treatment timeline

How Long Can Alcohol and Drug Treatment Be?

The decision to enter a treatment facility for substance is a personal one. It is not as easy as just picking out a random facility and hoping for the best. People who want professional help to end their alcohol or drug dependence should ask as many questions as possible about the experience so they can be prepared. Knowing what to expect also can help separate facts from fiction about drug rehabilitation.

Among the most often-asked questions is, “How long is the treatment program? How long can drug treatment be?”

The answer is, “It depends.”

Adequate Treatment Is Important

Substance addiction affects people differently, and life after substance addiction also reflects that. Two people can say they share an addiction to the same drug, but their paths through addiction and to recovery will look markedly different.

The rate of progress made through addiction treatment varies by the person, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). However, what’s key to a successful recovery is that drug addiction treatment is the right length for the person who is working toward putting his or her life back together after substance dependency.

NIDA says that generally, for residential or outpatient treatment, any span that is less than 90 days, or three months, is “of limited effectiveness.” Addiction is a chronic brain disease that must be monitored and actively managed, possibly for the rest of one’s lifetime, so a treatment program that addresses the root of the addiction and gives the person the right tools and strategies is important to making recovery happen and maintaining it.

Factors That Can Affect Length of Alcohol and Drug Treatment

People who enter a treatment facility will begin with the intake process, the first step. Intake involves meeting with an addiction counselor for an assessment who will go over the person’s:

  • Substance abuse history
  • Drug or drugs of choice
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Existence of comorbid or co-occurring disorders
  • Previous attempts at treatment and sobriety
  • And other factors

After these factors are reviewed, the counselor can then recommend the most appropriate form of treatment and develop a personalized treatment plan. Although the length of a one’s alcohol and drug treatment in each type of addiction treatment program can fall within a predetermined range, the consultation performed during the intake step will determine whether the center will recommend the person to complete the minimum, maximum, or an in-between length of treatment in a particular program.

Many sources including the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute on Drug Abuse cite the length of treatment as being the most critical factor of one’s recovery since success in recovery is dependent on a person receiving sufficient alcohol and drug treatment.

Length of Inpatient Treatment

The form of alcohol and drug treatment that most people usually think of—in which a client lives within the facility for the duration of treatment—is what’s called inpatient or residential treatment.

This is the most intensive form of treatment and, naturally, these programs tend to be the longest form of recovery treatment. However, this is also why inpatient programs are considered the most effective form of alcohol and drug treatment.

There are some extended-stay inpatient treatment programs that last for three to four months or sometimes even longer. The programs are for people with more severe opioid addictions or with a prolonged history of substance abuse and previous failed attempts at recovery. Most inpatient addiction treatment programs will last up to three months and often include a period of a medically monitored detoxification process as a precursor to psychotherapy. The other recovery treatments one receives will be through a rehabilitative program.

Short-term inpatient treatments are also available, and those can run 28 days to 30 days. While these can be a more accessible or less intimidating option for those who find recovery daunting, these shorter inpatient programs tend to be reserved for less severe cases of addiction as they aren’t as intensive as more prolonged programs.

Length of Outpatient Treatment

Some recovering substance users may opt for an outpatient treatment program, which allows them to commute to and from the treatment facility for daily therapy session instead of living on site for 24 hours in a monitored facility. These programs are typically for people who have mild substance use disorders and are in the early stages of addiction or people who are have left a residential or inpatient treatment and want to continue their aftercare.

One major appeal of outpatient programs is that they accommodate clients who need treatment but still have family, career, or school obligations that must be met or people who want to keep addiction treatment a private matter. They are also a less expensive alternative to residential treatment because room and board costs are nonexistent.

Additionally, the length of time required to complete an outpatient program can vary considerably depending on the type of program. There are some forms of outpatient treatment, such as replacement therapies or methadone maintenance programs, that can be quite prolonged and last a minimum of 12 months or more. However, intensive outpatient programs and similar forms of outpatient treatment can last up to three months depending on one’s history with addiction.

One of the benefits of outpatient treatment is that clients can return to their own social environments and apply what they learn  in recovery on a daily basis. However, without the structured living environment afforded by an inpatient program, they must be diligent about abstaining from temptations and outside influences that can derail their recovery efforts.

Outpatient programs are commonly utilized as a form of continued, transitional treatment for those individuals who have completed an inpatient program; this allows them the benefit of a longer period of treatment and a slower transition back into the community.

A Word About Relapse

Addiction is a treatable disease and can be successfully managed, NIDA says. However, not everyone who enters and completes alcohol and drug rehabilitation will see the inside of a treatment center only one time.

Since addiction is a chronic disease, like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, and has relapse rates similar to these illnesses, relapse is possible, and even likely, NIDA asserts. It does not mean treatment failed. It just means that treatment either needs to be adjusted, reinstated, or that a different treatment needs to be tried. This is a reality of treating substance abuse, but it is not a setback. “…. Relapse serves as a trigger for renewed intervention,” NIDA writes.

Find the Best Treatment for You

When it comes to the length of an alcohol or drug treatment program, there’s not a single program length that works best for everyone. Some people will progress through the recovery process at a faster pace than others and, consequently, require a shorter period of treatment.

Others would benefit from a longer program that gives them the time they need, even it means it takes them longer. Everyone who enters a recovery can find the program and length of treatment that will allow them to have the greatest success in recovery.

If you or someone you love is suffering from chemical dependency and would benefit from learning more about forms of inpatient and outpatient treatment, Drug Treatment Center Finder is here to help. Call us today at (855) 619-8070, so one of our recovery specialists can match you or your loved one to the right addiction treatment program. Begin the journey toward a better life and a happier, healthier you with just a single phone call.

  1. Thanks for this interesting read about alcohol and drug treatment. I’m glad you explained that one of the first things you should due a t a treatment facility is that you should talk to a counselor there and go over family history of substance abuse. I’m kind of interested to know which family members they look at, like if they look at distant uncles or something similar.

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