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How Long Should Addiction Treatment Last?


It’s a question that most families, and their loved ones suffering from substance abuse, ask – how long does a typical course of substance abuse treatment last? There is no specific number to answer that question — it all depends on the individual. After all, each client has a different set of challenges, beliefs and needs. The specific substance of abuse, along with quantity, frequency and history of use all contribute to the time it will take to receive appropriate care.

The detoxification phase of treatment often lasts between 3 and 7 days. This, again, depends on the type of drug and level of abuse. The withdrawal process affects each of us differently and requires close medical attention to ensure the safety of the client and appropriate medication management. Only when a client is fully detoxified can they be transitioned to the behavioral therapy portion of their treatment.

The next phase of treatment comes in many forms. One is Intensive Outpatient (IOP). High-functioning addicts and those who have already completed a longer-term course of residential treatment may benefit from this modality. As a part-time therapy, usually in the evenings and held over the course of several weeks or months, clients can receive appropriate individual and group counseling to break free from addiction. A comprehensive assessment is, of course, needed to ensure that IOP is best course of action for the individual. Of note, during the course of IOP, clients will remain exposed to the environment that fostered the addiction in the first place, so a great deal of restraint must be exercised between sessions.

Residential or Partial Hospitalization Therapy are two forms of primary, full-time addiction treatment, where the addict lives “on campus” and attends daily individual and group therapy sessions. The addiction treatment facility is intimately involved in every facet of the client’s day. Typically, these programs will start at 28 days for residential and longer for partial hospitalization. During this time, clients will learn coping skills and relapse prevention techniques that will serve them as they transition into normal life. Residential treatment will offer a higher level of medical care in addition to behavioral therapy.

Transitioning to “regular” life is always a challenge; that’s why comprehensive aftercare is a necessity. Extended treatment programs can last up to 90 days and serve as a transitional living arrangement. Some refer to this as a halfway house. Recovering addicts receive supportive care and counseling, but have more autonomy and less structure throughout the day. During this time, they will learn important life skills and begin their search for employment.

To summarize, the initial assessment and the ongoing treatment plan will determine the best course of therapy and length of treatment for each individual client. With that being said, one thing we know – that applies to any client – is that leaving treatment early or not receiving a sufficient length of care does increase the chances of relapse and recidivism.