What is the Rehab Process Like?

You can’t take shortcuts during recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. Rehab is an extensive process that’s designed to ensure long-term health. From admissions to aftercare, quality addiction treatment provides you with the tools that you need to overcome addiction.
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The treatment process is different for each person. People who have been using drugs for years usually require more intensive treatment than people who have been addicted for a few months. Individuals with severe substance use disorders may require months of inpatient therapy. Others may need 30 days.

Getting Started

Every person starts the rehab process by searching for a certified treatment center. Ideally, you’ll have the option to choose between multiple reputable centers. Realistically, other factors such as location, waiting lists and insurance coverage determine which center you attend and what type of treatment you receive.


Robert Fishman of Advanced Recovery Systems discusses common questions people ask during the rehab admissions process.

Finding a Center

If this is your first attempt at rehab, you’ll need to learn how to find a quality addiction treatment center. Different treatment facilities offer different services. Some centers only provide detox, which does little to treat the underlying causes of addiction. Other centers only provide outpatient therapy or treatment for specific addictions, such as alcohol addiction or opioid addiction.

You want to find a center that provides a full range of services and treatment for your type of addiction. If you’re addicted to alcohol or opioids, make sure the center provides medication-assisted treatments that can improve recovery outcomes. MATs haven’t been developed for other types of addictions.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re choosing a quality treatment center. All rehab facilities must be licensed by their respective state. Some facilities also have local licenses. The best rehab facilities are accredited by independent organizations, such as The Joint Commission, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities or the Council on Accreditation.


Marta Nelson of Advanced Recovery Systems describes how rehab centers ensure compliance with health regulations and undergo evaluations by accreditation organizations.


Once you’ve found a quality rehab facility that provides the type of treatment that you need, you’ll want to contact the facility. Before calling, you may want to gather some information, such as your insurance policy number, a list of past and current medical conditions and a list of health providers that you’ve visited.

The rehab center’s admissions representative will ask you about your:

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Existing medical conditions
  • Mental illnesses or co-occurring conditions
  • Living environment
  • Support system
  • Financial and insurance information

Admissions representatives can explain the treatment options available at the rehab facility. They’ll answer any questions you have about cost, amenities or other important details. They may also send you an intake packet to complete before you come to the facility.


Once you arrive at the facility, you’ll usually meet with an admissions coordinator, a therapist and a nurse. You’ll undergo a medical and psychological evaluation. Most people are either intoxicated or in withdrawal when they enter rehab. Thus, they may not be capable of discussing a treatment plan in detail.

But the best rehab facilities consider patient input when developing substance abuse treatment plans. The staff will recommend a treatment plan and answer any questions that you have.

Before checking into the facility, staff members should inform you of facility rules and expectations. They will probably search your belongings for drug paraphernalia, weapons and other banned objects. They may also confiscate your phone or other communication devices.

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The Rehab Process

The different phases of rehab often include a spectrum of services that overlap with one another. For example, you may be briefly introduced to group therapy during the end of detox. You’ll likely attend intensive group therapy during residential treatment and less intensive group therapy during outpatient treatment.

In general, the first days of treatment are focused on medical supervision and comfort. The following weeks involve intensive therapy and around-the-clock programming. The frequency and intensity of therapy decreases as a person progresses through the phases of treatment.


The first phase of treatment involves clearing alcohol and other drugs out of your system in a safe environment. Depending on the type of addiction, you may receive medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. Or you may slowly taper off of a substance of abuse.

The first days of detox are usually the worst. Toward the end of the first week, you should begin to feel better. Some people are introduced to therapy or supplemental services near the end of detox. Other facilities don’t introduce therapy until patients formally transition into the next phase of rehab.

If you have a mild substance use disorder and a safe living environment, you may detox while living at home. Outpatient detox involves attending appointments each day and checking in with a physician or therapist. If you’re on a medication-assisted treatment regimen for an opioid use disorder, you may receive methadone or buprenorphine during outpatient detox.

However, inpatient or residential detox is recommended for most people in recovery from addiction. These facilities provide 24/7 monitoring and are able to address complications of withdrawal immediately if they occur.

