Updated: Mar 16
A first-time rehab experience can be intimidating. Even if you want to overcome an addiction, you may still be nervous about going to rehab because you don't know what to expect.
Knowing what happens in rehab may put your mind at ease. Here are some of the most common features of rehab programs so you can be as prepared as possible for the experience.
When to Consider Rehab
Once you recognize that you need help with an addiction, you will probably consider other options before entering a formal rehab program. Peer support groups, including 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, as well as SMART Recovery or Celebrate Recovery, may be right for you.
A physician specializing in addiction medicine may offer help in acute detoxification or by prescribing medications that reduce alcohol cravings and prevent relapse from alcohol and other drugs. People who have exhausted these options often need to find an inpatient program.
A sign that you need help managing your addiction is when substance use negatively affects many aspects of your life, such as your job, your relationships, your hobbies, your mental health, and/or your physical health.
Ask yourself what substance use is taking away from your life. Are you withdrawing from activities you used to enjoy? Are you constantly thinking about the next time you can drink or use drugs?
Self-medicating with substances, like drinking or taking drugs to treat symptoms of anxiety or depression, is another reason to consider rehab. Rehabilitation centers can help diagnose mental health conditions that may co-exist with your substance use disorder, and they can often treat both appropriately.
Developing a tolerance or dependence on a substance may indicate addiction. If you can't imagine participating in your life without the use of drugs or alcohol, consider rehab as a treatment option to help you live substance-free and reclaim your life.
Types of Rehab Centers
There are a few different types of rehab centers that you can consider. You do not have to determine which best fits you and your unique circumstances. Usually, a doctor, mental health professional, social worker, and staff members at the rehab center will help you decide.
Long-term residential treatment: This type of rehab offers 24-hour care in a residential setting (not a hospital). Stays tend to last between six and 12 months. Socialization with staff and other residents is part of the treatment, as are group therapy sessions, individualized therapy sessions, and educational programs on mental health, addiction, nutrition, and more.
Short-term residential treatment: These programs are based on the 12-step approach to addiction recovery. Short-term residential treatment was initially designed for people with alcohol use disorder, but now, it is used to treat people with other substance use disorders. These treatments are three to six weeks long and are followed by outpatient therapy and support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) to reduce the risk of relapse.
Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment means that you live at home while you go to a treatment center regularly throughout the week. You'll attend many of the same programs that residential treatment centers offer (therapy sessions and educational courses), except you don't live at the treatment center.
A Typical Day in a Rehab Facility
If you are in residential treatment, your days typically follow a structured routine. The idea is that consistency (and not having to make as many decisions throughout your day) will help support you as you recover.
Below are examples of what takes place during a typical day in rehab. Of course, your day will vary based on the rehab center and its approach, your addiction, and your circumstances.
You'll generally wake up at a set time each morning, and nurses give out any medications to those who have them prescribed. For instance, a doctor at a rehab center may provide you with medication to manage withdrawal symptoms or to treat mental health conditions.
You'll have breakfast and, afterward, attend your first session of the day, such as group therapy. You may be given a break during the session to reflect, journal, or practice any skills you learned during the session.
After lunch, you'll attend another session, such as individual therapy. You may be given free time to choose an activity, such as attending a fitness session if your rehab center has a gym. Physical exercise can help manage mood swings during withdrawal.
Or, you might attend an educational course. Many rehab centers educate participants on mental health, addiction, and/or nutrition. Balanced nutrition can help you manage the stress of recovery and even curb withdrawal cravings.
You'll have dinner and perhaps end the day with another group session to reflect on your progress and how you feel about all you experienced throughout the day. You'll be given time to get ready for bed. Many rehab centers typically have a set time for "lights out," when free time is done for the day, and you're encouraged to get to sleep.
When you first arrive at a rehab program, staff members will often start by having you complete an intake interview to find out more about you. This is an essential step in rehab because this information will be used to begin customizing your treatment plan.
You will answer questions about your substance use and lifestyle during an intake interview. These questions may include the following:
In the past 30 days, how many days did you drink alcohol, drink alcohol until you become intoxicated, and/or use illegal drugs or marijuana?
Where have you lived most of the time in the past 30 days?
In the past 30 days, how stressful have things been because of your alcohol or drug use?
In the past 30 days, how often did your substance use cause you to reduce or give up activities?
