If you’re considering entering outpatient treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, you may be wondering what kind of time commitment you’re looking at. The truth is, the ideal duration of outpatient treatment is highly dependent on the individual.
Just as it takes time to develop the thought patterns and behaviors that characterize addiction, it takes time to re-learn new ways of thinking and behaving and become comfortable with the new lifestyle that comes with successful recovery. How quickly you get to that point depends on a number of factors, including the length and severity of your substance use disorder and the complexity of the issues that underlie the addiction.
What the National Institute on Drug Abuse Says
The research is clear on staying in treatment for an adequate amount of time, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.1 In fact, one of NIDA’s 13 principles of recovery is that staying in treatment for the right period of time is central to successful recovery. Recovery is a long-term process, and relapse is far more likely in the early months.
So what is an adequate duration of outpatient treatment? NIDA stresses that for residential or outpatient treatment, participating for less than 90 days has limited effectiveness, and treatment that lasts significantly longer is recommended for the best possible outcome.
Why is the Duration of Outpatient Treatment So Long?
Addiction changes the structures and functions of your brain, and it affects your thought processes and behaviors. Chances are, you’ve developed some unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving that are deeply rooted and affect all areas of your life, from your stress levels and relationships to your self-esteem and self-awareness.
Identifying these unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving and learning how to replace them with healthier ways is crucial for successful recovery. This, of course, takes time, and it involves setbacks as part of the natural process. Learning from these setbacks in treatment is a crucial part of the recovery process.
At the same time, you’re working toward finding purpose and meaning in life, learning to have fun without drugs or alcohol, and making important lifestyle changes that support a happy, healthy life in recovery. This, too, takes time, and the high level of support and guidance treatment provides helps you maintain the motivation and support it takes to succeed.
Another important factor in the duration of outpatient treatment is whether or not you have a mental illness or history of trauma that co-occurs with the addiction. If so, these need to be treated at the same time as and in the context of the addiction.
High-Quality Treatment is Essential
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that in addition to the right duration of outpatient treatment, a holistic approach to treatment is a major factor in positive outcomes.2 A high-quality, holistic outpatient program will address issues of mind, body and spirit from a variety of angles for a dynamic, whole-person approach that helps to keep you motivated and engaged with your treatment plan.