“How long will my drug/alcohol recovery take?”
One Day at a Time
Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic disease, meaning it is an illness that will last for a lifetime. There is no cure for alcoholism or drug addiction. This is why who has achieved long-lasting sobriety refers to themselves as a “recovering” addict or alcoholic, rather than one who has “recovered“.
However, addiction is a disease that can be managed, which means that its progress can be arrested and the effects it has on a person’s life largely controlled.
This is the primary goal of recovery.
This is also why it is referred to as the recovery process. The person battling a drug or alcohol addiction must constantly be vigilant to ensure that they are not slipping back into old attitudes and behaviors that could jeopardize their hard-won sobriety.
The Benefit of Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Programs
Learning how to change one’s attitudes behaviors and how to consciously avoid the people, places, and things that contribute to drug and/or alcohol use is not something that an addict or alcoholic typically picks up on their own.
These are acquired skills that must be taught and practiced, and the person in recovery gains these skills when they participate in a structured alcohol or drug rehabilitation program run by trained professionals.
Although recovery is a highly individualized process and a person’s road to sobriety depends upon their own specific drug usage history and circumstances, there are general guidelines that can give an approximation of how long their rehab program might need to be.
Some of the information and skills that can be learned at an alcohol/drug rehab facility might include:
- the causes of addiction
- overcoming denial
- stress management
- coping skills
- dealing with dysfunctional emotions
- trauma counseling
- how to recognize “triggers” and high-risk situations
- repairing interpersonal relationships
- treatment for any co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD
- relapse prevention
A Commitment of Time
Over time, regular abuse of alcohol or drugs causes changes within the addicted person’s brain. During recovery, it takes also takes time for the brain to return to normal. Rehab is something that should not be rushed through.
- The longer someone stays in rehab, the greater their chances of success become. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, 35% of people who are in alcohol/drug treatment for less than 90 days will relapse within 12 months, compared to only 17% of those individuals who remained longer than 90 days.
- In another study, individuals who leave treatment sooner than 90 days have a relapse rate virtually identical to those who were only stayed in treatment for one or two days.
Proper treatment for drug and alcohol addiction usually takes the form of a stay in an inpatient residential drug/alcohol treatment facility and then a longer period participating in an outpatient program.
According to the Alcohol Drug Abuse and Resource Center, the average length of inpatient treatment is 28 days, with the remainder of treatment being done on an outpatient basis.
In severe cases, inpatient treatment can be up to six months, with outpatient therapy continuing for two years.
The Drug of Choice Plays a Role
Different abused substances differ in the severity of addiction that they cause. This is important because before a true recovery can begin, the addicted person must first be freed from the worst of the physical compunction to use/drink. As long as they are under the physical control of their drug of choice, their mind cannot be clear enough to receive the message of recovery.
This process of purging the body from the drug/alcohol is known as “detoxification”, or “detox” for short. Ideally, this process occurs in the safe confines of a professional drug/alcohol detox facility, monitored and supervised by trained medical personnel.
The staff at the alcohol/drug detox facility has the duty to ensure that the person is as safe and as comfortable as possible when they started experiencing withdrawal symptoms from their drug of choice.
Approximate average lengths of the detox process for typically-abused substances are:
- Alcohol – 7-10 days – Alcohol withdrawal should ALWAYS be medically-supervised
- Benzodiazepines – The “tapering-off” detox process can take up to 10 weeks, or a medication-assisted “rapid detox” can be completed in approximately one week. Benzodiazepine withdrawal should ALWAYS be medically-supervised.
- Heroin/prescription opiates – 7-10 days of detox for the worst withdrawal symptoms, often followed by 3-6 months of medical supervision, usually with methadone replacement
- Cocaine – approximately one week, although cravings may return during the second week
- Methamphetamines – approximately 2 weeks. One of the prolonged withdrawal symptoms is “amphetamine psychosis” which resembles schizophrenia and can last up to six months. Post-acute withdrawal from methamphetamines may linger for up to a year.
Every person’s journey to recovery is their own. The methods used and the steps taken by one person will not necessarily work 100 % of the time for 100 % of other people.
In recovery, the goal is not to mark off a checklist and get it over with as fast as possible. That approach is doomed to failure.
The true goals of recovery are to get sober, to heal, and to acquire the tools and strategies needed to successfully battle the disease of addiction one day at a time.
Don’t worry about how long drug and alcohol rehabilitation will take you. Any time you devote to your recovery is not lost – it is instead well spent, as an investment in your future.