage of people suffering from drug addictions, however. In Florida, for example, a common drug rehab scam is for people running a “halfway house” to task one of their residents with going to AA meetings. From there, they find and befriend people with top-tier insurance programs, and get them to come to the house. The resident gets room and board and is allowed to continue doing drugs. Needless to say, no one gets better.

There is a whole web of scams involving intensive outpatient programs, so-called “sober houses” (which are often just flophouses like the one Kit ended up in), and drug testing labs work together to fake results and bilk insurance companies. They get money, while the people they draw in fall farther into the spiral of addiction.

So how can you tell when you’re looking at a drug rehab scam?

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Tell-Tale Signs of a Drug Rehab Scam


All drug rehab scams pretend to be legit; the scam doesn’t work if they just shrug their shoulders when you inquire about their methodology. But there are certain rehab methods that are largely ineffective and just serve as a cover for insurance-bilking scams. Some of these include:

  • Reliance on herbal remedies. There is no doubt that natural ingredients and herbs work for minimizing addictive cravings. They can be extremely helpful as part of a treatment regimen. But they can’t be relied on to treat the root cause of addiction, and any rehab clinic that posits them as the end-all-be-all is being dishonest.
  • Detox in place of rehab. While detox is important, it is only the first step toward true rehab—it is not a replacement for a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
  • Short programs. Programs that claim to work in a week or two might be well-meaning, but they don’t work. Most are nothing more than short-term scams. To be truly effective, rehab often lasts at least a month, sometimes longer.
  • Guarantees. You want you or your loved one to get better, and a guarantee of “full recovery” in X amount of days can be comforting on the surface. But there are no sure things in any part of life—including rehab—and everybody’s path to recovery looks different. While treatment centers can, and should, promise that they will do everything in their power to help you or your loved one, they cannot—and should never—claim to be able to “cure” your loved one in a matter of days or achieve results on a set, standard timetable.

The truth is, rehab is hard work and takes time. That’s why the most effective programs are long-term—and involve comprehensive care.

Finding a Legitimate Addiction Rehab Clinic


Kit was lucky. His family quickly realized their mistake, and took the time and care to find him a legitimate rehab facility, where he got the help he needed in conditions that were comfortable, welcoming, and amenable to recovery. Kit wasn’t alone in being taken in by a scam—and now, he’s found that he doesn’t have to walk the real road to recovery alone, either.

So what should you look for in a treatment facility? How do you know if the program you find online is legit? Here are a few indications:

  • Residential care. Residential, long-term care with licensed staff is the best way to get to the root causes of addiction.
  • Programs of different lengths. Some people can be well on the road to recovery in 30 days, others 90 days, others still more. There’s no one-size-fits-all, so look for treatment centers that recognize that.
  • Continued care. What kind of treatment or support is offered after the program? Look for a rehabilitation clinic that offers free weekly support groups, quarterly renewal possibilities, and regular check-ins.
  • Individualized care. “Care” can’t happen without, well, caring. That’s what a legitimate clinic does. You aren’t jammed into a program that might not be the best fit for you; your program is based around what you need.

You want a diversity of options. You want evidence-based treatment, integrating holistic and experiential care. You want options to involve your family in your recovery process, as well as the invaluable support of peer groups.

In other words, you should look for a place that recognizes that addiction recovery is a long road. A legitimate rehab clinic knows that there are no easy solutions, and they have the capacity and desire to walk along that road with you. They’re not using you. They’re not sending you to another flophouse. They welcome you with open arms, open minds, and an open heart.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.