How long do alcohol rehab programs last?

The length of time people spend in alcohol rehab programs can vary, depending on the type of program and a person’s individual needs. Read on to find out how long you can expect an alcohol rehab program to last.

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Alcohol rehab programs: How long do they take?

There are a few different types of addiction rehab treatment programs, and each program has different time commitments. Following are the most common alcohol rehab programs and associated lengths of time.

Inpatient alcohol rehab programs – Most traditional alcohol rehab programs take roughly a month to complete. During this time, recovering alcoholics reside in a rehab facility while they complete their treatment. Some treatment episodes can be extended for up to ninety (90) days, however, and setill be considered a relatively “Short term” inpatient program.

Long-term inpatient alcohol rehab programs – More intensive inpatient alcohol rehab programs are often recommended for individuals with severe alcohol problems. These programs require a minimum stay in a rehab facility of at least three months. Some long-term alcohol rehab programs, however, require a stay of several months to a year.

Outpatient alcohol rehab programs – Outpatient alcohol rehab is usually recommended after a person has completed an inpatient rehab program. This continuing treatment typically requires a recovering alcoholic to attend weekly counseling or group therapy sessions. Some may find that they only need outpatient treatment for several months, while others may need it for several years.

Alcohol rehab programs: Duration and average time

  • Inpatient alcohol rehab programs = 28 days
  • Outpatient alcohol rehab programs = 10 weeks

Alcohol rehab programs in residential settings require an average of 28-30 days attendance. The average time for these programs is fairly standard, because you are required to live in a treatment facility full time. The cycle of intake and completion is around 4 weeks long. So why is 28 days alcohol rehab a standard?

These types of alcohol rehab programs are generally recommended if outpatient rehab leads to relapse. Overall, they are effective because recovering alcoholics do not have any access to alcohol and are less likely to relapse. Additionally, being in an alcohol-free environment gives many recovering alcoholics a chance to get the intense, focused treatment that they need for both their addictions and underlying psychological disorders.

On the other hand, an outpatient program can vary from several weeks to a year, or more. The average duration of an outpatient program is around ten (10) weeks, with about 4-6 hours per week attendance. These types of alcohol rehab programs can lead to long term sobriety, especially if your willingness and commitment to change are high. If you aren’t sure whether you or someone you know should attend a rehab treatment program, feel free to click on the link to get more information.

Alcohol rehab programs: A time line of what happens

During treatment, most recovering alcoholics will go through a few different stages. Following is a typical alcohol rehab timeline for an inpatient alcohol rehab program of 28-30 days.

Week 1: Assessment and detoxification

Assessment is generally the first stage of alcohol rehab. This is the process during which a medical team will assess the physical, mental, and emotional needs of a client. There are a number of questionnaires and interviews to complete. The initial assessment provides the rehab staff with a baseline measure of your status, and will guide your individual treatment plan. After assessment, you may need to enter medical detox from alcohol, especially if you have developed a high tolerance or dependence on alcohol.

During alcohol withdrawal, the body rids itself of any remaining alcohol. Most alcohol rehab programs require new clients to have completed detox before entering the programs. Some alcohol rehab centers have designated detox units where new clients may spend up to a week before moving to the main treatment center. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can turn severe in about 10-15% of cases, and require immediate medical intervention for symptoms like seizure or hallucination. While complications are not that common, it is important to detox medically. There are medications and treatments designed to make the process more comfortable.

Weeks 1 to 4: Psychological treatment

Individual, group, and family therapy sessions are typically required every day while in alcohol rehab programs. These therapy sessions begin right after detox and help recovering alcoholics learn to deal with life’s problems without turning to alcohol. Family therapy sessions can also help bring a person’s loved ones into the recovery process and help repair damaged relationships. Psychological treatments will last during the duration of inpatient alcohol rehab and will continue in outpatient rehab.

Weeks 4 onward: Transition

Moving from a secure, alcohol-free facility to the outside world is a difficult transition for many individuals who have just completed alcohol rehab programs. This step can be made easier for some by going through a transition, or step down, stage. During this stage, recovering alcoholics may stay in halfway houses and will usually attend daily counseling sessions. Many individuals in the transition stage will also have curfews, be required to find employment, and may be subject to alcohol testing.

Weeks 4 onward: Maintenance  

Alcohol rehab is a lifelong process. For years after completing alcohol rehab programs, many recovering alcoholics will find that they need years of outpatient services and group therapy to continue abstaining from alcohol.

Can alcohol rehab programs be forced?

Alcohol rehab programs may be “forced” or required by law. In other words, if a person will not go into alcohol rehab voluntarily, a loved one may be able to appeal to a court and have rehabilitation ordered. Some counties even allow a person to petition for the involuntary commitment of another into a treatment facility. To do this, a petition for involuntary commitment can be obtained from the local district court. A court can then order a person to go into an alcohol rehab program if a medical professional determines that they are a danger to themselves or others.

Still, staging an intervention is generally the first recommended option for anyone wanting to encourage a loved one to get help for problem drinking. This involves gathering a small group of family members and close friends to confront an alcoholic. In some cases, an addiction specialist should be present, as well. During an intervention, friends and family members will attempt to persuade a loved one to enter rehab.

Keep in mind that – in principle – YOU CANNOT FORCE ANYONE TO GET BETTER. Alcohol addicted individuals, similarly to drug addicts require rehab programs, but the timing is also important. If you are wondering when should you get help, know that sooner is better. But, don’t get discouraged because addiction is a chronic brain disease, and requires active participation in order to recover. While you cannot control your loved one’s drinking (or their decision to recover from alcoholism), you can control how you act or behave around them. Look into support groups such as Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, or seek individual/family counseling for yourself. Your needs as a loved one are just as important as the alcoholic’s.

Alcohol rehab programs: It’s a question of time

Many recovering alcoholics believe that the time they spent in alcohol rehab programs was invaluable. It helped them address an alcohol addiction and get their lives back.

If you still have reservations or questions about alcohol rehab programs, feel free to leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to address any concerns you may have with a personal and prompt reply.

Sources: NIDA: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)
New Hampshire DHHS Bureau of Drug & Alcohol Services (BDAS) Treatment Services
New York State Department of Health: What is Addiction?
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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