Addiction Recovery: How Long Does it Take?Anna Ciulla
You’ve made the important decision to seek treatment for your substance abuse problem. Congratulations—this is a critical first step in your recovery. As you prepare, you’re probably wondering, how long will recovery take?
The short answer is most treatment programs take between 30 and 90 days, depending on your addiction, your personal situation and the time you have to devote to treatment. Rehab programs vary widely, however, and some offer shorter or longer stays. It is important to remember though that treatment is for a defined period of time, but rehabilitation is an ongoing process, and you will be “in recovery” for the rest of your life.
In terms of actual treatment programs, generally, the more severe the addiction, the longer the program necessary to treat it. Extended programs are associated with higher long-term success rates, regardless of the type of dependence. Addiction changes the way the brain works, and it takes time for the brain and body to adjust to not having the substance at hand and to a new way of thinking and living. Programs longer than 90 days allow for more extensive inpatient care, including adult education, skills training and family counseling, as well as prolonged transitions to sober life outside of the treatment center. Lengthier treatment programs also give recovering addicts more time to focus on the issues fueling their addiction, which improves their chances of tackling it for good.
When it comes to the length of rehab, another factor is whether the program is inpatient or outpatient. Outpatient rehabilitation programs require less time—usually only an hour or two per day for a few weeks or months. These programs are better suited for people in the early stages of addiction or as supportive step down programs once inpatient treatment has been completed. For people with a long history of drug or alcohol abuse, inpatient programs followed by intensive outpatient treatment work best.
Another factor that may determine the length of your rehab program is the amount of money you have to spend. In general, longer inpatient recovery centers cost more than shorter, outpatient programs do. Your insurance may or may not cover part, which may affect the amount of time you will be able to devote to treatment as well. The treatment facility will be able to help you understand what your insurance will cover.
Addiction Treatment Takes Time
Regardless of the length of a treatment program, the basic elements are generally the same. The main steps include intake, detox, rehab and continuing care.
During intake, the staff will admit you to the program and evaluate your mental and physical health. They will gauge the severity of your addiction and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Intake usually takes place on the first few days of a rehab program and is often carried out simultaneously with detox.
Detox is the process of weaning your body off the drugs or alcohol. If you’ve become physically dependent, your body will go into withdrawal soon after you stop using. Withdrawal can vary from mild to severe and may involve physical and mental symptoms such as depression, shaking, fever, agitation, and in severe cases, hallucinations and risk of death. Detoxification can take anywhere from three days to two weeks, depending on the substance you’ve been taking and how long you’ve been addicted.
Your treatment plan—and the length—will depend upon your individual situation and addiction. Elements may include cognitive behavioral therapy; medically assisted treatment (or pharmacotherapy); family counseling; participation in a 12-step program; treatment of co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety disorders; and medical care, if needed.
The days and weeks you spend in an outpatient or inpatient rehab facility will only be the beginning. The real work will start when you leave. Your treatment program will provide tools and skills to help you permanently tackle a sober life, including group therapy, career development training, mentorship and skills training, financial management and relapse prevention techniques.
As you consider the length of your alcohol or drug addiction treatment program, it’s important to keep in mind that true recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is a continuous life-long process, and treatment often takes more than one rehab stay. You will forever be “a recovering addict,” but that recovery means freedom from addiction and a happier, healthier you.