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Coping while on a waiting list...

Waiting lists are a terrible obstacle to treatment success. However, since there’s little you can do about them, you might as well look on the bright side and use the time until your check-in date to your advantage. Read on to learn:

  1. Tips on minimizing the time you spend on a waiting list.
  2. Ideas on staying productive while waiting, to get a head-start on the treatment process.

Coping with a Waiting List

1. Get on Several Waiting Lists at Once

Even if one provider seems to have far shorter wait times, you never know when a spot could open up, so make sure to get on lists for all your potential options.

  • It’s also a good idea to check-in regularly, to see where you are on the list and to get updated wait-time estimates.
  • By checking in regularly you show intake staff that you are committed to treatment and motivated to start.

Some programs mandate weekly check-ins as a prerequisite to keeping your spot on the list.

2. Be Ready to Go ANYTIME

Can you fill a sudden opening?

If you’re available to start whenever and at a moment’s notice, then make this clear to any and all treatment providers.

If a spot suddenly opens up (and this can happen for a number of reasons)  – and you’ve indicated that you’re available within 24 hours of notification, then you may get to jump up the line past others ahead of you who require more time to get organized and into treatment.1

3. Make Use of Free Community Resources While You Wait

Community support groups like AA, NA, SMART Recovery, HAMS and others offer free ongoing support to anyone seeking change. Most treatment programs will spend time introducing at least one support group – usually based on the 12 steps, so you can get a head-start on the process by exploring a few different groups while you wait. For most, you don’t have to be clean or sober, you just have to want to get clean or sober.

  • Though it’s normal to feel apprehensive before your first visit, people at these groups are very welcoming to newcomers – after all, everyone started out in the same boat.
  • Different groups can have different vibes, so just because you don’t enjoy one particular meeting, this doesn’t mean the organization’s a write-off. Try a few different meeting groups to see if any feel right.

Learn what to expect from an AA or NA meeting.

4. Use Waiting Time to Get Educated

Learn all you can about addiction and about what to expect from stopping your primary substance.

Check out books from the library and make full use of authoritative online content, such as from SAMHSA or NIDA.

5. Learn New Coping Skills

Getting addiction treatment is an efficient and effective way to learn a range of new skills, especially the skills you’ll need to avoid relapse once treatment’s finished.

Fortunately, you can also learn many of these skills for yourself as you wait for a treatment slot, for example:

Problems with Waiting Lists

What's the big deal with waiting?

Aside from the obvious negative…you have to wait, longer treatment waiting lists are associated with worsened outcomes. Research demonstrates:

  1. You are less likely to initiate the treatment process if you know you’ll get waylaid on long a waitlist.
  2. The longer the period between asking for help and getting it, the greater the attrition rate. Ideally, people get served as soon as they ask for help, because with each passing day that follows, people drop out of the process.
  3. Longer treatment wait times also lead to worsened outcomes, for example a greater risk of overdose, involvement with the criminal justice system, problems on the job and many more.2

Dealing with wait lists? Don’t become a negative statistic!

Though wait lists derail many, they don’t have to derail you. Do what you can to stay focused and motivated and by making great use of your waiting time, start treatment two steps ahead and ready to succeed.

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Page last updated Jul 31, 2014

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