Learn more about alcohol and drug detox

Inpatient Therapy

After inpatient detox, most people transition into inpatient therapy. This phase of treatment may also be called intensive inpatient therapy or residential therapy depending on the intensity of treatment.

Most facilities provide one or two individual therapy sessions during the week. For the rest of the week, you’ll attend daily educational classes, group therapy sessions and supplemental therapy meetings. Supplemental therapy may include meditation, art therapy, exercise or other programming.

Learn more about types of therapy

Depending on the severity of your condition, your financial situation and the services available, residential therapy may last one to two weeks or two to three months.

As you transition out of inpatient treatment, the number of hours of programming decreases. If you’re leaving the facility, the treatment team should help you develop an aftercare plan and refer you to an outpatient treatment provider.

Learn more about inpatient treatment

Partial Hospitalization

During partial hospitalization, you may live in sober living home affiliated with your rehab facility. You’ll receive therapeutic programming at the rehab facility throughout the day, but you may sleep at a separate facility at night.

Some facilities provide a partial hospitalization program and a living space at the same facility. The only difference between this phase of treatment and residential treatment is the number of hours of programming. PHP is associated with less programming than residential treatment.

It is also possible to live at home during PHP. Once again, the difference between PHP and outpatient therapy is the frequency and intensity of programming.

Outpatient Therapy

After PHP, you’ll fully transition into outpatient therapy. Depending on the services, outpatient therapy may be called intensive outpatient or simply outpatient. Treatment may involve weekly one-on-one therapy sessions or multiple individual and group therapy sessions per week.

You may live at a sober living home or at your own home depending on your support system and living environment. Most people also attend 12-step meetings or other self-help group meetings daily.

If you started treatment with inpatient detox and inpatient therapy, outpatient therapy may begin about one month after beginning rehab. If you attended outpatient detox, you may start outpatient therapy within days of starting rehab.

Outpatient therapy can last indefinitely. Some people meet with a counselor or therapist weekly or monthly for the rest of their lives. Others stop attending outpatient therapy after months of years of sustained sobriety.

Learn more about outpatient treatment


Aftercare is a broad term that refers to nonmedical services provided by rehab facilities. Addiction is a disease, but recovery from addiction isn’t dependent on medical services alone. Social support, employment, housing and other factors are crucial to preventing relapse. Aftercare planning can begin during the admissions process, or it can occur toward the end of an inpatient stay.

Sober Living Home

A safe living environment is vital for treatment success. If you go home and live with someone who drinks or uses drugs, or if you live alone without a support system, you’re more likely to revert back to old habits.

Sober living homes provide structure and in-home peer support for people in early recovery. Some people live in them for months during PHP or outpatient therapy. Others live in sober homes for years after they stop going to therapy.

Learn more about sober living homes

Support Groups

Peer support is a foundational part of many rehab programs. You’ll likely be involved in group therapy and self-help groups throughout the entire treatment process. Most people attend support group meetings daily for months after they leave rehab.

As you gain more time in sobriety, your frequency of support group attendance will probably decrease. But some people never stop going. They attend weekly support group meetings forever. It’s important that you keep going until you develop a strong support system of family members and friends to rely on when recovery becomes challenging.

Educational and Vocational Programs

People who develop substance use disorders often lose progress at school or work. Addiction can ruin a person’s educational experience or their career. Without steady employment, many people relapse into alcohol or drug addiction.

Rehab programs often refer alumni to adult education programs, trade schools or re-employment organizations. The treatment centers may help you create a plan for returning to work or school, and they may provide on-site vocational resources. They may also refer you to a collegiate recovery program, which provides sober housing and support services for college students in recovery.

Learn more about collegiate recovery programs

The entire treatment process can take weeks or months. Aftercare can continue for years. Most of the time, longer treatment is associated with lower relapse rates, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In addition to receiving treatment for an appropriate duration, you should make sure that you attend the right type of rehab and that your rehab provider is licensed and accredited. If you commit yourself to the entire treatment process, you have a good chance of recovering from addiction.

Medical Disclaimer: DrugRehab.com aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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