This is a question that plagued me before I ever surrendered and got clean and sober: “How long does a person have to stay in a drug rehab center?” I was worried about the answer to this question because I had the completely wrong attitude about treatment, and I equated being in treatment to being in prison. So I believed that being in treatment was essentially a big waste of time, and that I was missing out on life by being in rehab. Of course these were all just excuses based on the fact that I did not want to stop drinking and using drugs.
Perhaps you have a friend or a loved one who is looking to try to get clean and sober, and you are wondering how long they will need to be in treatment for. To be honest there is no exact formula for determining this, but there are also some general guidelines and ideas that we will explore below.
I am starting to wonder too about the deeper questions here, such as “how many times does a struggling alcoholic or addict have to attend treatment before they actually get it?” I wonder if there is a formula such as “you have to go to rehab one time for every 3-4 years of active addiction that you lived through. Such a statistic would not be shocking to me at all because I have found in my own experience that most people who are now clean and sober had to go to treatment several times in order to finally get it. Many of my peers who are now sober went treatment centers three or four times total.
So it may not just be “how many days does a person have to go to treatment for?” but also “how many trips to rehab does it take before it finally sinks in?” When we are looking at multiple trips to rehab over several years, the question is really about surrender. Someone who attends rehab does so because they want their life to be different and they are tired of being miserable, but are they really at the point of full surrender? If not then they will not remain clean and sober and they will leave rehab, relapse, and then come back for more treatment at some point later in their life. I see this happen over and over again and it also happened in my own journey. I was not fully ready to get clean and sober when I first went to treatment because I had not fully surrendered yet. It was not until years later that I was able to surrender more fully, trust in the process, and get the level of help that I really needed in order to change my life on a permanent basis.
Trusting in the process and taking advice from others
Being able to trust in the process of recovery is a necessary component for success in staying clean and sober. If you are willing to fully trust in others then you will probably not worry as much about how long you will be in rehab for.
Once a person is in treatment they are generally not too worried about when they are leaving. If they are worried then it is a sure sign that they have not fully surrendered yet. In many treatment centers they have a policy that restricts phone usage with the outside world. They typically confiscate cell phones as well. Why? Because it is just a huge distraction, and if you are focusing on the outside world while you are in treatment then you are not focusing on healing yourself and changing your life (as you should be).
In order to change your life and get sober you have to take advice from other people. This includes listening to them when they tell you how long you should be in treatment for. If you are not willing to take this sort of advice then it is very likely that you have not fully surrendered yet to your disease.
There are many people who come into a treatment center who are nowhere near the point of full surrender. They are there for the wrong reasons. And some people have it in their minds that the world needs them and that they cannot possibly stay in rehab for a few weeks or the whole world is going to stop turning without them. Such people inevitably relapse. They are not ready to get clean and sober because they will not commit fully to the recovery process and focus on themselves. They are too busy focusing on the outside world and how they need to be responsible for their family, or for their job, or whatever. But right now they need to push all of that aside and focus on healing.
So part of the problem has to do not so much with the time commitment of how long you attend rehab for, but the intensity and depth of your commitment. If you cannot commit to the recovery process then you are going to struggle and relapse anyway, regardless of who long you make an effort for.
There is a mindset too that we should be able to come into recovery (or a rehab) and be suddenly cured. It doesn’t work that way and it probably never will. Instead we need to work on recovery for the rest of our lives with a full commitment to the process. But many of us are naive about this at first and we believe that recovery and rehab should be more of an event, a one time thing. The truth is that the recovery process only starts with rehab, it only begins there. But the process goes on forever and we never really finish or “graduate” from recovery. We will be learning about how to remain sober for the rest of our lives. With that in mind, should you really be worried about how many days you are going to be in treatment for?
How long have you abused drugs or alcohol for?
Ask yourself this simple question:
“How long has the alcoholic or drug addict been abusing their drug of choice?”
How many years has it been?
The longer it has been, the more help they are likely to need in terms of getting clean and sober.
I abused drugs and alcohol for ten years straight. Many have been addicted for far longer, and some younger people have been addicted for less time. In the end it doesn’t really matter when comparing yourself to others though, and what is important is that you get the help that you need.
You should figure that you are going to need fairly intense help for your addiction for as many years as which you abused your drug of choice. So if someone is going to AA meetings after rehab in order to remain sober, they should figure on making a strong commitment to those meetings for at least as many years as which they drank for.
This is not a hard and fast rule but rather just a general guideline to give you an idea. If you abused your drug of choice for 30 years then do not expect to be healed after two weeks of counseling. On the other hand if a young person has been abusing a drug for only six months do you really think they will have to go to daily NA meetings for the next six decades? I kind of doubt it. So as a general guideline you can consider the length of addiction to determine how long an intensive recovery effort should last for.
Another general rule that makes sense is this:
If you go to rehab for 28 days and you relapse, then the next time you go to treatment do not go for less than that. Go for more than that. Go find long term treatment. Obviously 28 days was not enough. More treatment is generally better.
More treatment is generally better, as a rule
I cannot believe how many people in early recovery treat the idea of rehab like a punishment. This sort of thinking is all wrong!
