Unfortunately, for many individuals and families, the internet is where they turn to seek help for addiction. Whether it is Google or Bing, online searches are typically the first place a person suffering from addiction or their concerned family members turn to seek addiction treatment. Often, it is the only place they turn, seeking to trust their own research rather than consult a professional like a therapist or a doctor. An additional issue is that the individual or family member may be terribly uninformed about what to look for, what questions to ask, and how to properly vet a rehab or treatment center to ensure it meets their or their loved one’s clinical needs. 

One the first places people look online after searching for terms like “addiction treatment near me” or “rehabs in [any given city]”, is the online reviews. While this is a natural place to seek information and insight on a rehab or addiction treatment center, and while the online search directories like Google have attempted to take wide reaching steps to ensure the legitimacy of online information pertaining to rehabs and addiction treatment centers, including the implementation of LegitScript certification, reviews of addiction treatment centers are one of the areas fairly unregulated and rife for unethical behavior and inaccurate information.

Online reviews are a trusted resource for consumers

People regularly decide to purchase a product or service based on the different reviews they see posted about that product or service online. A study in 2017 found that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as the opinions of their friends. And online reviews are a potential massive selling point for businesses, as the same study demonstrated that 91% of people read online reviews. In fact, some online users trust the opinions of online reviewers so much that purchasing decisions are often made entirely based on the online reviews of a product or service. Additionally, consumers of products or services typically read an average of 10 online reviews before they believe that they can trust a local business and purchase their product or service.

Why the process for choosing a rehab is different

So, in the grand scheme of things, online reviews are terribly important and greatly influence purchasing power and consumer engagement. However, rehab is not a vacuum or a plumber and choosing an addiction treatment center is not like choosing the best detergent or dog walker. Addiction is a chronic, progressive illness that is often relapsing and ultimately fatal if left untreated. So, the process by which someone chooses a rehab or addiction treatment center should be detailed and highly scrutinized. While searching online is common, and reading websites and online reviews is certainly important, they are in no way the means by which someone should make a decision about which treatment center or rehab to choose for themselves or a loved one. Ideally, an individual or family will employ the services of an addiction treatment professional, such as a therapist, counselor, or interventionist, to help guide them to the rehab that is the best clinical fit for the needs of the potential patient and help them vet the potential treatment centers under consideration.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. As a society, people are used to doing their own research, searching online, and making a decision. Due to this, many rehabs or addiction treatment centers have found a loophole in ways to present themselves online as elite or premier, which of course is through their online reviews. However, there are some important points for individuals and families to consider when looking at online reviews of addiction treatment centers, as well as some pretty unethical behaviors rehabs engage in to ensure they are demonstrating 5-Star reviews and look impressive to those people seeking help and searching for addiction treatment options online. 

Points to consider when looking at treatment center online reviews

The first point to consider is that generally, according to most business organizations and studies on customers, unhappy customers regularly share their experiences and leave poor reviews online. On the other hand, happy or satisfied customers are unlikely to share their experience or leave a positive review online. Several studies of customer behaviors and online reviews showed that only about 1 in 10 happy or satisfied customers are likely to leave a good review online. Therefore, typically, an organization is more likely to receive negative online reviews than positive ones.

The second point to consider, is the population receiving services at rehab or an addiction treatment center. Individuals suffering from addiction, by nature, are a resistant patient population. They often admit into a rehab without truly wanting to be there, having gone through a professional intervention, a family intervention, or looking to turn down the heat related to life consequences around relationship issues, financial issues, or fear of losing a job, spouse, or children. They mad admit due to potential legal consequences. Whatever the reason, most people do not admit to rehab, excited about the experience. And while in rehab, they often continue to be unhappy that they are there, especially if it more of an acute treatment setting, like a detox or 28-day program. Additionally, the family of the patient has been stressed and in crisis. They are simply looking to get their loved one help and wanting to be able to live without fear or worry once they know their loved one is in a safe place like rehab. However, families are often under the delusion that rehab is the answer, their loved one’s problems will be quickly fixed, and the crisis adverted. They are often unprepared for the treatment and recovery journey their loved one often will need to embark on to ensure the management and sustainable remission of their chronic disease. Family members also are apt to believe that it is their loved one with the problem and that their loved one is the one that either needs to fix the addiction problem or the one to get fixed. They are often unprepared to understand that they as the family needs to engage in a process of recovery, and often do not like to hear the journey they will need to engage in as a process of restructuring the family system and healing. So, all treatment centers are working with a resistant patient population that often isn’t happy they are getting treatment and family members looking for a quick fix that don’t like to hear that the process of recovery may look vastly different from what they believed the plan would look like for their loved one. Both patients and families want smooth sailing and no bumps in the road, while regularly looking for anything that would upset them and avoid anything that is difficult. Unfortunately, like the healing and recovery process of other potentially fatal illnesses, treatment and recovery is always difficult and challenging. So, based on that scenario, treatment doesn’t sound like a service or an experience that would be flooded with 5-Star reviews, does it? 

