There is no exact answer for how long addicts should stay in drug and alcohol rehab. Neither is there an exact scientific formula for calculating how long rehab should last. Any amount of time is good. However, therapists agree that longer stays result in lower relapse rates.
Addiction is a chronic disorder. It can be debilitating and in some cases, life-threatening. Treatment helps addicts get and stay sober. Accepting a drug addiction and seeking professional help is the first step to recovery. Rehab saves lives.
Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers offer programs that last 30 days, 60 days, 90 days or longer. Treatment times vary because different centers serve different people for different substance addictions. Some centers even offer inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.
While a 30-day-quick-fix treatment plan may seem appealing and cost-effective, it has higher relapse rates.
Shorter and Cheaper Stays in Rehab aren’t Always Better: Here’s what Research Shows
Research Psychologist Bennett Fletcher from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) conducted a study of 1,605 users of cocaine. The research, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1999, analyzed relapse rates a year after treatment. Results showed that 35 percent of individuals treated for 90 days and below relapsed while only 17 percent of those treated for longer than 90 days did.
A similar study funded by NIDA studied 549 patients being treated in a residential facility for addiction. Results showed that patients who left before 90 days passed had similar relapse rates to individuals who only stayed in rehab for a day or two. According to the study, longer rehabilitation stays resulted in lower relapse rates.
Longer stays in rehab seem to record better results even in adolescents.
A 2001 study by the University of California, Los Angeles followed 1,167 adolescents undergoing treatment for substance abuse. Results showed that adolescents who stayed in rehab longer than 90 days were less likely to re-indulge in heavy drinking, marijuana and illicit drugs as compared to adolescents who only stayed 21 days.
The reason for this is that substance abuse is a chronic disorder. Recovery is thus a lifelong process whose foundation begins in addiction rehab. This is where recovering addicts develop treatment plans and abstinence strategies.
While treatment for any period of time is a step in the right direction, NIDA recommends residential rehab for a period of 90 days or more.
According to NIDA executive Lisa Onken, “The more you have a treatment that can help you become continuously abstinent, the better you do. The longer you are able to do that, the more you are developing skills to help you stay abstinent.”
Why Does Drug and Alcohol Rehab Take So Long?
Because addiction is a chronic disease, rehabilitation will take more than overcoming a substance addiction. Rehabs, therefore, do more than just help addicts overcome a physical addiction, they provide the tools to overcome the psychological causes and effects of addiction.
According to NIDA, substance abuse actually affects the brain’s functioning, specifically the parts of the brain responsible for: perceived risk and reward, learning and memory, and behavioral control.
Both the physical and psychological negative effects of drug abuse must be assessed and addressed during addiction rehab.
What Happens During a Short Stay in Drug Rehab?
Recovering from substance abuse is a lifelong process. It takes time and commitment from patients. But it can save their lives. And what follows recovery may be the best years of their lives.
When a patient walks into a rehabilitation center, he/she first undergoes an assessment. Rehab staff will note his/her medical history, assess the nature and severity of his/her addiction and then recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
After the initial assessment comes the detoxification process. Detox is highly recommended as a means to rid the body of the toxicity associated with alcohol and drug abuse. It typically takes between 3 to 14 days, depending on the nature, length of time and severity of the addiction. For substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepine, longer medically supervised detoxifications may be necessary as severe withdrawal symptoms usually occur when the substances get discontinued abruptly.
After detox, patients take part in behavioral therapy interventions. These may be undertaken either through one-on-one sessions with therapists or through peer group sessions. The aim of therapy is to identify and address the root cause of addiction. It is here that patients learn how to pinpoint addiction triggers and how to develop their abstinence skills so as to stay sober for longer.
Additional treatment procedures may be necessary for severe addiction. These include: family therapy, mental health examinations, adult education class and treatment for co-occurring disorders such as depression.
Towards the end of rehab, aftercare programs are usually recommended to patients. These step down programs may include support groups, sober living environments, continuous therapy or a combination of the three.
Sober Living Homes: A Way to Extend Addiction Treatment Length of Stay
For people coming out of alcohol rehab, transitioning to everyday work or school routines can be a problem. Sober living homes provide a convenient in-between where recovering patients can stay before going out on their own. The homes are a bridge between rehab and the real world. They provide patients with environmental and social support needed to truly recover.
Sober living homes are private homes usually located in quiet and serene environments. These homes are very different from drug and alcohol rehab centers. While rehabs restrict the movement of patients, people in sober living homes are free to move in and out as they please. Residents can go to work or school and come back in the evening. They have more freedom as the aim of these homes is to help recovering patients transition back to normal life.
Sober living homes require residents to pay rent, be responsible for their own cleanliness and follow house rules. They are also required to take random alcohol and drug tests to prove they are sober.
Sober living homes offer residents:
- A peaceful environment that is essential for recovery
- Loving friends and family to provide social support throughout the recovery process.
Residents take part in peer group recovery sessions where they share their experiences and encourage each other in their journeys. They learn about healthy and non-healthy behaviors, goal setting, emotional stability, how to cope with cravings, and proper nutrition for addicts.
Residents also take part in the 12 step therapy program. The program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, takes addicts through 12 steps of recovery with a goal to guiding them toward abstinence and lasting sobriety.
The process of healing from the pain and trauma of drug and alcohol addiction goes beyond the individual to include his/her family. Integrating the family in recovery helps mend strained relationships and create stronger bonds. When recovering addiction patients feel that their family supports and cares for them, they will be more motivated to fight their addiction.
One of the goals of step down programs is to smoothen the transition of patients into everyday life. To do this, many programs empower recovering patients with educational and vocational skills to increase their chances of gaining employment. Residents are also taught essential skills such as writing good resumes, finding job placements and handling job interviews.
A 2010 study by researchers from the Public Health Institute published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs followed 300 residents of sober living homes for 18 months, immediately after leaving drug rehab. The study showed that patients in sober living homes recorded lower incidences of drug use, arrests and harmful psychiatric symptoms, 18 months after leaving rehab. Results also showed that patients who stayed longer in sober living homes were less likely to relapse as compared to those who didn’t stay long.
Longer Drug Rehab Stays Equal Better Results for Addiction Recovery
Rehab programs that last 90 days or longer have many advantages.
They allow patients enough time to cleanse their bodies of negative toxins after prolonged periods of drug abuse. A well-performed detoxification procedure results in a healthier and stronger body.
Longer addiction rehab programs allow patients enough time to learn about recovery and how to abstain from alcohol and drugs. Patients enjoy additional therapy, counseling and medical treatment from experienced professionals. This significantly reduces relapse rates.
Longer addiction treatment programs allow patients more time to identify and deal with the root causes of their addiction. When patients understand why they take drugs, they can develop defenses to help them avoid these triggers. The longer they build their defenses, the better their chances of recovery.
People react differently to drug rehab therapy. Thus, patients who have had severe addictions for a long time should stay longer in rehab.
There is no cure for addiction. Neither is there a one-size-fits-all shortcut to addiction recovery. However, no matter how severe an addiction is, recovery is possible. Drug and alcohol rehab is the first step to getting there and as research has shown, longer rehab stays give better results.