If you are facing the problem of addiction recovery then one of my core messages to you is this:
* Get as much treatment and professional help as you can afford!
In some cases you can get a whole lot of help for very little money, depending on the structure of the treatment. For example you may arrange to live in a halfway house or a long term treatment center after going through detox. In my opinion these are the best option for people who cannot seem to get clean and sober with other methods (such as short term residential treatment).
I can’t believe how it works in early recovery for some people, that their insurance may only cover them for a few days of drug or alcohol rehab. This is insane. And yet some such people actually manage to get clean and sober if they have the right attitude and the right follow through. Obviously the real test begins when you walk out of treatment and have to face the real world. Even if you only have a few days in treatment you still have a chance at turning your entire life around, but it is going to require a lot of action on your part. Particularly the people that I know who have done this went to lots of AA and NA meetings after leaving treatment. Those who are successful in early recovery are the people who find the support that they need.
If you relapse, you did not stay long enough!
If you relapse after leaving treatment then the simple fact is that you did not get enough treatment.
The whole idea behind rehab and treatment is that:
1) You are in a safe environment. There are no drugs or alcohol to tempt you.
2) You are learning how to live again without self medicating.
So the main detail is: “How long do you stay in this environment for?”
If you are only there for a few days or a week then that is not much time to get used to a new life.
If you are there, on the other hand, for 28 days or longer, then it is much more likely that you actually have developed a new way to deal with reality.
The whole idea of treatment is that you need to be able to walk out of treatment some day and be able to handle the world without self medicating. And you have to learn how to enjoy your life and deal with reality in a way that does not lead you to relapse.
Generally speaking, the longer you stay in treatment, the better the chances are that you can learn how to do these things. It takes time to get used to a new way of life. It takes time to get used to learning how to live without your drug of choice.
More treatment is generally better than less treatment.
Learning how to live in long term recovery
The level of support that you have in the first few years of recovery will likely determine your success in achieving long term sobriety.
Even if you go through treatment and get a few months of sobriety under your belt, you are not out of the woods just yet. In order to remain clean and sober you are faced with a second task: that of learning how to build a new life for yourself.
You see, recovery is really split up into two separate tasks: the first task is getting clean and sober, the second task is staying clean and sober. They are really two different things that many people believe to be one and the same. But they are not.
If you want to learn how to get clean and sober then you can do that by attending any rehab. Just go to detox and they will dry you out as safely and comfortably as they can.
But if you want to learn how to stay clean and sober then you have a lot more work to do. Particularly, most of that work will begin when you leave rehab.
The task of learning how to stay clean and sober never ends. In fact, it may get more challenging for some people as the months start to pass in recovery.
This is why I say that “it all starts when you walk out of treatment.” That is when things get really challenging. That is when you need to go find serious support in your life so that you can make it through this difficult transition. Things are pretty darn easy when you are in rehab. Seriously, if you cannot stay sober when you are actually at an inpatient rehab center then I don’t know what to tell you. Staying sober while in rehab is easy. They set it up to be that way, to be easy for you. So the challenge begins when you leave rehab and have the freedom to go buy drugs or alcohol again. That is when the real challenge starts and so you have to have a plan in place so that you can deal with all of the temptations.
If you don’t have a plan when you are leaving rehab then that is a very bad sign. Your sobriety is in serious jeopardy if you do not have a plan. Because without a plan you are almost certain to relapse. Your natural instincts will lead you to self medicate. It takes a serious effort and a serious amount of support in order to overcome this natural tendency. That is why you need to have a plan and that is also why they say that you need to follow through with your aftercare.
Most rehabs tell people who are leaving treatment that they need to do certain things for their recovery. They call these suggestions “aftercare.” And they have done studies and shown that people who follow through with their aftercare tend to stay clean and sober, and that out of the group of people who ignore the aftercare pretty much none of them remain sober. So they have found that aftercare participation is strongly correlated with success in recovery. If you don’t follow through after leaving rehab then your sobriety is pretty much doomed.
Basically if you leave rehab and you fail to follow through then it probably means that you had not surrendered fully to your disease yet. The solution in this case is to simply endure more pain and misery from your addiction for a while and then when you get sick of it all, try again at recovery. The depth of your misery will determine the depth of your surrender. And the depth of your surrender will determine how willing you are to do the things that you need to do in order to stay clean and sober.
The person who is asking “how long do I need to stay in rehab?” is usually not on the right track quite yet. They may be close, but something is still holding them back from embracing full recovery at this point. They have not quite fully surrendered yet. It is normal to wonder how long treatment will last, but if you are concerned or worried that you might have to stay in rehab for too long then that is the wrong attitude. Rehab is an opportunity and more of it is generally better. Don’t be discouraged by having to receive lots of treatment.
When I finally became clean and sober I stayed in a rehab for 20 months straight. This was the best decision that I ever made and I did not make it entirely by myself. I looked to other people to help guide me and to tell me how much treatment they thought I needed. In the end I was actually quite nervous to leave rehab and I would have gladly stayed in the long term rehab for longer (there was quite a bit of freedom there, you could leave, work a job, come and go, etc.).
So if you have tried to get clean and sober in the past but failed, consider the idea that you may need more treatment in the future.
Treatment is not a punishment. It is a gift.