Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers: How long?

Do you need long term rehabilitation or will short term rehab treatment do? Learn the benefits of drug and alcohol rehab and does long-ter success depend on the duration of treatment, here.

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Drug and alcohol rehabilitation: How long does it take?

One major questions comes to mind for individuals facing drug and alcohol rehabilitation:

“How long does it take?”

Unfortunately, this is not a question that can be answered with “one-size-fits-all” certainty. Alcohol and drug rehabilitation is a very individualized process, and there is no all encompassing approach.

The amount of time spent in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program will often be influenced by a person’s individual situation. Individuals who have less severe cases of addictions and have little experience of trauma, for instance, may spend as little as one month in a rehabilitation program. Those with more severe cases or those diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, on the other hand, may benefit more from long-term rehab programs, such as those lasting anywhere from three months to 24 months.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation duration

The type of treatment program that you choose will have some bearing on how long you spend in rehab. Different types of programs take varying amounts of time to complete.

OPTION 1: Inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation

The length of time it takes to complete inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs often starts at roughly a month and climbs from there. Most short-term inpatient rehab programs, though, take between a month and three months to complete.

OPTION 2: Long-term inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation

Individuals with more severe cases of addiction, dual diagnosis disorders, or histories of trauma may want to consider entering a long-term rehabilitation program. These programs can take anywhere from three months to six months or even a year to complete, but these have been shown to be generally more effective than short-term programs.

OPTION 3: Outpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation

For those with less flexible schedules, external responsibilities, and high motivation, rehab may be an option. Outpatient drug and alcohol programs are different in that they do not require a lengthy stay in an addiction treatment facility. Instead, recovering addicts visit a facility to participate in treatment sessions such as therapy and counseling. Visits can last a hour or more each day, and outpatient program lengths usually run for 12 to 16 weeks.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation: Short term vs. long term

An addiction specialist will help you determine what you need regarding drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Short-term vs. long-term rehabilitation will usually be determined based on a number of factors. These may include:

  • access to transportation
  • external factors such as work or school
  • home environment issues
  • medical history
  • personal preference
  • previous treatment episodes

Short-term treatment may be sufficient if drug/alcohol dependency is only mild, for instance. This type of treatment can provide a much needed break from the temptation of drugs and alcohol, and give you the chance to learn some coping mechanisms to overcome your addiction.

Long-term rehabilitation, on the other hand, is usually recommended for those diagnosed with moderate to severe addiction to drugs or alcohol. Although this type of treatment requires a much longer time commitment, it also provides you with more intensive therapy in a safe environment, increasing the likelihood of a successful recovery.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation average time

When it comes to drug and alcohol rehabilitation, the average time for completion that usually comes to mind is 28 days. This is because most traditional inpatient rehab programs last for 28 days. These types of programs are convenient for most people and covered by most insurance companies. However, as we’ve pointed out above, many individuals benefit more from long-term rehabilitation programs, particularly those that last 90 days or longer.

Studies have routinely shown that long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation is more effective than short-term rehabilitation. The average time for the majority of long-term rehab programs ranges from three (3) to twelve (12) months. Some more intense long-term rehab programs, on the other hand, can last as long as two years.

Long term rehab advantages

There are a few very important advantages of long-term rehab programs over short-term rehab programs.

  1. The first advantage of long-term rehab programs is the length of time spent in a rehab facility. Spending a greater amount of time in a rehab facility means that recovering addicts are spending a greater period of time away from volatile environments plagued with temptations to do drugs and drink. This gives them more time to focus solely on their recovery.
  2. Also, the intensity of the treatment in a long-term rehab facility is usually higher. Recovering addicts in long-term programs are subject to more intense therapy and counseling sessions for a longer period of time.
  3. Finally, long-term rehabilitation allows for more time to start treating co-occurring mental and emotional disorders, which may exacerbate addictive behavior.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation timeline

It can be intimidating and even a little frightening entering treatment if you don’t know what can you expect during drug rehab and alcohol rehab. Timelines and general procedures, though, are not much different from program to program. The majority of rehab programs out there will follow the same basic timeline and offer the same basic services.

STEP 1:  Intake assessment and evaluation

Upon entering a treatment program, you will undergo an initial assessment and evaluation, which is performed by an addiction specialist or other mental health professional. The purpose of these diagnostic procedures is to determine the severity of your addiction, diagnose any underlying mental health problems, and create an individualized treatment plan. Assessment usually includes an interview, drug/alcohol testing, and a medical exam.

STEP 2:  Medical detox

If you have developed physical dependence to your drug-of-choice, you may be referred to a medical detox program. While in medical detox, you will be monitored by doctors and nurses to help ensure that you safely and comfortably withdraw from all substances that you’re addicted to.

STEP 3:  Medication and psychological treatments

The main treatment methods used during drug and alcohol rehabilitation are psychological treatments combined with prescription medications. Psychological therapies includes treatments such as individual behavior therapy, group counseling, and family therapy.

Some recovering addicts may benefit from certain medications used to treat some addictions, such as opiate addiction and alcoholism. These medications can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and reduce the pleasure from drinking or doing drugs.

STEP 4:  Aftercare

Addiction aftercare generally starts once a person completes a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. This usually involves attending outpatient therapy sessions each day or week, depending on your situation. The length of time you stay in outpatient therapy is a decision that is usually made based upon your progress and readiness.

Still, recovering addicts need a great deal of support to stay clean and sober. Most rehab facilities offer a number of supportive services to recovering addicts both during and after their participation in a treatment program.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation time

In this article, we’ve tried to give you a good idea of how long addiction treatment might last and what to expect during treatment.

Are you or one of your loved ones in need of drug and alcohol rehabilitation? Want to know more about the length of time a program might take? Leave us your questions, comments, and concerns below, and we’ll do our best to help you better understand the treatment process.

Reference Sources: NIDA: Principles of drug addiction treatment
NIDA: Is the duration of treatment sufficient?
NIDA: Research Reports: The therapeutic community


About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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