How Long Does Addiction Treatment Last?

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to combatting addiction, and the uncertainty can lead to anxiety for those who need addiction treatment, as well as for their loved ones. Understanding what to expect and knowing how long addiction treatment lasts can help to ease much of the stress in finding the right rehab center.

Addiction Is a Chronic Disease

When researching the length of addiction treatment, many people are hoping to find a quick and easy fix. However, addiction is a chronic disease with many complicating factors. A person’s length of stay in rehab will depend upon their drug of choice, physical and mental health, receptiveness to treatment methods, and the personal living situation they return to after discharging from rehab.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recognizes that people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction cannot simply stop using for a few days and then carry on as normal as if they were cured. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain and is characterized by periods of relapse and recovery. Treatment is necessary for the individual to not only stop using drugs, but to remain sober and contribute to family, work, and society in a productive way.

When it comes to addiction treatment, no single method or approach works for everyone, but there are various forms that have been scientifically proven to be effective for many. These forms of evidence-based treatment include psychoeducational therapy and medication-assisted treatment. Unfortunately, 89% of people who need treatment for an alcohol or illicit drug use problem do not receive it, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The first step to getting more people into treatment is educating them on how it can help, but NIDA reports that treatment does not actually need to be voluntary in order to be effective.

Withdrawal Timelines Vary

Effective addiction treatment often begins with a medical detox phase. The length and intensity of the detox period depend on a variety of factors, including the substance that the individual abused and the extent of the addiction. Here are some general withdrawal timelines for various substances:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol withdrawal varies immensely from person to person, but physical symptoms typically start within 6-24 hours of the last drink and usually subside within one week. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 3-5 percent of individuals undergoing alcohol withdrawal experience the most serious symptom, delirium tremens, which can be fatal without treatment.
  • Barbiturates: Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms typically arise within 8-16 hours of the last dose and can last for up to 15 days. The most severe symptoms usually occur within the first few days. Medical professionals often use a tapered approach to barbiturate and benzodiazepine withdrawal where clients are slowly weaned off these drugs. In these cases, the total withdrawal timeline will be prolonged but clients are in therapy throughout.
  • Cocaine: Withdrawing from cocaine and other stimulants brings on physical symptoms that last for about one week. The psychological symptoms can last for much longer, and protracted cocaine withdrawal symptoms can last for years in some cases.
  • Opioids: The opioid withdrawal timeline varies among individuals. The first week of treatment is usually the hardest, but some symptoms can last for several weeks. Medication-assisted treatment is often employed for opioid withdrawal; if used, the total maintenance and detox process may take months or even years, but clients participate in treatment and often return to normal life throughout the process.

Staying in Treatment Is Critical

Once a client’s health has stabilized in the medical detox phase, it’s time enter the next stage of treatment. That might be residential treatment, a partial hospitalization program, or outpatient treatment. SAMHSA reports that short-term residential treatment is more popular than long-term treatment, which can last for 6-12 months. Regardless of the particular recovery program, individuals in treatment will attend various types of therapy, where they will learn to confront their addiction and gain the tools they need to remain sober despite any triggers that might come their way. Clients should remain in treatment until they are confident that they are strong enough to face the outside world again.

It is important to note that treatment plans should be modified as time goes on to meet a client’s changing needs. At the end of the day, there is no single treatment plan or timeline that works for everyone. A treatment program can last anywhere from a few days to a year or more. Once treatment ends, it’s up to clients and their families to enact a positive aftercare plan that will help maintain a life of sobriety. Kicking an addiction is a lifelong journey, but it’s a manageable one if individuals commit to it and have a supportive structure in place that will help them.

About The Contributor
Kristina Ackermann
Director of Content, American Addiction Centers
Kristina Ackermann is the Director of Content at American Addiction Centers and an expert in the field of substance abuse. She has over a decade of medical editing and leadership experience, with a bachelor's degree from the University of California,... Read More
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