People often ask me what the optimal length of stay at a drug rehab or addiction treatment center is. They do this because the length of possible inpatient treatment stays ranges from 3 short days of detox, all the way up to 2 years in a long term residential facility. In fact, I have essentially done both of these in my life–both short and long term stays in rehab.
Furthermore, I have been working full time in a treatment center over the last five years, and I get to watch and observe a full detox, residential, and long term unit. First I lived in this facility for about 20 months, then I returned to work there and have been watching the process of recovery unfold in all its various aspects over the last 5 years plus.
So I get to see a bit of what works, what doesn’t, and how it all stacks up.
So let me give you some chunks of information based on my personal opinions, based on what I have learned over the last decade:
* Longer stays are generally better. I say generally, because you still have to realize that long term treatment is by no means a magic bullet. You would be amazed at the number of people who enter long term treatment and end up relapsing. Many do so while still living there, others may stick around for a year or so and then leave, only to screw up shortly thereafter. But the success rate of long term rehab is by no means something to write home about.
That said, you will still generally do better the longer you stay in treatment. Also, the willingness factor is important here too. Just being willing to stay in rehab for extended periods is a good sign in terms of your prognosis. If someone is not even willing to commit to a longer stay, that is a red flag for relapse.
* Watch out for know-it-alls. Many people come back to treatment after having relapsed, and say things like “I just need to go through detox this time, I already know all that other stuff, no need for me to do more residential programming, and so on.” Oh really? If you know it all already, then why are you back again? It doesn’t add up. Recovery is a learning process, and anyone who relapsed missed a critical part of the lesson. There is no way around this. So if someone has been through the process a few times already, and is claiming that they need less treatment, flip the thing around on them. No, point out that they obviously need more treatment, not less. If short term has failed, consider long term, etc.
* One rule of thumb that I came up with by sheer observation: the younger you are, the longer the stay in treatment should be. Kids and teens probably hate that idea, and for good reason. They just want to get back to their “friends” as quickly as possible. When you stay in treatment for a week, or even for two, you don’t really get much of a social break. If you go to long term for year or more, you rearrange your entire social life, probably trading out drug using people for sober friends in recovery. Which one do you think works better to prevent relapse? Longer stays in treatment give younger people a better chance to form new social ties. Just my opinion of course, but one that is based on watching a whole lot of young people screw up in early recovery.
* Treatment is expensive, but using drugs and alcohol costs even more. Don’t talk yourself out of an extended stay based on cost alone. The cost of using for the next decade is monstrous compared to a 28 day stay or longer.