How Long is the Average Stay at an Addiction Treatment Program?

Addiction treatment can vary in length, from days to months. Several factors influence the stay and individual treatment components, including the severity of the substance use disorder, any co-occurring diagnoses, and whether a patient has relapsed before. One patient may do well with short-term treatment, but another may need more time and therapy to achieve lasting sobriety.

Last Edited: 04/06/2021

Author: Heidi Bitsoli Heidi Bitsoli

Clinically Reviewed:

04/17/2021

Medical Reviewer:

Dr. Neil Shah

Dr. Neil Shah

A drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility has a pretty straightforward mission: To help its patients get sober, and with enough time and treatment, to provide them with the tools to remain that way.

A rehab facility helps a person detox, learn how to manage  their addiction, and teaches them ways to maintain their sobriety. To accomplish that they’ll typically provide around-the-clock medical care, offer individual and group therapies, and help patients develop better coping mechanisms to prepare them for the challenges of life after rehab.

A patient may check in for 30, 60, 90, or even 120 days. The length of stay is determined by multiple factors, including the severity of one’s dependence.

7-14, 30, 60, 90, and 120 day Programs

There are many options to consider when choosing a program.

Some centers can offer something short-term, as little as 7 to 14 days, which may give a patient enough time to detox. That can be helpful in the case of someone wanting something that amounts to a reset on the physical aspects of drug withdrawal. For someone with a more deep-rooted dependence; who has other co-occurring issues (like a dual diagnosis situation, with both a SUD and a mental health concern like depression or trauma); or who has had complications or problems with relapsing before, a longer stay may be a better choice.

How long a stay ends up being depends on a number of factors, including budget or insurance coverage as well as time constraints. Usually a lengthier inpatient or residential treatment stay is better for someone who has a more severe diagnosis.

In residential or inpatient treatment, the patient lives at the rehab center for the duration. During this time, a patient will receive intense therapy from trained professionals. An individual suffering from substance abuse will likely be experiencing withdrawal symptoms so the early focus is on detox and withdrawal management.

The patient also attends individual and group therapy sessions,12-step programs or other support meetings, learns relapse prevention tips and is given plans for aftercare. Aftercare often includes extensive outpatient therapy where a person will engage in self-help and peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These programs can help reduce the risk of relapse after the patient leaves the facility.

3-7 days
Days of Detox

depending on the drug type

30-90 days
Days of Rehab

depending on the individual

90 - 180 days
in a Sober Home

recommended minimum after Rehab

The Benefits of A 30-Day Program

Thirty days is the most common length of time a person spends in rehab.

Residential treatment offers a number of benefits, particularly for a patient experiencing more severe problems. Inpatient facilities offer 24-hour medical care, various therapies, and they work to help the patient achieve sustainable and lasting sobriety.

The length of time for this program tends to best suit people with less severe forms drugs or alcohol addiction and favorable prognostic markers such a good support system at home. It also may be more manageable for people who have limited time to take off work, family obligations, or who have limited financial resources. Clients who have more complicated issues or severe substance abuse may require longer treatment plans.

Once a patient is checked in, evaluated, and gone through detox (with the help of medication, if needed, to ensure a safe and comfortable withdrawal), they will spend time building skills to stop substance use, develop a support network, and learn to cope with or avoid triggers that may spark relapse.

Besides peer support groups, various behavioral treatments may be incorporated. Common ones include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Focuses on identifying behaviors or emotions that may spark use. Patients also learn to better manage and work through stress, typically by reframing thought patterns in a more positive direction.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). The work is on reducing ambivalence and boosting motivation to engage in healthier behaviors, coming up with plans to make positive changes, develop confidence, and build on coping skills.
  • Contingency management. Involves giving patients rewards to reinforce positive actions. A patient may receive a gift card or voucher, for example, for passing a drug test.

Other types of counseling, including marital and family, may factor into treatment as well.

Outcomes tend to be better when follow-up or continuing care is part of a person’s substance abuse treatment, compared to detox only without additional treatment. Additionally, those who did not receive treatment after detoxification were more likely to relapse. This is likely due to not having the opportunity to develop skills to combat cravings, a withdrawal symptom that takes much longer to disappear. Therefore, a shorter length may be best for those with less severe additions and those with a supportive network  and are able to receive additional services after inpatient rehab to ensure prolonged recovery.

The Benefits of A 60-Day Program

A 30-day stay tends to be the most common length of stay. Some patients opt for a month and then extend that if they feel the process is working but they want more time to hone their coping skills.

Sixty-day programs have all the same offerings as shorter programs but they include more detailed treatment plans that are better suited to help people suffering from severe, long-term drug or alcohol addiction.

