Maintaining communication with family members during recovery is important, but it’s equally important to give yourself the time and space you need to transition into recovery. Maintaining focus on the healing you need to do is an essential part of recovery. While friends and family may be supportive of your recovery, they can also be distracting.
For this reason, most rehab programs put limitations on phone use, especially during the first weeks of treatment.
Why Aren’t Cellphones Allowed in Most Rehab Centers?
Rehab centers typically implement strict policies surrounding cellphone use to promote effective recovery. By prohibiting and restricting smartphone use, rehab centers hope to minimize distractions. This can encourage self-reflection while simultaneously upholding privacy and confidentiality laws and restricting negative influences.
These are all important issues, and each one plays a big role in the person’s ability to get the most out of treatment. These are some of the reasons why cell phones are either prohibited or limited in rehab:[1-3]
Reduced Distractions & Disruptions
Cellphones and smartphones can become an unnecessary source of distraction in rehab settings. If people in treatment are arguing with loved ones or hearing about their struggles, they may feel like they need to leave to go handle the problem in person. If the person they are speaking to doesn’t want them in treatment, they may feel even more compelled to leave.
Smartphones can easily consume hours, as people play on the internet, text with friends, and use various apps. Instead of focusing on treatment, clients may be focused on their phones.
Privacy & Confidentiality
Rehab centers place great value on protecting client privacy and confidentiality. Restricting cellphone use in treatment facilities helps to ensure that personal conversations, talks with therapists, and the content of therapy sessions remain confidential. Both the person in treatment and others in treatment with them will feel safer opening up if they know that what they say isn’t being shared with the outside world.
Since most smartphones are equipped with high-quality cameras that record both photos and videos, clients can feel safer knowing that they won’t be unknowingly captured on camera. When clients don’t have smartphones, people often feel safer.
Fewer Negative Influences
Smartphones provide access to social media, online content, and communication with individuals who might act as negative triggers during rehab treatment. By eliminating the use of cell phones, people in treatment can focus on the internal work they need to do to heal. They can learn how to build stronger relationships in person while decreasing exposure to information, events, and people that may reduce their commitment to recovery.
More Connection & Support
Eliminating phone use encourages individuals to interact more fully with both peers and treatment providers within the rehab center. This can foster more participation in face-to-face meetings, group therapy sessions, and social events. With improved social interactions, relationships can be built that may provide essential support and a sense of community throughout the recovery journey.
An Emphasis on Self-Reflection & Mindfulness
Turning away from technology allows people in rehab the chance to practice self-reflection, mindfulness, and simply being present. Without constant stimulation from smartphones, individuals have time and space for personal consideration. This can allow clients to better develop coping mechanisms and to connect with others on a more personal level.
Facility Phones at Rehab Centers
Rehab centers typically offer facility phones or landlines to facilitate communication during treatment, so people in rehab can remain connected with loved ones on a limited basis. This allows people to make important calls and maintain vital connections during rehab but in a more controlled setting.
In most cases, cellphone use will be limited during a stay in rehab. Your phone may be given to you to use for a specified period of time before being collected again and held until the next period of allowed usage. In some cases, cell phones are collected at the start of rehab and then handed back to clients at the end of treatment when they are getting ready to go home.
In many rehab facilities, the first two to four weeks of treatment may be a blackout period, during which there is no (or very limited) communication with the outside world. It’s unlikely that cellphone use will be authorized during this time, and you can instead use the facility’s landlines to call family members and friends if the circumstances call for it.
Are There Addiction Treatment Centers That Allow Cellphones?
Although most addiction rehab centers have strict policies to limit or prohibit personal cell phones during treatment, others take a more flexible approach and permit limited use throughout the treatment process. Each individual rehab center decides on its policy regarding smartphones, and some rehab centers do allow them. But even then, there will be restrictions and guidelines on use.
A rehab program might require that phones be stored securely during therapy sessions or other designated times, or they may only allow essential communication for a specific purpose. For example, speaking with small children regularly, making calls to maintain employment, or speaking with an outside therapist via phone may be considered essential for recovery.
On the other hand, the rehab program staff may see that someone is suffering due to an abusive relationship with a spouse or other family member, or otherwise unable to move forward with treatment because of their outside connections and decide to further limit phone use. Any decision regarding phone use is made to support the client’s recovery efforts in the best way possible.
While close friends and family outside of treatment can provide valuable support and encouragement, there is value in learning self-reliance in recovery.
Ensuring Your Phone Is Not Undermining Your Recovery Efforts
It is often a good idea to go through your cell phone with a therapist or supportive peer to ensure it is not destructive to your recovery. This may involve deleting contact information for dealers or drug-using friends. It may also involve deleting certain apps or putting limitations on internet searches.
It can be tough to turn off your phone for an extended period, especially in a world that is so digitally connected. But you deserve to focus on the work you’re doing in rehab during this vulnerable time. Smartphone use can undermine your recovery efforts, so it’s worth it to turn it off and adhere to the guidelines outlined by your treatment center.
- Privacy protection for patients with substance use problems. Tai B, Hu, Sparenborg S. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. Published December 2011:227.
- Rehabilitation: Essential along the continuum of Care. Mills JA, Marks E, Reynolds T, Cieza A. Disease Control Priorities: Improving Health and Reducing Poverty, 3rd edition. Published 2017. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- Barriers and facilitators to substance use disorder treatment: An overview of systematic reviews. Farhoudian A, Razaghi E, Hooshyari Z, et al. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment. 2022;16:117822182211184.
- Social and emotional support and its implication for health. Reblin M, Uchino BN. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 2008;21(2):201-205.
- Substance and behavioral addictions, and their consequences among vulnerable populations. Sussman S, Sinclair DL. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022;19(10):6163.