Benefits of Long-Term Substance Abuse Treatment

Long-term substance abuse treatment for drug or alcohol abuse usually refers to residential rehab programs, in which the person entering treatment becomes a resident of the facility. These programs involve medical and therapy professionals, although they are not part of hospital treatment.

What Is Long-Term Drug Rehabilitation?

The idea that addiction recovery has quick fixes has dominated popular culture for a long time. Overcoming a chronic illness like addiction is not as simple as rapid detox, 30-day treatment programs, or other fast options. While overcoming addiction is possible, it means both ending the body’s dependence on the drug and changing behaviors around substances. In some cases, behavioral changes also mean changing the person’s surroundings, social structure, and home life. Entering a residential treatment program is often the best way to jumpstart these changes.

NIDA defines long-term rehab as constant care: 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The typical long-term rehabilitation model is a therapeutic community (TC), which involves living in a facility that provides support for detox, withdrawal symptoms after detox, and therapy for a minimum of six months. The point of a therapeutic community is to instill long-term changes in the individual’s behavior, with other residents, staff, and a different environment providing support to maintain these lifestyle changes.

This residential style of addiction recovery is often based on 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. The first official therapeutic community was founded in California in 1958; the movement exploded throughout the 1960s, and now, 65 countries have adopted this treatment approach, with more picking it up all the time. TCs are often geared toward specific vulnerable populations, such as women with children, adolescents, or homeless individuals.


What is the difference between inpatient and long-term residential treatment? 

While the average inpatient treatment for substance abuse ranges from 30 days to 90 days, a long-term program treats people struggling with chronic, long-lasting substance abuse for 6 months to one year.

Is long-term rehab better than short-term treatment? 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that remaining in a treatment program for at least 90 days dramatically improves long-term lifestyle changes and abstinence from substances because behaviors have time to change. Recovering from substance abuse, NIDA reports, often requires multiple episodes of treatment and ongoing social support after the main detox and rehabilitation programs have been completed.

Why Long-Term Rehab Centers Work

There are many styles of drug and alcohol addiction treatment because everyone has unique needs. However, for people who need supervision and a different environment, entering an inpatient program is the best option; most inpatient programs offer services for 30 days, or one month. While this may work for some people, NIDA’s gold standard is currently three months; the one-month standard was developed by insurance companies, according to a blog post on Psych Central. Research has shown that people who need oversight during their recovery and enter inpatient treatment to get that kind of intensive help typically get better results when they stay in long-term rehabilitation programs, longer than even NIDA’s standard.

Who Benefits from Long-Term Rehab?

Specific populations benefit from long-term residential rehabilitation: people who have struggled with substance abuse for a long time, those with chronic health issues associated with substance abuse, people who have entered rehabilitation programs before but struggled with relapse, those who do not live in a supportive environment, and people with co-occurring disorders.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has developed a continuum of treatment levels to help medical professionals understand the best course of treatment based on severity of symptoms and length of addiction. Levels 3 and 4 involve residential treatment.

After Level 3, ASAM states that Level 4 residential treatment focuses on medical services, including 24-hour nursing care, daily visits with a physician, and stabilizing chronic health problems associated with substance abuse. Counseling is also provided to help change behaviors and motivate the individual to maintain sobriety.

Key reasons long-term residential treatment works best for those with co-occurring disorders include:

  • Greater structure
  • Stable, safe, and supportive living arrangements
  • Peer support for recovery
  • External controls to say “no” to substances are consistently reinforced

Research suggests that people with co-occurring disorders typically need more intensive help than outpatient services can provide; as much as 50 percent of those with co-occurring disorders do not respond well to this form of treatment. Inpatient options like long-term alcohol or drug rehab centers appear to work best for those who struggle with both mental health problems and substance abuse at the same time.

An older study comparing short-term and long-term residential treatment for co-occurring substance abuse and mental health conditions found that long-term rehab centers led to better outcomes for those in the program. Although there was no difference between psychiatric hospitalization, number of moves to new homes, or incarceration rates, those who entered long-term treatment were much more likely to become engaged in their recovery, less likely to experience homelessness, and more likely to maintain abstinence. Being more involved in treatment means the individual is more likely to recognize signs of relapse and seek help as needed.

What to Look for in Long-Term Rehab Centers

There are certain things to look for in a long-term rehabilitation facility or program. Good questions to ask prospective programs include:

  • What licenses and certifications does the program have from state agencies and other organizations? See Greenhouse Treatment’s accreditations and industry achievements.
  • Which types of addiction does the program focus on (e.g., alcohol use disorder, long-term heroin addiction, etc.)? Greenhouse provides addiction treatment for most major drugs of abuse, as well for co-occurring disorders, such as depression.
  • Is detox included in 24-hour treatment? At Greenhouse, you’ll receive 24/7 medical supervision as you detox from drugs in a comfortable, safe environment.
  • What is the average length of stay at the long-term program? Program stays will vary from program to program and person to person. An average length of stay is usually around 30 days, though they can be longer or shorter. At Greenhouse, we offer a 90-day promise to those who complete treatment with us for at least 90 consecutive days.
  • How much does residential treatment cost? Treatment cost will vary based on your insurance and other factors.
  • Will insurance cover part or all of the stay? If you have insurance, you may be covered for some or all of your stay at a treatment center. We offer a quick and easy way to verify your insurance benefits today. Complete the benefits verification form now. 
  • Does the program offer scholarships or other payment options? Some programs will offer sliding scales where they adjust the cost based on your income and ability to pay. Others may offer loans and/or financing. Speak to prospective programs about the payment options they offer. Our Admissions Navigators can discuss ways to make treatment more affordable when you call 972-848-0221.
  • How intensive is therapy? Greenhouse offers many different types of therapy. Most often, you will be in a group format; however, you may also participate in one-on-one counseling.
  • Is there a waitlist? Different facilities have different availability and wait times. To check if space is available at Greenhouse Treatment Center, call us now.
  • Can family and friends visit during the course of treatment, and what do visiting times look like? Families are encouraged to visit their loved ones during treatment at Greenhouse. For information on specific visit times, see our treatment guide for families.
  • Are alternative therapies such as yoga, art, or music therapy available as part of treatment? Program offerings will vary widely by program, level of care, and facility. Greenhouse Treatment Center offers numerous alternative and recreational therapies on a rotating basis. View our therapy types to see which types are offered at Greenhouse.
  • What outpatient and follow-up care is provided after discharge, including referrals to other programs? Greenhouse offers several forms of outpatient treatment for residents to step down into once they leave the long-term program.
  • Do case managers or therapists help the individual develop a discharge plan? Long-term drug rehab centers should help you plan for your recovery after you leave their program. At Greenhouse, aftercare planning is begun on day one. We start making your plan for what you’ll do after you leave rehab right after you arrive and make adjustments as necessary.

These questions apply to other forms of rehabilitation, including outpatient programs, so it is important to gather this information before entering any treatment program. Ultimately, working with a medical professional to determine one’s needs can clarify whether a long-term residential drug rehab will work best for the specific case. Overall, long-term drug rehab facilities typically show greater success in helping clients make sustainable changes in their lives to promote healthy living and abstinence.

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Greenhouse Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More