For people who have been using drugs or alcohol for longer periods their withdrawal process can be a lot more difficult and drawn out. Addiction changes the chemical balance of a person’s brain, which takes time to return to normal, if at all. Sometimes the way the brain processes rewards may be permanently altered. Therefore, they may experience symptoms for months or even years after their last use.

That doesn’t mean recovery is impossible, but it may take more work and more time. A longer program enables a person to really focus on their recovery without outside distractions or triggers that may cause them to relapse.

The Benefits of A 90-Day Program

Ninety-day inpatient rehab programs are thought to be one of the more effective lengths of time for an individual to manage their SUD. These programs provide longer exposure to interventions making it more beneficial for people who have relapsed multiple times.

According to one study 90-day programs offer better outcomes such as lower rates of illicit drug use at the client’s 12-month follow-up compared to clients who were in treatment for less than 90 days. However, the study also mentioned that longer inpatient treatment programs often have high attrition rates from people dropping out of treatment early. Even given this setback, the study found that longer length of treatment stays were associated with more favorable outcomes even though some people do tend to drop out.

Just like the 60-day program, 90-day programs tend to include more detailed treatment plans that are able to be adjusted as the patient’s needs change. This allows the patient to receive the best treatment to help them experience long-term recovery from their drug or alcohol addiction.

The Benefits of A 120-Day Program

Treatment in short- and long-term rehabilitation programs are designed to address the same issues. A 120-day rehab program simply has all of the benefits of a shorter program, with one key difference: time.

Patients get more time to adapt to sobriety, develop coping skills, and prepare for life after rehab. That can include more intensive therapy, support sessions, skills building, and more. It’s not a short stay, but for someone with a more deeply rooted addiction or several relapses in their personal history, more time to focus on and learn healthier habits can make a difference.

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The Advantages of Short-Term Rehabilitation

Short-term rehab sometimes is a person’s only choice. It may be what their insurance allows. It may be what they can more readily afford. It may be that is what works best when considering family or job needs. For some individuals, it may be enough to get clean and begin therapy on an outpatient basis. If they have a stronger support network at home, and less of a physical or mental dependency on the substance in question, a short stay may be enough.

The Advantages of Long-Term Rehabilitation

No matter which program length, it’s worth noting that longer treatment tends to produce better outcomes. Residential treatment programs that are less than 90 days are not always effective, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They recommend that treatment should last significantly longer to maintain positive outcomes.

Recovery from drug addiction is a long-term process and often requires multiple episodes of treatment. Another benefit of long-term treatment programs is that they can provide multiple forms of treatment, which can be adjusted to ensure the program addresses changing needs.

The longer the treatment, the more time an individual has to practice the skills they are learning in therapy sessions. They can also benefit from longer time in counseling and therapy, which helps patients to experience longer periods of abstinence and more stable recovery. A longer time in therapy also helps them to develop more self-confidence, develop a positive support network with their peers, and learn how to deal with social and family issues that have resulted from their substance abuse.

Additionally, long-term programs use a variety of approaches to address not only a person’s substance abuse issues but also other mental health disorders and the root causes of a person’s addiction.

Finally, long-term programs are able to assess a person’s ability to remain abstinent after they leave inpatient rehab. They can better determine if a person is likely to relapse and continue to teach them ways to cope with their triggers to prevent relapse.

Choosing Between Short-Term or Long-Term Rehabilitation

When choosing between short-term or long-term rehabilitation, it’s not always easy to decide. It depends on many factors including the severity of dependence, comorbidity with other disorders, and the level of support a patient has after leaving the program. Other factors are financial resources, family obligations, and work obligations that might prevent someone from being able to stay longer at a program.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it is important to remember that just because a person has successfully detoxed does not mean that they have experienced complete substance abuse treatment and are cured.

A medically assisted detox is only the first step in addiction treatment and is not enough to provide long-term outcomes. This is because addiction is a disease and most people need more than just a few days of not using drugs to be cured.

Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey and requires support and therapy to help stay drug and alcohol-free.

Sources

  • drugabuse.gov – Types of Treatment Programs
  • niaaa.nih.gov – Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
  • samhsa.gov – Behavioral Health Treatments and Services
  • drugabuse.gov – Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction
  • healthline.com – How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Rewire Your Thoughts
  • drugabuse.gov – Motivational Enhancement Therapy (Alcohol, Marijuana, Nicotine)
  • drugabuse.gov – Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opioids, Marijuana, Nicotine)
  • addiction.surgeongeneral.gov – Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health
  • hindawi.com – The Continuing Care Model of Substance Use Treatment: What Works, and When is “Enough,” “Enough?”
  • drugabuse.gov – How long does drug addiction treatment usually last?
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders
  • store.samhsa.gov – Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment
  • drugabuse.gov – Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. Preface

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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