Certainly, there will be many glowing reviews. Patients or family members that make claims like “this place saved my life” or “this rehab gave me my son back!” However, based on the situation, there certainly should be many less than positive reviews. Most patients don’t like the rules or regulations of a treatment center and want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it. Families often struggle with the difficult process of treatment and recovery. Because of this, most treatment centers should have numerous negative reviews online as well. It is to be expected.

A random search online of some of the oldest, most respected non-profit addiction treatment centers and rehabs demonstrated the following online reviews:

  • 4.2 Stars from 71 Google reviews
  • 3.4 Stars from 97 Google reviews
  • 4.3 Stars from 91 Google reviews
  • 4.1 Stars on 68 Google reviews
  • 4.5 Stars on 133 Google reviews

These are certainly not poor rankings, but they are also certainly not all 5-Star reviews. These are long-standing non-profit facilities, world-renowned in their reputation for the treatment of addiction. They all have boards who guide both their operations as well as their principles and moral compass. They have all been around for more than 30 years (some much longer), and have alumni bases of thousands of people who credit them with saving their lives and introducing them to a life of recovery. However, if you read through many of the reviews as a consumer, you might automatically discard them as an option. 

On the other hand, when searching online you can find hundreds of treatment centers with ONLY 5-Star reviews. Glowing reviews that make the rehab sound like a dream vacation, with the best food and the best amenities, and often generic talking points about how amazing they are. When compared with the list above, of treatment centers that have been around for decades with thousands of alumni, there are some interesting findings. 

Many of the highest ranked treatment centers have only been opened for only a few years, much less time and having treated many less patients than the ones listed above, but have HUNDREDS of extremely positive online reviews. Some facilities have between 300-400 reviews. So, what is the deal? What are rehabs doing to work such unbelievable magic with patients and get so many amazing online reviews? Unfortunately, the answers are just another example of many unethical practices in the field of addiction treatment. 

So, can you trust online reviews of addiction treatment centers?

The truth is, when looking under the hood of these online reviews and understanding many of the unscrupulous practices that take place in many treatment centers, these reviews overall are just simply inaccurate, fake, or coaxed by patients from the treatment facilities. 

There are other practices that occur regarding the massaging of online reviews of rehabs that are just bad practice, but that consumers will never know or be accustomed to look for during a search. Many times, recently opened facilities or rehabs that are not even opened yet, will begin popping up online with dozens of 5-Star reviews. A person reading the reviews will never know it, but that treatment center is already laying the groundwork for looking good online, rather than existing on the work that it does, the services it delivers, or the experiences that patients or clients actually had while there. It is ethical or good practice to show 5-Star reviews before a place is even open and treating patients? 

Another common practice is treatment centers making or forcing current patients to leave reviews while still in treatment or during the discharge process. Sure, there is something to say that many of these patients had great experiences, but it doesn’t feel ethical or best practice to make patients leave a review while receiving treatment or at discharge. For one, there is a feeling or coercion. Is the patient going to leave an honest review if there is a staff member sitting with them, forcing them to write a review? Even simply asking a current or discharging patient to leave a review in real time doesn’t seem like best practice or the platform to get honest feedback. Instead, these treatment centers know that by doing so, the patient is going to feel obligated to leave a positive review online. A better avenue would be, like many other organizations or business do, is say to the patient, “We hope you had a positive experience. If you feel okay doing so, we’d love for you to leave a review of your experience in rehab online so that when others are searching for treatment, they can get an honest understanding of a patient’s experience.” Then leave it alone and allow the patient to make a decision. Take a deep dive into some online reviews of rehabs or addiction treatment centers, and you can actually find certain reviews where individuals write in their reviews that they were asked, demanded, or forced by staff at a rehab to write a positive review online. 

Any addiction treatment center is going to have both positive and negative reviews. The type of service and population receiving treatment dictates that not everyone is going to be happy all of the time. An example of an honest patient review might be between 3 and 4 stars, explaining the difficulty of the treatment process, how the patient wasn’t happy and the process, especially in the beginning, wasn’t easy or was often challenging, while giving an honest understanding of what they did receive that was helpful. Reviews should be detailed and read like an actual experience, not like a generic celebration. A positive review can mention both positive and negative experiences. Often, 5-Star reviews that aren’t real are negative, since they display the unethical approaches and actions some treatment centers take to look good. On the other hand, often 3-Star reviews can be positive, if they are genuine and accurately reflect the experiences someone had during a difficult time in their life where they were making big and life-changing decisions. Reviews of addiction treatment are complex and nuanced; they are not as simply as explaining how well a vacuum worked or that the guy from the water filter service was rude. 

The truth is online reviews are important. They are important for those seeking addiction treatment online to get honest, insightful information regarding the true experience that a patient or family member had with a specific rehab. However, current practices in the addiction treatment field are not allowing that to occur. Instead, online searches often demonstrate coerced, inaccurate, or downright untrue experiences. Regardless of the online search reviews, individuals and families must recognize that online searches and reviews are good information to include in helping to decide about where someone goes for treatment of addiction. However, they should never be the reasons why a decision is made. Instead, they should be a piece of the puzzle, gathered, and then used with other tools and trusted professionals to vet treatment center options and make a decision on where to go to receive help based on clinical services and meeting an individual’s needs, not on which facility sounds good or easy online. 

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at info@marylandaddictionrecovery.com. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.