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How Long Does an Outpatient Drug Addiction Recovery Program Last?

There are two main forms of addiction recovery programs: inpatient and outpatient.

While inpatient is generally considered to be the most comprehensive of the two, outpatient programs may be ideal for individuals who require more flexibility with scheduling or those who need to return home each evening. Families who are on the same page with recovery and can provide a strong support system for loved ones in treatment may be ideal candidates for an outpatient drug addiction recovery program. Outpatient programs may be better suited to those who are not as heavily dependent on drugs as well.

No two addiction recovery programs are exactly alike, and each program should be able to be tailored to suit the individual’s circumstances and needs. In general, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, states that both inpatient and outpatient drug abuse and addiction treatment programs should last at least 90 days. A longer time in treatment can allow the brain time to heal from drug dependence, time to practice new skills learned, and time for healthy habits to be formed. It can take between three weeks and three months for a habit to be formed, Psych Central publishes, showing that a longer time in treatment may provide a stronger foundation.

While there isn’t a set length of time that outpatient addiction recovery should last, those who stay in treatment longer benefit more. People should anticipate participating in outpatient treatment for at least three months, but it’s common for outpatient programs to last a year or even longer.

First Stages of an Outpatient Addiction Recovery Program

Around 1 out of every 12 adults in the United States (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health(NSDUH) publishes. In order to recover, professional treatment is often critical.

Insurance policies often cover drug addiction recovery programs, and some policies may require that an individual at least try an outpatient program initially. Some policies will require a referral from the primary care provider for addiction recovery services, as they are often considered to be “specialty services.” In this respect, admission to an addiction treatment program often begins with an appointment with a primary care physician. Professionals at the insurance company, or at the treatment facility directly, can help individuals determine what their insurance may cover.

Once admitted, or just prior to admission, individuals will be given a thorough assessment to determine what programs and methods of care will best suit them and optimally enhance recovery. This evaluation can help uncover any underlying medical or mental health disorders that may need to be simultaneously treated during an addiction recovery program. When someone battles two disorders at one time, namely a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, they may receive a dual diagnosis, which is best managed with integrated care methods for co-occurring disorders, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Drug screening during an evaluation can also determine what substances may be in a person’s system and therefore the best way to remove them. Medical detox is the method of allowing the drugs to process out a person’s system, which can be done in both an outpatient and inpatient capacity, sometimes with the help of medications to manage potential withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Detox is short-lived, usually lasting only 5-10 days. If someone is not heavily dependent on drugs, it can often be accomplished on an outpatient basis, especially if the individual has an involved and supportive family or group of loved ones at home. The main goal of detox is to reach a level of physical stabilization, so the psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction can be managed and treated.

Understanding Outpatient Addiction Recovery Programs

Outpatient addiction recovery programs are not all the same. Typically, there are two main types: intensive outpatient addiction treatment programs and general outpatient treatment programs. An intensive outpatient program likely mirrors an inpatient, or residential program, with the main difference being that the person returns home each night instead of remaining on site. NIDA reports that residential and intensive outpatient addiction treatment programs are very comparable. General outpatient programs may vary in the types of services offered, and these services may be scheduled around other familial, occupational, or school obligations, making it the most flexible type of addiction recovery program.

All addiction recovery programs may include the following services:

  • Counseling sessions: These can be done in group, family, and individual settings to help individuals and their loved ones better understand the present issues and help them to manage possible emotional turmoil.
  • Behavioral therapy: Both group and individual sessions are used. These sessions teach new life skills, coping mechanisms, and communication methods for managing potential triggers, repairing relationships, functioning in society, avoiding relapse, and regulating emotions.
  • Pharmacological management: Medications are often helpful tools in managing withdrawal and also in preventing relapse, regulating emotions, and curbing drug cravings during treatment and recovery.
  • Educational programs: The better one understands the disease of addiction and knows what to expect during recovery, the more prepared families and loved ones can be to handle what may come during recovery.
  • Complementary medicine techniques: Holistic methods may include nutritional planning, fitness programs, yoga, meditation, massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and more as adjunct therapies used in conjunction with more traditional methods.
  • Support groups: Peer support and 12-Step programs are often important aspects of an addiction recovery program, as weekly meetings (or more frequently when needed) can provide moral support and understanding from a group of similar individuals who share the same goal of complete abstinence during recovery.

Upon discharge from an outpatient addiction recovery program, individuals may choose to enroll directly into these programs in order to keep the transition seamless.