Do you have children? Do they live with you? If not, do they live with someone else due to a court order?
Do you attend a school or have a job?
In the past 30 days, have you been arrested for drug-related offenses?
How would you rate your overall health?
In the past 30 days, have you gotten inpatient or outpatient treatment for a physical complaint, mental or emotional difficulty, or alcohol or substance use?
How satisfied are you with your life and with yourself?
Be prepared to answer the questions honestly. While discussing your life, choices, and substance use can be difficult, remember that accurate information will help the staff develop a program best suited for you and your needs.
The typical length of stay in drug and alcohol rehab is 28 to 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days. While treatment for any period is helpful, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends people spend at least 90 days in treatment.
The Detox Process
After the initial assessment, you'll go through the detoxification process. Detox is removing drugs or alcohol from your body after prolonged use. Though this can be a complex process for some, it's essential to cleanse your body of these substances to be physically and mentally ready for work in rehab.
If you suddenly stop using a substance with a high dependency potential (such as heroin, morphine, benzodiazepines, or alcohol), you may experience some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. In many instances, medication may be given to ease the withdrawal symptoms associated with these drugs.
Depending on your needs and the rehab program you are attending, various therapies will be used throughout the recovery process.
You'll work with a mental health professional in one-on-one sessions. During these sessions, you'll take an honest look at yourself, your addiction, and the effect your addiction has had on your life. This personal education can be a powerful way to help you heal. Your therapist will also help you identify your addiction triggers. Once you've identified them, the therapist will teach you how to cope with them constructively.
An addiction specialist will customize the suitable types of therapy for your unique needs. Treatment can come in many forms, but research suggests that behavioral therapies are most effective in treating addictions. Two of the most common behavioral therapies used in this setting are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you understand the underlying beliefs and behaviors contributing to substance use and teaches you healthy coping mechanisms during recovery.
Motivational interviewing is a technique in which a counselor or therapist asks questions such as "Why do you want to stop drinking?" or "How has substance use impacted your life?" The goal is to resolve the ambivalence many feel when they want to change but fear that they're not ready. Motivational interviewing can help you solidify your plans to live substance-free and renew your motivation to do so successfully.
Research has shown that including family and friends in recovery significantly improves rehab outcomes. Because of this, many addiction rehab facilities offer family therapy as part of their program.
Family members are often profoundly affected by their loved one's addictive behaviors. Family counseling is a safe space for everyone to share their experiences and for family members to learn how they may have enabled or contributed to your addiction. Acknowledging and working through these complicated and sometimes painful emotions can promote healing and continued growth.
During family counseling, your family members will also learn about the dynamics of addiction and how to support you best once you leave the rehab facility.
Many programs include family members and friends throughout rehab, from the initial assessment through aftercare. Others require family members to attend Al-Anon meetings if they want to visit you while you are in treatment.
Group therapy is a cornerstone of many rehab centers. Group members, led by a therapist, discuss their progress, challenges, and experiences with addiction recovery. Some groups focus on specific recovery phases (i.e., withdrawal or relapse prevention). In contrast, others support people with mental health concerns (i.e., social anxiety disorder or difficulty managing anger).
Many of the same techniques used in individual therapy are used in group therapy, such as psychoeducation, motivational interviewing, and skill development.
Group therapy is linked with positive outcomes for addiction recovery because of the social support it offers. Members benefit from sharing their experiences, hearing other people's stories, forming bonds, and supporting each other.
Toward the end of your time in a rehab center, you and your counselor will develop a continuing care plan (also known as aftercare) based on your progress up to that point. Aftercare can significantly reduce drug and alcohol relapse rates, making it a critical component of your treatment and long-term sobriety.
Your plan will likely include social and medical support services. It may include transitional housing (like a sober living home), follow-up therapy and counseling, medical evaluations, alumni support groups, and other lifestyle changes to help you proactively cope with real-life triggers that may otherwise lead to relapse.
Additional Mental Health Resources:
SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988
Crisis Text Line Text 741741
If you or a loved one are coping with a substance use disorder, you must get help. It's natural to feel intimidated or scared. But remember, rehab is intended to help you achieve lasting recovery. Suppose you're considering rehab as an option. In that case, you may take the first step by speaking with a doctor, therapist, counselor, or social worker.
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Courtesy of Laura Harold
Updated on January 03, 2023
Medically reviewed by
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