Addiction is a complex and chronic disease with many factors involved in one’s susceptibility to it and one’s ability to recover from it. Things like genetic and environmental influences, socioeconomic status, personal behavioral patterns, and more all contribute to each individual’s journey. Some people can address their use before it has turned into a full-blown addiction while others suffer many years of addictive behavior before they seek help and recovery.

It’s hard to understand how addiction starts and how to work toward ending it. Gaining a better understanding of what addiction is and the various factors involved in recovery can be helpful in setting expectations for the future can look like.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a disease that affects millions of people each year. According to a report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million American adults struggled with a substance use disorder in 2017. The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as, “a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.” Even when an addict is faced with life-threatening consequences, they are unable to control their use of substances. This can lead to harmful situations concerning one’s relationships, work life, mental and physical health, financial well-being, and more.

No matter how long one’s path to addiction is, the recovery journey is one that needs to be maintained throughout the course of their lives. As soon as a person starts thinking about ending their substance use and entering into recovery, it is natural to wonder: How long does addiction recovery take? The journey to sobriety is different for everyone; Generally, recovery is a lifelong process with a number of different stages.


When people are deep in addiction, their treatment often begins with a period of detoxification. Detoxification refers to the body’s process of clearing out harmful substances. It is also the process of undergoing and recovering from any withdrawal symptoms. This process looks different depending on the substance being used, the amount one was using, and the duration of use. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to extremely unpleasant to life-threatening; It is important to seek medical assistance in the cases of withdrawing from a serious addiction.

Detoxification interrupts the balance of neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain, which can be very physically and/or psychologically taxing. In some cases, such as cocaine and heroin addictions, withdrawal symptoms will cause extreme duress and many people will benefit from medical assistance throughout the detoxification process. Withdrawing from alcohol can be fatal if it is not addressed by medical professionals. On average, medical detoxification tends to last from four to seven days. However, alcohol detoxification may take ten days.

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What Happens at Rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation (or rehab) is a term used to describe professional substance use treatment at recovery centers like Cardinal Recovery. Treatment at Cardinal Recovery can include a detoxification period at an inpatient facility and then a transfer to Cardinal’s community-based partial hospitalization program which is a minimum of thirty days in duration. This does involve a person leaving their home to live at the treatment center during the treatment so they can fully benefit from the help and support of medical professionals.

Rehab —depending on the program enrolled in, intensity, and cause for therapy—can vary in process from client to client. It also can be a very unpredictable time period in the lives of people involved. It can last anywhere from a few days to over a year, depending on what one’s needs are and what progress they make in recovery. There is no universal standard for the conditions of rehabilitation and the only common factor is the individuality of each person’s experiences through recovery. However, some programs are geared towards lasting fixed periods of time—30-day, 60-day, 90-day or even longer. Many rehab programs have the same treatments and structure in common, so the primary difference is duration. A treatment team will often make recommendations on how long one’s stay should be depending on their individual needs and circumstances.

The effectiveness of the program may be contingent on the length of one’s treatment process. Longer treatment programs generally have higher success rates in the long term in preventing future relapses. Research shows this is due in some part to how individuals who invest in their rehabilitative process with a longer therapeutic focus are intrinsically motivated to continue to work towards abstinence. The brain and chemical make-up of addicted individuals also benefit from the extra time spent in therapy.

The neurological responses of an addicted individual are increasingly impaired by constant substance use. This means that the time it takes to recover back to a state of equilibrium also increases. However, rehab is a distinctly individual process, so only those embroiled in the situation will know what is best to treat their own–or a loved one’s–substance abuse issue.

How Long Does Substance Use Rehab Take?

If a person is seeking treatment, they have many options. Each person’s recovery treatment will be different from another. However, there are some basic treatment options to consider based on a person’s specific needs.

Basically, the length of treatment will reflect the level of addiction an individual is dealing with. It is good for people interested in recovery to think of the treatment process in terms of how it should differ from their lifestyle in addiction. If a person has had a serious, long-term addiction that has changed the wiring of the brain, the process of getting treatment and achieving lasting sobriety will be much longer than a person who has a milder, short-term addiction. It is important to be gentle with oneself and stay open-minded to the treatment process in order for it to be most effective.

