What’s a day in rehab like?

An AM-PM account of a typical day in addiction rehab.

minute read

I’ve been to more than my fair share of treatment centers. At last count – and I mean last in every sense of the word! – I’d been to two inpatients, one PHP, and more IOPs than you could shake a stick at (do people still use that phrase?).

All of which is a long way to say that I’m kind of an expert when it comes to what happens during treatment. I learned what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do!

I figured it was about time I shared my hard won knowledge with the families of addicts and alcoholics who are currently in treatment. So, find what a normal day in inpatient treatment looks like below!

Mornings in rehab

There’s usually a wake up time when techs come around and make sure everyone is up and at it (do people still use that phrase either? Am I the queen of outdated phrases?!).

The first thing we did after waking up, before eating or even showering, was take part in Morning Meditation.


This was a time when all the women met in one area and all the men in another. It was a way to start our day off right and set measurable and achievable goals!

We’d read a passage from some recovery literature (The Big Book, the Basic Text, One Day at a Time, etc.). We’d then go around the room and share how this reading impacted us and our goal for the day.

My goals were usually simple – things like, “Share honestly in group today,” or, “Have a good one-on-one with my therapist.” Sometimes they were flippant – things like, “Do laundry!” – but mostly they were serious.

The underlying goal behind all of our goals (how’s that for a confusing sentence!) was the same – grow as a woman and as a person in recovery.


After Morning Meditation, we’d have breakfast.

Normally, I wouldn’t think this was worth mentioning, but we were women in rehab. That means things like eating disorders and unhealthy eating patterns were the norm.

So, breakfast became a way to strike a positive blow for our recovery. If one woman was struggling with an eating disorder, her therapist might make her eat in front of everyone and then hang out until it was time for group.

While that sounded crazy to me at first, after a week or so of community breakfast – I loved it! It was a way for the female community to come together and work towards a common goal. We lifted the struggling women up and helped each other!

Therapy & Groups

After breakfast, it was time to be bused over to the therapy offices and begin the real work!

Our first group of the day was usually caseload. This was when a small group of us would meet with our primary therapist and work through our primary issues. I think the smallest caseload I was a part of was three or four patients. The largest was nine or ten.

Caseload was great because it forged a real sense of community within community. There was the treatment community at large, the gender-specific community, and our specialized caseload community.

It offered us a chance to get real and talk through issues we might not want to address in the larger treatment community.

After caseload, we’d have a smoke break – remember, cigarettes are like gold in treatment – and come back for even more groups!

Afternoons in rehab

After that packed morning, you’d think we’d get a break during the afternoon right? Nope! We worked as hard, if not harder, during the afternoon.

More Therapy & More Groups

The counseling and groups we attended in the afternoon were usually geared towards specific areas of recovery. The ones I remember most vividly were groups like Gender Issues, Anger Management, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT.

This therapy tended towards helping us address pinpoint issues that fueled our addictions.

Groups like Anger Management helped me to come to terms with how self-pity was actually a form of anger and keeping me stuck in an unhealthy cycle of relapse.

Groups like CBT helped me reframe this self-pity into something besides a toxic pool of painful memories and guilt.

Wrap Up

Towards the end of the clinical day – usually around three or four pm – we’d had Wrap Up group. This was a chance for us to reflect on our goals for the day and measure our progress towards them.

It was also when we’d “coin out” anyone who was graduating rehab that day. Coining out was so cool! We’d pass a medallion around the room and tell the person graduating the progress they’d made and where they should be careful going forth in their recovery.

It goes without saying that a lot of tears were shed during coin outs. Still, it was a great way to cap off treatment and I looked forward to mine so much.

When the day came I was ready to coin out, well, it was one of the most powerful experiences I had in treatment and maybe in my life. Having a room full of your peers, and a handful of therapists, share their wishes, hopes, and fears for you – there’s nothing else like it!

Extracurricular Activities

After Wrap Up group, we’d be bused off for some sort of extracurricular activity. These were things like going to the gym, going to the park, going on a nature walk, and more.

The idea behind these activities (and I’m just assuming here because I’m not a therapist!) was to give us some physical release after a day spent working on our minds.

I loved this part. After spending all morning and afternoon addressing why my thinking was screwy (and boy was it!), I savored the ability to work out or take in nature.

In other words – these activities got me out of my head and prepared me for the evening and winding down.

Evenings in rehab

After a day packed full of therapy and self-improvement, our evenings were a mix between the same and hanging out with some really good friends.

Outside Meetings

Even though I’d mainly attend outside meetings before dinner, this wasn’t always the order they’d go in. Sometimes we’d eat first and then go to an outside meeting. Whatever, the timeline isn’t super important.

These outside meetings were usually 12-step fellowships like A.A., N.A., C.A., and all the other Anonymous meetings. Sometimes they were specialized groups for survivors of trauma and sometimes they addressed co-occurring disorders like eating disorders or self-harm.

Regardless of what form they took, these outside meetings were a chance for us to mingle and assimilate with the long-term recovery community. If we went to A.A. or N.A., they were a chance for us to get sober supports and a sponsor.

In other words – they were a chance for us to build a bridge that’s invaluable for transitioning from treatment to the “real world.”

Dinner & Hanging Out

Just like breakfast was a chance for us women to come together as a community and help those struggling, dinner was an opportunity for more growth and help!

After dinner, we had free time. Free time is a dangerous concept in treatment! It’s easy for us to isolate, get caught up in our heads and toxic thoughts, and fall back into old behavior.

Thankfully, that usually didn’t happen. We’d break off into smaller groups and do pretty much the same stuff we did during the day – but on our terms.

That means there’d be one group watching a movie that touches on recovery in some way (Rachel Getting Married was a fav), one group on the porch, smoking and talking the twelve-steps, and so on.

Curfew & Late Night Chats

Finally, there was curfew. While the exact time varied with the day and makeup of the community, it was generally around eleven or midnight.

At this point, we’d go to our apartments and hang out with our roommates. We’d try to sleep and – if the day was too much and we had a million and one thoughts running through our heads, keeping us awake – we’d smoke cigarettes with our roommates and talk late into the night.

While this wasn’t technically allowed, the techs would let it go. Sometimes they’d even join in. I can’t tell you how cool it is to have a tech you look up to join your conversation and reassure you that everything is going to be okay!

And that’s what a day in treatment looks like. There’s a lot of drama I didn’t include because that’s not the point. The point is a group of men and women working together to heal – what’s better than that?

About the author
Fiona Stockard is a writer and media specialist for Lighthouse Recovery Institute. She’s been in recovery since 2008 and finds no greater joy than helping other young women achieve and maintain long-term recovery.
I am ready to call
i Who Answers?