What Does the Addiction Rehabilitation Process Look Like?

February 2, 2022

5 mins

Dane O'Leary


Although there are many different paths from addiction to sobriety, the journey typically consists of specific programs and resources. Here's what the addiction rehab process can look like.

If you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of recovery, then you may not have a good idea of what rehabilitation for alcohol and drug addiction entails. So if you’ve been asking yourself, “What does the addiction rehabilitation process look like,” you’ve come to the right place.

Several types of life-saving programs are offered by substance abuse treatment centers across the United States. These programs range from small-scale outpatient programs to intensive residential-style programs and supervised medical detox.

To provide a better understanding of the rehabilitation process, each of the main types of addiction treatment programs are outlined below. Along the way, there will be suggestions for when each type of program might be necessary (or unnecessary). You’ll also find the level of individualization that each program offers in addition to the strengths and weaknesses of each program.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Step 1: Medical Detoxification

Depending on the addiction being treated, the rehabilitation process may begin with a detox program. Detoxification is particularly important for opioid addiction and alcoholism. After all, abruptly stopping all use of opioids or alcohol can be quite uncomfortable or dangerous, respectively, if not done in a supervised environment with medical care.

Medical detox programs utilize medicinal and therapetuic resources to minimize physical discomfort and ensure patient safety.

During a medical detox program, patients reside at the detox facility or substance abuse treatment center. For a period that usually lasts about a week, detox patients are monitored around the clock by nurses and detox technicians. These staff members utilize a variety of medicinal and therapeutic resources in order to minimize physical discomfort and ensure patient safety.

Detox programs are usually a period for patients to just relax and prepare themselves for the journey ahead. In most cases, detox programs don’t offer group therapy, counseling, or any of the other treatments that are usually associated with drug rehabs. Instead, detoxification is all about restoring the body to optimal physical health, which requires only treatments that are medical or medicinal in nature.

Despite occupying the first step in the rehabilitation process, detoxification — or “Medically Managed Intensive Inpatient Services” in the image above — is actually the highest level of care per the American Society of Addiction Medicine Levels of Care, also called the ASAM Continuum.

There really aren’t any drawbacks to detox treatment, especially when patients are facing withdrawal. If such a patient were to attempt to detox at home, he or she would experience the full severity of withdrawal symptoms. This is important to remember because fear (and avoidance) of withdrawal is often one of the top reasons why people remain in active addiction for many consecutive years.

Once detoxification is complete, you’ll move into the next phase of the rehabilitation process.

Step 2: Inpatient Program

More often than not, detox treatment is followed by inpatient care rather than outpatient care. The assumption is that if the addiction was severe enough to warrant detox treatment, then outpatient care would likely be insufficient.

Inpatient addiction treatment, often colloquially called “social detox”, is a type of program where the patient lives on-site — similar to a detox program — for the duration of the program. The residential-style aspect of inpatient care means that patients can spend more time participating in various therapies and treatments rather than wasting time commuting to and from the facility.

Besides offering a more substantial amount of treatment time, inpatient programs are beneficial because they separate patients from the environments where they became addicted. Similarly, when patients lack a support system at home, inpatient care can be quite beneficial since patients can network with other people in recovery. It’s not uncommon for patients to build relationships that they maintain long after graduating from the program.

There are two drawbacks to inpatient treatment that you should be aware of. First, inpatient programs are quite disruptive to your life. Patients quickly realize it’s all but impossible to meet work or familial responsibilities while in inpatient care; instead, you basically have to take a leave of absence from your entire life.

Then there’s the cost of inpatient care. Granted, many people have health insurance plans that provide mental health coverage, which applies to substance abuse treatment. However, anyone planning to pay for inpatient treatment out-of-pocket will find the cost to be prohibitively expensive, especially when you compare to other types of programs.

Step 3: Outpatient Programs

There are a couple of ways for an outpatient program to be part of the rehabilitation process. The first way — and probably the most common — is for the patient to skip both medical detox and inpatient care. In other words, outpatient treatment is where the patient’s rehabilitation journey begins. Of course, this is only viable when the patient’s addiction is not too severe or when the patient has a strong support system at home.

Alternatively, an outpatient program can be used as a follow-up to inpatient care. In this case, the outpatient program would allow the patient to “taper” his or her rehabilitation treatment rather than simply graduating from inpatient care and walking out the front door. When used in this way, outpatient care is like a review period that gives the patient more time to practice and master what he or she has learned so far.

When it comes to outpatient treatment, there are actually a few different outpatient programs. The most rigorous option is called a partial hospitalization program (PHP), which is designed to give you the best of both inpatient and outpatient treatment. In other words, partial hospitalization gives you a level of treatment intensity that’s more comparable to an inpatient program with 20 or more hours of treatment per week. However, you also get the flexibility and freedom of an outpatient program.

Then there’s an intensive outpatient program (IOP), which lands in-between a standard outpatient program and partial hospitalization. This type of program includes a minimum of 9 hours of treatment time per week. It’s the best choice for less severe cases of addiction and patients who want a bit more treatment than a standard outpatient program provides.

Finally, there’s a standard outpatient program, which holds the lowest level of any treatment program on the ASAM Continuum (intervention notwithstanding). Typically, an outpatient program includes up to 9 hours of treatment per week.

Step 4: Aftercare

Despite what many assume, recovery isn’t done when the treatment programs are complete. On the contrary, completing an addiction treatment program — or even multiple addiction treatment programs — is just the first step. You might think of inpatient and outpatient programs as teaching you the lessons, and from there, you need to practice to master them. That’s where aftercare comes in.

Aftercare refers to several types of support that continue beyond the completion of treatment.

Aftercare is exactly what it sounds like: It’s a type of care and support that continues even after you’ve completed treatment. Technically, aftercare is a blanker term that encompasses many different types of recovery support, from the alumni program offered by your substance abuse treatment center to twelve-step programs and many other resources in-between.

According to research, the twelve months immediately following completion of an addiction treatment program is when a patient is most likely to relapse. Therefore, the goal of aftercare is to minimize the likelihood of relapse.

The most common resources used as aftercare include outpatient treatment, twelve-step programs and other support groups, and counseling.

Don’t Wait Another Day to Take the First Steps Toward Lasting Sobriety

Even though it can’t be cured, addiction doesn’t have to define a person’s life. With the right treatment program and therapeutic resources, anyone can overcome addiction and achieve long-lasting sobriety.

For help with planning your recovery, or to learn more about Never Alone Recovery support services, don’t wait — contact us today.

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