30-Day Programs

Shorter rehabilitative cycles are indicative of how circumstantial rehabilitation is. In many ways, 30-day programs are the safest option for those seeking rehabilitation. It can be a good way for an individual to comfortably seek treatment without committing to being away from home in the long-term, so long as there is willingness to continue recovery programming at a lower level of care. People who enroll in 30-day or shorter programs benefit from the shorter structure in a number of ways, including:

  • Time to get through any unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms – Overcoming withdrawal symptoms can be one of the most challenging aspects of early recovery; By completing detoxification or rehabilitation in a treatment center, the individual is enabled to begin building relapse prevention skills as they begin to feel physically and mentally healthier.
  • The ability to enroll in additional rehabilitation programs – People in short programs can and often do choose to extend their process after having successfully completing their program, and because there are so many unknowns going into rehab, it can be hard to decide on a long-term situation initially. Additionally, many do not know the extent of their addiction and what option is best for them. Short stays in inpatient facilities can help former users decide what is best for them in a controlled environment.
  • Less time potentially taken away from an individual’s day-to-day life – For those who have a job, children, or other responsibilities, it can be difficult to justify an extended stay at a rehab treatment center. Many individuals will continue their therapy after a short rehabilitative process in outpatient programs.
  • An affordable alternative to long-term recovery programming – Short-term programs are routinely cheaper than longer stays. A shorter stay in treatment is often covered by many insurance companies.
  • Aftercare opportunities – A 30-day program is relatively short for rehabilitation, but enables the individual to focus on building a recovery routine and work with their clinical team to establish aftercare planning to prevent relapse.

60- and 90-Day Programs

Advantages of longer stays become more innate the longer an individual wishes to stay. However, extended stays are primarily geared toward instances of pronounced addiction. Some advantages include:

  • Sufficient time to detox from a substance – Depending on the substance involved, removing toxins from the body can be an extensive process (physically and mentally).
  • Combating cravings in the ensuing weeks of detoxing – These programs focus mainly on helping individuals develop coping mechanisms to overcome the difficult time period.
  • Time to address barriers to recovery – These barriers may include problems with family, relationships, lifestyle choices, and other environmental circumstances.
  • Time to actively practice positive and healthier habits that can lead to lasting sobriety.
  • Partially to completely possible through insurance.

90-day programs are largely advantageous in the same way, but with added benefits. In particular, 90-day programs are effective in helping individuals acclimate to living and functioning without substances or triggers around them. These programs are statistically the most effective; They routinely prevent relapse at a higher rate than briefer programs.

Extended Programs

Ultimately, rehabilitation is going to vary from person to person. Many individuals opt to involve themselves in further programs in their lives, like opting to live in sober living homes. These homes are a great segue between one’s former life and rehabilitation. Sober living homes can also take away from some of the uncertainty involved with rehabilitation. Because rehabilitation is typically a day-to-day process, coping can initially be a difficult process for users. Many users looking to resume their jobs and the rest of their lives while continuing their therapy choose to do so through sober living homes.


After rehabilitation, many people return home and to the lives they were living before. At this point, the recovery journey is still not over. Ideally, people will attend a reputable treatment center like Cardinal Recovery, which invites them in to stay for a period of community-based rehabilitation and then also works with them to develop an aftercare plan, which can include participation in the intensive outpatient program.

Aftercare is a term referred to the lifelong behavioral, mental, and emotional support a person needs after rehabilitation. This is largely based on developing healthy coping skills to deal with triggers, mental health symptoms, and life stressors.

Coping skills for drug and alcohol use can help a person take control of their lives and enjoy a higher quality of life. Cardinal Recovery recommends a multi-faceted approach to coping with addiction and can help individuals come up with recovery plans that include a number of different coping mechanisms and techniques.

It is helpful to have different tools available to cope with triggers and unexpected risk situations.

Once someone is able to recognize triggers for relapse, the right coping skills can aid a person in achieving long-term recovery.

The following coping skills are an important part of aftercare:

  • Attending support group meetings and therapy: Within support groups, many people have experienced similar triggers and experiences and can provide a safe space to discuss your feelings with people who truly understand. Support groups can be faith-based or non-religious and there are 12-step programs and non-12-step, depending on what a person prefers. The groups can provide many benefits and the chance to interact with others also in recovery. Showing up to meetings requires more accountability, positive reinforcement, and a way to learn about different coping skills from others.
  • Having physical distractions: There have been many studies substantiating the health benefits of regular exercise. Spending time doing something physical, whether it be inside or outside, can reduce triggers and negative emotions. Additionally, you can replace time that would be spent under the influence with a new hobby or activity.
  • Avoid high-risk situations: For recovering addicts and alcoholics, there are many situations that present a considerable risk to sobriety. Many people use the handy acronym, “HALT,” to remember some of the common risks that can lead to thoughts of using. This stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. If a person finds themselves in the midst of any of these emotional or physical states, it is important to reach out and ask for help or to address the situation with self-care.

Drug and alcohol recovery treatment programs vary greatly, giving individuals looking to change their lifestyles important options to find a rehabilitation center that works best for them. At Cardinal Recovery, we have a staff of professional rehabilitation treatment professionals that work with individuals to develop a recovery plan that best suits them. If you or a loved one are in need of help for an addiction, reach out to us today.